Theresa May's dominance of the centre ground

With 3 weeks to go until polling day, Theresa May’s Conservative Party is set to take half of the national vote as she solidifies her dominance of centre ground rhetoric.

The Labour Party has done half of the work for Mrs May by stepping aside into the socialist left and electing Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the government’s opposition, twice. In this, the left is failing to appeal to working class pride, and its pursuit of social liberalism has neglected to nurture the bonds underlying communities. It has instead embraced society of loose associations of individuals bound together by mutual respect for each other’s liberties.

The Labour Party’s socialist economics are distrusted by the electorate, and its social liberalism is perceived to magnify marginal concerns at the expense of major issues. This has sown division among the core Labour vote, and in times of austerity and slow economic growth, the electorate has turned elsewhere for alternatives who pledge to create a united society. As such, it is not simply the case that Mrs May is more adept at navigating the centre ground, it is the absence of any real opposition in the centre that permits her to stretch across from the right unheeded.

“The shared society is one that doesn’t just value our individual rights but focuses rather more on the responsibilities we have to one another”, and it these ideas which will secure Theresa May ex-Labour votes and deliver the increased majority she seeks. Working class Britons are proud to work and see their just rewards, but in a world of global markets and rapid technological advancement which is disorientating and dissociative, they also want a sense of belonging to a place and to a people. Theresa May’s language of strength and stability is a comforting antidote to the disempowerment felt by those uneasy with globalisation.

Mrs May’s rhetoric indicates her sympathy with the electorate’s distaste for excessive behaviour in the City, and her understanding of the public’s anger at the recklessness of the financial services sector which brought the global economy and all its workers to their knees. Although her language is more tempered, her sentiment is not dissimilar to the anger felt by Corbyn supporters who are outraged at the recklessness and arrogance of the banks. It is a mainstream grievance, and in her quest to conquer the centre, May has positioned big business as a problem for the nation to address and correct. Her interventionist conservatism is what will allow her to straddle the centre between moderate Labour and Conservative voters, as well as her understanding that the nation is just as concerned about its cultural and social wellbeing as its economic health.

May’s rejection of the ‘citizens of nowhere’ is a rejection of the self-interest of the social and economic liberalism which has dominated the political landscape for the past twenty years. Her unapologetic use of patriotism for the sake of social unification singles her out from other mainstream British politicians of the century, as it has been associated with the distasteful aspects of nationalism and considered too precarious a line to navigate. However, she has successfully welded patriotism to duty rather than just to pride, and it is her appeal to duty which justifies her economic interventions as a conservative (or a red tory, as some allege).

“The very word ‘citizen’ implies that we have responsibilities to the people around us. The people in our community, on our streets, in our places of work. And too often today, those responsibilities have been forgotten as the cult of individualism has taken hold, and globalisation and the democratisation of communications has encouraged people to look beyond their own communities and immediate networks in the name of joining a broader global community.” May’s words illustrate empathy with those who David Goodhart calls the Somewheres, (those who have strong group attachments, value security and familiarity, and are wary of change,) and criticism of the Anywheres (socially mobile internationalists who welcome change, value autonomy and self-realisation and who have no nostalgia for a Britain-gone-by).

May has positioned herself as the option who understands the Somewheres, and is prepared to make the Anywheres compromise on their monopoly on economic policies, and by dominating the rhetoric of the centre, support for May is Everywhere.

Daisy Cummins, Research Executive

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