Justin Trudeau, bless him. This is a man who built a whole brand on identity politics, changing laws in Canada to fit his political agenda. This is a leader who is happy to continue former PM Stephen Harper’s work, destroying Alberta in order to pursue only the dirtiest of methods to produce oil. In contrast Trudeau has constructed a government that is morally outraged if an individual is caught using the wrong pronouns regarding someone’s identity. This type of “faux pas” potentially can land you in big trouble under Bill C-16! So forgive me if I take some time out of my day to ridicule this man.
If you are going take the path of the identarian righteous, be sure to have no skeletons in your cupboard/closet or ensure that you’ve deleted any trace of being a fallible human being. It’s a little like “original sin” only Social Justice Warriors usually offer no form of redemption. I’d like to think that the SJW brigade will be as hard on him as they would be on any other cis gendered, white man, who transgresses across their puritanical boundaries, but alas, I suspect equal handedness is not an identarians strong point.
For those who have been living in a cave, or quite rightly have better things to do, you may have missed that Mr Social Justice dressed up as a genie nearly 20 years ago, complete with brownface. Some of you will be instinctively outraged and consider this as deeply racist. While the more pragmatic among us are probably thinking “well that wasn’t a smart thing to do, if you’re going to pursue a career in public office built entirely on identity politics”. Just for reference, you’ll find me in group two.
Do I think what he did was racist? Nah, it has to be put into context, but context appears illusive in this era of instant outrage. Under normal circumstances identarians both in the media and among the activists would devour him, but I guess Super Justin will get a pass. He’s already rocked up to the cameras while giving his best little boy lost impersonation and he may well cop a little flack, but in the end I’m sure he’ll live to fight another day.
This, however, is not an article on the exploits of Teflon Trudeau, but more about the hypocrisy centrists in general. Firstly I acknowledge that the term liberal is as wide as the political chasm between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. It has quite specific meanings dependent on the country involved. In the US it can range from centre right often known as classical liberalism through to the centre left sometimes called modern liberalism, which includes social liberalism. Hence, why I opted for the term centrist.
It’s a political stance that could be used to describe Tony Blair, Justin Trudeau, Hillary Clinton, Jo Swinson (Lib Dems UK), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP UK) and Joe Biden (US ex Vice President) among countless others. In short, a centrist makes an appeal to the public based on competency. The idea is to appear slick, media savvy and professional, a political insider if you will. This of course can backfire spectacularly if confronted with a populist or outsider such as Trump, as seen in the case of Hillary Clinton.
Many people have suggested that centrist politics in our current polarised political climate are dead, but not so quick with the obituary. Firstly, I’m going to propose a simple definition to make thinks easier when separating centrist liberals from the left. My view goes as follows; if you embrace capitalism and promote it as the best way for society to proceed and flourish, then you are not on the left. To clarify, you could be stuck in a capitalist society working towards substantial change through democratic means, such as Corbyn, for me that’s fine. But, to not search or strive for a better system outside of capitalism is a departure from the left, in my opinion.
In recent times centrists, liberals, 3rd wayers or whatever you want to call them generally promote shades of a similar viewpoint. It goes roughly like this, they support capitalism, some more fervently than others and they routinely use social justice as a tool of control. The whole “liberal” thing can be baffling, from the Democrats in the US, the Liberals Democrats in the UK, the Liberal Party in Canada and even the confusingly named Australian Liberal Party, which describe themselves as centre-right. Simplistically, what all of these parties have in common is they have nothing to do with the left.
Of course there are a small group of politicians who are part of the Democrats and who proclaim to be on the left, however, the driving force is still very much from the centre/centre-right or corporate Democrats. This was never more obvious, than when Bernie Sanders ran in the 2016 primaries and how biased the DNC were in favour of Hillary Clinton. In global terms many of Bernie’s proposals would be seen no more than common sense centrist ideas, hardly an extremist. Although, in the socialist phobic US he is laughably considered in some political circles as the reincarnation of Lenin.
In many ways I have more of a problem with centrists than I do with the Republicans (US), Conservatives (UK) and the National Party (NZ). With right-wingers you know where you stand, unless of course you are politically illiterate or simply uninterested. Take Boris Johnson, he is an upper class Conservative Prime Minister, who is a direct descendant from George II and a distant cousin of the present Queen. His full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, he was educated at Eton School and attended Oxford University. It doesn’t take a genius to work out he probably isn’t a man of the people or not people you and I know.
In contrast centrists may sound like they care, they’ll talk endlessly about reducing gender wage gaps, and racial inequality. They may even look and appear empathic, but underneath the façade they are deeply committed to corporate capitalism. Former President, Barack Obama was the poster boy of centrism, known for his shapeshifting style of politics, consisting of all spin and no substance. Incidentally, he left the White House with the military still bombing 8 countries, more than George W, while stealing from the US treasury to enrich the corporate elite.
