Saturday 22 August 2015

Swamp Things: The Political “Centre” Contains Only What The Left And The Right Put Into It.

The Machinery For Change: Startlingly captured in this image are the many components of political consciousness formation in the Twenty-First Century. The sensibilities of so-called "Centrist" voters are constructed out of a multitude of similarly mediated experiences. What should never be forgotten, however, are the very real events out of which popular perceptions are fashioned.

YOU KNOW THE LEFT’s on a roll, when Labour’s number-cruncher, Rob Salmond, comes out “In Defence of the Centre”. It’s all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault, of course. Even here, in the far antipodes, the excitement generated by his campaign for the leadership of the British Labour Party is palpable. It leaps out at us from the videos of packed halls and chanting crowds. And we know it’s real because, from his enemies, we get only scorn and hatred – and the unmistakeable stench of fear.

Along with all the same old arguments about elections being won in the centre. Which is, of course, true – but trivial. In a society where enthusiasms of any kind are regarded with deep suspicion, it is hardly surprising that people overwhelmingly characterise themselves as inhabitants of the centre ground – “Middle New Zealanders”.

That most self-identified “centrists” are no such thing never appears to bother the political scientists of this world. To the number-crunchers of electoral politics the only thing that matters is that there are a lot of them. So many, in fact, that it is more-or-less impossible to win elections without them. But let us be very clear about the priorities and preoccupations of this group. It is “centrist” only insofar as it occupies the swampland between the shores of rock-solid belief that loom to left and right.

Centrists’ “ideas” are a weird amalgam of television images, talkback arguments and newspaper headlines. Their morals are drawn from half-remembered parental reproofs; lines from songs, movies, TV dramas, novels and magazines – not forgetting pub-talk and the angry abuse of social media. Centrists communicate in the common parlance of popular culture: the inconsistent, self-contradictory and ever-changing patois of office, street, tavern and suburban lounge. Politically-speaking, the Centre is a rubbish skip: if there’s a message in there, then, for the most part, it’s a very confused one.

And if that sounds like the manifesto of your average political party, then you’re right on the money. The endless pursuit of the Centrist voter has reduced our politicians to the equivalent of those journalistic low-lifes who go scavenging through the garbage of the rich and famous. In much the same way, the carelessly discarded detritus of the men and women “in the middle” gets picked over by political rubbish men, cleaned up, and re-cycled into party policy.

The enormous appeal of men like Jeremy Corbyn is that their messages do not carry the oily patina of the centrist swamp. People respond to the message’s clarity, its simplicity, and the way each piece of its fits together to form a coherent picture of an alternative future. At first, not everybody sees the picture, but before too long word of its power and beauty spreads. There are images of it on television; arguments in its favour are heard on talkback; and it gets condensed into newspaper headlines. Parents recall catching a glimpse of the picture when they were young. There are songs about it – movies and TV dramas follow. It’s talked about in offices, streets, pubs and suburban lounges.

And the political rubbish men who go poking about in the skips of the Centre are suddenly confronted with evidence of some very different patterns of consumption. And the message it conveys is very clear.

The Centre has changed.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 22 August 2015.


Matthew Hooton said...

"The enormous appeal of men like Jeremy Corbyn is that their messages do not carry the oily patina of the centrist swamp."

It remains to be seen whether or not Jeremy Corbyn has "enormous appeal". My guess would be he has appeal to a fairly narrow and insular section of the British population - that is, Labour Party activists.

Anonymous said...

Some random comments.

- Those that fear Cobyn, his enemies as you describe them, are the Blairites, not the Right. On the contrary, judging by the comments in The Telegraph, the Right welcome him.

- Cobyn has some pretty close relationships with Hamas, Hezbollah and sundry Holocaust deniers that are deeply disturbing to some on the Left, especially those with Jewish links. Those links ain't that pretty.

