A Centrist Approach to Resolving Issues

It is helpful for politicians to take a centrist approach to resolving issues, so that they can maximise acceptability to the population.

Politicians need to consider their decisions carefully, to persuade themselves and the public that they are doing the right thing.  Each political ideology and implementation approach has some validity – so for anyone, whatever their views, it is worth checking whether the treatment of any particular issue should move further in that direction:

●  An individualist (6.2.2) might ask whether government intervention could be avoided and whether people couldn’t buy their own services, although it would also be necessary to enquire whether regulation might be needed.

●  A collectivist (6.2.3) might ask whether a proposed decision would properly respect everybody’s rights, taking care to include minorities and those who are economically disadvantaged.  If not, one might then ask what it would cost to achieve a ‘fairer’ settlement and what effect such spending would have on other government programmes and on the economy as a whole.

●  A conservative (6.2.4) might ask if any governance change were necessary, or whether people could just be persuaded to behave differently within the current system.  If change could not be avoided, one might then ask how its disruptive impact might be minimised.

●  A progressive (6.2.5) might ask whether a different system would be better.  A risk analysis would be appropriate if making the case for radical change.

People might follow some of these thought processes informally, but it may be worth asking all four questions in formal consultations on difficult issues, as described later (6.5.3).  Publishing the analysis would then help to convince doubters that a decision had been carefully and fairly reached: transparent evidence of an inclusive negotiation (2.4).

To illustrate the need for reconciling differences, John Hume acted as an intermediary between the IRA and the Ulster Unionists in Northern Ireland.  He advocated the centrist approach – between two extreme forms of nationalism and sectarian differences.  He said that “Politics is the alternative to war“.  An LRB article by him, on the end of the Unionist veto in Ulster, included this quotation:

“…we still have too many who simply want victory for their point of view. When will they learn that they are not the people? Like ourselves, they represent only a section of the people and all sections have to be involved and accommodated in any solutions.”

This quotation should apply to all aspects of government policy.  As outlined at the beginning of this book (Chapter 2): governance should be acceptable, negotiable, inclusive and prudent.  The requirement for acceptability favours a centrist approach, to get the support of most people.  Matthew d’Ancona’s article, The missing centre, pointed out that the centrist approach has become discredited by being identified with an unresponsive political elite; it needs to be revitalised:

“centrism …is the only electorally plausible alternative to the rampant populism that has been such an unmitigated disaster. To abandon the values that centrists have long held—the commitment to reason, practical public policy, the rule of law, internationalism, pluralism and basic decency—would be a grave abdication of responsibility.”


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6263b.htm