James Frayne: There's a gap in the market for a new party - on the right
Outside of SW1, there is little public appetite for a liberal, pro-EU party led by someone like Chuka Umuuna.
The extreme anger of many Remain-voting Westminster commentators and politicians to the Leave victory - and the relative quiet to date of the provincial Leave-voting working class - seems to have convinced many of them that there's a gap in the market for a new centrist party. Signs of life for Lib Dems in the capital are apparently further evidence of this - and there are occasional rumours of cross-party meetings between self-consciously moderate MPs that might bring such a vision about.
Such a party would presumably back staying in the EU, more liberal immigration rules, an emphasis on rehabilitation not punishment in the justice system, more resources for the NHS, and so on. Unfortunately, the NHS policy aside, while such a party might thrive in SW1, it would likely bomb in the rest of the country. The reality is, as I've argued before, there are practically no genuine Centrists in the electorate and therefore no gap in the market for such a party. It's a vision that sustains dinner parties, not political parties.
A new poll by YouGov shows there is a real gap in the market for a new party – but it’s for a populist, right leaning party. The poll showed the following, for example: by 55%-25% (with the rest saying “don’t know”) people back tighter not looser restrictions on immigration; by 64%-21% people think the criminal justice system is too soft not too harsh; and by 33%-22%, people think the welfare state is too generous not to strict. But the public aren’t stereotypically right-wing: by 47%-4%, they think big business should be regulated more not less; by 81%-2% they think NHS spending should be increased not decreased; and by 47%-11% they think the Government should intervene in the housing market to promote building.
Too many politicians and commentators can’t seem to understand the fundamental point: the mass of the middle class and working class electorate aren’t centrist or moderate in the way they are; they hold a mix of very right-wing and very left-wing views on a range of issues. They cannot be placed conveniently on the political spectrum that we in politics regularly use to define ourselves. They see no contradiction – and indeed are baffled by the suggestion that there is any – between supporting a tougher justice system and more money for the NHS. The political prism that they see politics through is defined by the needs of their families, by fairness and by simple (non-aggressive patriotism).
Those floating the idea of centrist party should immediately commission some focus groups across the lower middle class and working class Midlands and North and see how their policy platform plays out.
But if there’s no potential for a centrist party and great potential for a populist party, why haven’t we seen such a party develop in earnest? In fact, why has UKIP gone into decline if such potential exists?
Not so long ago, the answer was, despite his undeniable political skills, that Nigel Farage spoke primarily to Southern Tories; now, the answer is that under Gerard Batten the party has crossed the line into toxic right-wing politics that looks and sounds weird and unpleasant to the provincial working class. If a populist party were to emerge – and there are no signs of it yet – it’s more likely to come out of provincial local government and business.