- To describe the centre as a"dumping skip" is pretty dismissive of where a majority of voters see themselves. You may well be right in your analysis but the majority don't like to be told, contemptuously, that their views belong in the rubbish. Confused we may well be, but I'll take that over ideological purity.

Anonymous said...

In 1997, I arrived in London and found a flat (with noisy Italians) in Islington North. The British General Election was held in May of 1997. One Saturday morning there was a knock at the door. I went downstairs and opened the door. A fellow in a brushed cotton shirt and corduroy trousers introduced himself to me as 'Jeremy Corbyn - the incumbent MP and 'Socialist' candidate for Islington North. I explained to him that I wasn't eligible to vote as I was a NZer. We had a chat on the doorstep for about 5 or so minutes. He was keen to know about NZ's education system, health system, and welfare system etc My impression was that he was genuinely interested in people; not something you see in many of the self-serving types that pass themselves off as politicians.

Bushbaptist said...

I an one of those Damned Centrists and in the past I have voted for both major parties. I don't belong to any political party and have no intention of ever doing so.

Corbyn has some strange ideas but that should not preclude him from running for Labour's top job. Maybe he has some "Close Relationships" with Hamas. Hezbollah et al. How is that different from Blairs Terrorist Attacks on Iraq? Libya? Afganistan?

I hope that I live long enough to see Blair and Bush get charged with the War Crimes they perpetrated on other people. When that happens there will be real justice in this world.

Davo Stevens.

Ian Llewellyn said...

"It’s all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault, of course. Even here, in the far antipodes, the excitement generated by his campaign for the leadership of the British Labour Party is palpable." Really? I bet if you asked a random sample of 1000 people in NZ, maybe one percent would know who he was, 10 percent would mistake the name for a local TV comedian and the rest would say don't know

Unknown said...

The centre is always fluid depending how far to the right or left politics are at that time. An extreme lurch to the right moves the centre to the right and the same goes for the left.
Whats going on in the UK is probably as much about dissatisfaction of a couple or decades of policies that have failed to deliver much in the way of an increased standard of living for the great majority yet everyone sees those who contribute very little making million of pounds a year. There is a growing awareness that the trickle down thinking hasn't worked. The very reason they called it trickle down is to give them time as trickle means something you would normally wait for. It should be the flow down but we can expect to feel immediate benefits from a flow.
Many people feel disenfranchised and doesn't see the government working in their interests
The UK will be a lesson to all political parties not to be comfortable and not to take people for granted. That culture has been changing and things like the Labour Party taking the vote of the working man or woman for granted has been going on in NZ for sometime. Whether left right or centre politics must become a lot more responsive to the greater masses. Rob Muldoon talked or the Robs Mob following and that appealed to many because it gave a sense of belonging to something. Presently very few feel they are part of anything political and when a Corbyn comes along if nothing else they can promise a difference. People want that as they are sick of the status quo

jh said...

The centrists see the wheels within the wheels Chris. The sures make a bee line for power (however).

Anonymous said...

The lefts on a roll and Rob Salmond just does not gel with me. Chinese surnames, racism, Twyford and Salmond does. Labour party folk in Britain and Republicans in America seem to be saying "no" to the usual rhetoric and BS and in turn are saying we are prepared to risk something different to change from the usual party crap. It seems at the moment that both Corbyn and Trump are the recipients of that freshness and sunshine. The Labour party in NZ is stuck with list MPs, union ballots, national anthems, man bans, yes and no to TPP, Phil Goff for mayor, bringing funeral urns into Parliament, plagiarism, the bus for Willow Jean Prime, Labour is cowardly and not constructive, you cannot say that about Corbyn and for that matter neither Trump.

jh said...

Might not the center demonstrate the wisdom of crowds?

Anonymous said...


You ask the difference between Cobyn's links with Hamas, etc and what Blair did in the Middle East. All I wanted to point out is that there is a side of Cobyn and whom he has been associated with than many of the Left with Jewish connections are rightly concerned about. For them that is a deal breaker but one that is lost in the "packed halls and chanting crowds". I get the hatred many of the Left regard Blair - the comments in The Guardian tell you that in no uncertain terms, but whatever wrongs he has done, should not blind us to Cobyn's affiliations.

@anonymous - Well said on the Cobyn/Trump connection. As far apart as these two politicians are - indeed you could not imagine two dissimilar people if you tried - their concurrent popularity does suggest a trend, a rejection of the conventional, business as usual politics and politicians. That to me is a worry, which is why the centre is so important. It balances the extremes. We are know what is loosed upon the world when the centre can not hold....

Grant said...

I was idly browsing through my Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations last night and came across this little pearler from Oswald Mosley (English fascist leader in the 1930's):

"I am not, and never have been, a man of the right. My position was on the left and is now in the centre of politics". (Letter to The Times 26 April 1968)

Clearly even the exponents of the most extreme viewpoints like to be thought of as centrist.

Grant said...

@jh 7.32 "Might not the center demonstrate the wisdom of crowds?"

Given that it is possible to fool all of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, it is just as likely that the centre can represent the folly of crowds.

pat said...

@ Grant 23/8 10.53
self delusion and deception are hallmarks of dictators (or wanabes)

Anonymous said...

Stephanie said: @ Bushbaptist. The difference is that Cobyn's bedmates are killing people right now, and are determined to continue. Also, they deliberately target civilians, and kill Jews and Christians for being Jews and Christians. I'm no Bush fan, but he didn't try to commit genocide.

ZealandiaBlog said...

It is really enlightening to watch the establishment going bonkers over the prospect that an old fashioned social democrat who would have been politically dead centre 30 years ago might actually win the leadership of the UK Labour Party. That is where Blair has taken the party. It is now - at least the leadership so far right that the centre by definition must now be extreme left.
The hardcore neo-liberals will never admit that it is them who are the extremist.

jh said...

Jeremy Cobyn sees no down side to mass migration. This is an issue a lot of people on the left are in denial about. Labour made Britain less British by design and the people who care most about that are working class. The multiculturalism movement is a top down one held in place by power structures.
Tell the hapu who dobbed in the Ma family for taking way over their cockle limit that we must "celebrate diversity" (masturbation say I)!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

To describe them as "bedmates" is either ignorant or disingenuous. Depending on who you mean of course. But it seems to me you are probably meaning the Palestinians who are fighting a war against Israeli occupation. Corbyn like most politicians meets hundreds if not thousands of people every year. Who of us can forget the slightly puzzled look followed by a smarmy 'hello' most politicians will give you if you stare at them long enough – in case you are important enough not to be forgotten :-). Anyway, a group of prominent Jews has written a letter expressing their support for him, and their disbelief of the anti-Semitic label.

Bushbaptist said...

@Anon 13.39: I need to clarify what is being said here but I won't take it any further after this comment as we are digressing again.

You claimed that Bush didn't attack civilians well, what about Fallujah? What about the tonnes of white phosphorus that the Yanx used in defiance of the Geneva Convention on the use of it? What about the civilians who were trapped in the city and couldn't leave? What about the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died because Bush/Blair deliberately lied?

Israel is the last Great Oklahoma Land Grab. If you don't know what that means research it. You seem to studiously ignore the attacks on Gaza by Israel including a UN school sheltering civilians, shooting fish in barrel. The civilians have no where to escape to.

Corbyn has sympathies for the Palestinian people who have been Ethnically Cleansed from the land that they have owned and occupied for thousands of years. Good for him.

Wayne Mapp said...

Well, at least on this part of the Right, the rise of Corbyn is viewed with bemusement, not fear. It simply seems baffling that UK Labour is apparently quite keen to spend till 2025 in opposition.
Of course the Conservatives had 13 years in opposition from 1997 to 2010 whilst the the Labour Leader most despised by the left successfully captured the centre. Now all the Lefties, both here and in the UK claim that Blair doesn't have the first clue about what moves the British electorate. If that is what they think, why disturb their myopia.
At least the Right respects political success. Even Muldoon, at least in his last term, possibly the worst Prime Minister since WW2, does not evoke the hatred of National supporters that Blair seems to provoke, both here and in the UK.

Bushbaptist said...

In fact there is a post at Counterpunch about this very thing. Very droll but very true.

Grant said...

@Wayne. Did you have the courage to make that comment about Muldoon to his face? Did you make it publicly at all while he was alive? Thought not.

peterlepaysan said...

Corbyn is a rarity these days. He believes in democracy. This is very uncomfortable for those on the right (they are never wrong and should never be be questioned, after all they are born to rule.)

The NZLP caucus has long ignored the membership base that put them where they are and wonder about the missing non voters at General Elections.

Of course Corbyn pisses people off. Neither the left or the right appreciate being called to account by the people who put them in power.

Drug addicts often resent and renege on paying for their drugs.

Political power is a powerful aphrodisiac.

Corbyn is a breath of welcome fresh air in a smug bound establishment britain.

Some of the posts above seem planted as diversions (successfully, given responses).

How it all plays out promises to be great political theatre, of some marginal interest to nz. WE do not have a Corbyn in our political midst.

Anonymous said...

Of course the 'Centre' is the lowest common denominator, by definiton!

Corbyn's emerging economic policies are now getting serious approval:


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Blair quite possibly knew what moved the British electorate at the time. But what seems to have been forgotten by most people on the right is that – firstly he actually lied to get British involvement in a war. LIED. Which shows at the very least a lack of ethics greater than the average politician, where the bar is reasonably low anyway. And secondly, today he owns a company which provides PR advice for dictators. I mean for fuck's sake – words almost fail me – not common I know. I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say he was a war criminal, but the man should be shunned and reviled by every ethical person.
And now he's become part of a debate about so-called purity versus electoral success. I don't think there are too many people who don't believe that politics needs compromise. Even Corbyn. But obviously the man is expressing a view that many people broadly agree with. And the choosing of a British Labour Party leader is at least as democratic as anything we have here. Bugger it I think they should give the man a chance.
You see, when you guys crap on about Stalinism, and Helengrad, New Zealand being like Cuba, and the rest of those exaggerations, you tend to lose credibility when it comes to criticising people from the left :-).

Anonymous said...

Hard to disagree Wayne, I think the lefts obsession with Jermy and the claim that he will move the 'Overton Window' left is not so much myopia as intellectual narcissism and resentment at being regarded as barking mad by 99% of the population. Jeremy arrives and agrees with policies which will split his party and lose them the next election by a landslide. but he agrees with the "deep thinkers" of the far left and makes them feel less like the mad political hermits they are - and the dances of ecstasy begin.

I think between Jeremy the beardie and Nicola the Scottish serpent we should see the UK Labour party split into 2 and get the biggest drubbing in they're history, twill be a beautiful thing, with the bonus that Labour under Corbyn will wipe out the greens Hooooooooray

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that Labour, under Corbyn, would not have to win an absolute majority; just enough to form a coalition government with the Scottish Nationalists and the LibDems. (The latter's dalliance with the Tories was not exactly a rip roaring success.)

Chales E said...

Chris is right. We who love politics cannot respect the so called middle, although referring to them as swamp dwellers is novel. Are they not the modern 'masses'? Those people easily led by seemingly inspirational leaders, yet often dangerous people, like the murderous communists and fascists (the same really)of the bad old days. When they get traction it is the swamp that they hypnotise and turn into a 'movement' which usually ends in gulags and or genocide. Those who were always on solid ground at either side more often form the minority opposition to these awful mass movements. We have to then go underground to destroy the cancer of mass appeal.
Such stampedes or plagues are always disasters so be careful what you wish for Chris. When Tories wish Corbyn well too, watch out as we do so for the fun of it and knowing he may destroy Labour. He is no great speaker I hear though, so perhaps he will flower then shrivel. As farmers say, every dog has his day. Go Corbyn!

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Corbyn has been in parliament since the 1980's hes never served on the front bench and he is regarded with contempt as a crusty old socialist by almost all of his party. He rebelled repeatedly against his party under Tony 'the saviour' Blair.

I totally understand how such and uncompromising old Trot can fire up the base, but how is this crazy old Beardy going to come across to the normal 95%, let alone shift the centre to the left - this has got to be your best work of fiction yet Trotter and its full of mirth and humour - Im nominating you for the man booker.

Hang onto your day job Chris Im not expecting Labour to shaft Salmond to hire you.

greywarbler said...

This notion of politicians targeting the centre, is at the heart of the default position of politics today. Karl Rove and now Crosby and Textor have developed their poisonous art of targeting which has been enabled by the might of the computer. Rove was plotted decades ago defining where the most swinging voters could be found, which demographic, location etc. and smoozing them about their own interests. Now the personal, individual consideration is paramount, not what's good for the country, for people's and animals wellbeing, for job and financial stability.

This morning Hooton commented on the worksafe legislation in line with how many National voters would care about risks to workers as they were not affected. A prime example of the lack of integrity and selfish-centredness that present political thinking and direction encourages. What about the country the oddballs cry!

In future I am not bothering to read what Anonymice say. You all look the same to me, invisible men I would imagine. But what you say Chris is always interesting and owned by you.

pat said...

the disdain you heap upon the centre Chris is strangely similar to the way they are treated by our political elite, whom curiously you berate for that very fact.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny how when people begin supporting a leader the right don't like they suddenly become "easily led". As I said, I've had experience of this before. It is pure bullshit, and as usual presented without any evidence whatsoever. It never seems to occur to them that people are supporting Corbyn because they agree with his policies. It can't be that, because they don't like his policies. So it's got to be some sort of hypnotic hold. If anyone however is easily led, it's those drones who don't even think about politics in any meaningful way. Those National party supporters who vote ACT in Epsom for instance because they are told to. Now that's easily led :-).

markus/swordfish said...

Anonymous (09:32 24 August)
"Jeremy arrives and agrees with policies which will...lose them the next election by a landslide, but he agrees with the "deep thinkers" of the far left..." (and on and on ad nauseam)

Hate to break it to you, Sport, but UK opinion polls suggest many of Corbyn's key policy proposals actually have majority support. Anti-austerity, bringing railways and energy companies into public ownership, rent controls, higher taxes for the super-wealthy, mandatory living wage, cuts to tuition fees, nuclear weapons control, along with his previous opposition to the Iraq War and bombing of Syria - on all these issues, Corbyn is entirely in tune with public opinion (in stark contrast to the Blairite/Tory Establishment you so adore). So, in fact, you're describing not so much the intellectual Left but rather a clear majority of the British population as "barking mad" and "far left". You really do need to move in wider social circles.

For recent poll stats revealing UK voters' positive attitudes to nationalising key assets and utilities (with breakdowns by party support) - have a look at my (swordfish) comment two-thirds of the way down Colonial Viper's post on THE STANDARD ('Hard Left Corbyn receives public backing from 41 leading economists').

Wayne Mapp said...


I did say to National party people when I joined in 1982 that I was joining in spite of Muldoon, not because of him. And I said that in any event he is in his last term as PM and is not the future of the National Party. So people, in the National Party, including some who were very senior, knew my views.

Grant said...


So the answer to both my questions is "No".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Muldoon would have eaten the bugger alive, Grant. The only time I ever saw him being told anything to his face was by university students when he came to speak on campus. And even then, it was probably safety in numbers :-).