Obama didn’t invent identity politics, but he did manage to force it upon the mainstream’s consciousness. In brief, it is the notion that an individual’s varying identities shape their political views and is the primary method for which most parties now rally support. In many nations within the ‘anglosphere’ the idea of “one nation” or the notion of being “colour blind” or “group blind” is considered outdated and racist. However, this approach was born not out of ignorance for other people’s struggles, rather out of unity to fight against the tiny cabal of the ruling elite that continue to pull the strings even today.
Now, competing groups repeatedly fight for airtime, desperate to be recognised as more oppressed than the other. This moves away from inclusion and universalism towards a society punctuated by deep division. What transpires is exclusivity and a hierarchy regarding who can or cannot speak on certain matters based on their identity. As the game continues, groups split further, in their quest for the title of the least privileged. In general, when groups feel threatened and ignored they retreat into tribalism closing ranks, while becoming more authoritarian and punitive towards outsiders. This is occurring all over the political map and is quite clearly not a galvanising force.
In the US one of the major factors that separates the left from the right is identity politics. Even most political commentators will declare someone on the left or indeed the far left completely dependent on their views around social justice. In the US there is no coherent or forceful economic argument critiquing capitalism while envisioning an alternative path forward. All roads inevitably lead to identity politics, but this is a cul de sac offering no unified vision for a movement that could benefit the most amount of people.
Centrists are marinated in hypocrisy. They talk about equality, but only in the narrow corridor of identity be it; race, gender or sexuality. This conveniently ignores something that affects more people on a daily basis than any other factor. An issue that can cause premature death, an escalation in crime, poorer education, an increase in wars, a demise in social cohesion, destruction of our planet and an erosion of our wellbeing. This my friends is the gap in social economic status, both through relative poverty and general poverty. It has a profound effect on the quality of life and the cause is capitalism.
Returning to Trudeau and his liberal ‘credentials’. In 2018 Trudeau proposed to nationalise the Kinder Morgan pipeline running from the tar sands in Alberta to British Columbia. Trudeau stated to a room full of oil executives back in 2017, “which country would leave 173bn barrels in the ground”. My answer would be, a government and Prime Minister who truly cares about the planet including its inhabitants. This is a typical centrist strategy which they like to refer to as pragmatism. In truth Trudeau is playing politics, to not go ahead with his pro-oil stance could result in a damaging backlash in Alberta, thus jeopardising any future re-election hopes.
Where Trudeau excels, is playing the equity card and his carefully crafted persona. He calls himself a feminist and was quick to assemble a gender-balanced cabinet, while appointing a significant number of people of colour to cabinet positions. Despite his posturing as a purveyor of all things social justice, Captain Fantastic is still happy to sell weapons to some of the most vicious and misogynistic countries in the world; Saudi Arabia and Columbia to name a couple. Trudeau is pro Trans Pacific Partnership and his main idea regarding reducing economic inequality as stated in Davos recently was to hire more women. He is the master of centrist deception, saying one thing but doing another.
People in the UK have seen first hand the empty rhetoric of a centrist in the form of Tony Blair, the master of spin, treachery and deceit. Like Obama, Blair managed to convince the working class after years of Thatcherism and then John Major that he could offer something different for the people. What Blair did do was market his product better than the Tories, while putting the financialisaton of the country on steroids.
To his credit Tony Blair introduced to the UK Sure Start and the minimum wage, but he also ushered in university tuition fees and the “Academy Scheme”, consisting of schools that were publicly financed while privately administrated. In health he created an internal market within the NHS and used the Public Finance Initiative to fund reforms. This was a private-public partnership that has proved more expensive than any publicly funded solution would have been. Blair also deregulated the finance sector, while declaring the Bank of England independent. Most of these ideas were purposefully ripped straight out of the Milton Friedman playbook for a neoliberal economy.
Blair also made a point of switching his target voters from the working class to the middle class, losing hundreds and thousands of core Labour Party members across traditional Labour heartlands. Millions of people in the North, the Midlands and areas such as South Wales felt marginalised or excluded from any economic prosperity. Despite all of this his worst decision undoubtedly, was taking Britain to war in Iraq on a lie centred around the illusive “weapons of mass destruction”. No politician’s reputation should remain intact after such a catastrophic move.
In the UK today still exists what is generally known as Britain’s 3rd party, the Liberal Democrats, a self proclaimed centrist group, currently led by Jo Swinson. The Lib Dem’s recent history is patchy at best, being complicit with the Conservatives throughout David Cameron’s austerity offensive during the time of the Con/Lib Dem coalition government. This saw their MP numbers reduce from 57 MP’s to 8, now however, they seem to be on the ascendancy thanks to their use of Brexit and splits within the two main parties.
New defecting MP’s such as Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger are prototypical centrists, careerist MP’s who fitted in well with New Labour, but not so snug in Jeremy Corbyn’s democratic socialist idea of the Labour Party. Supposedly pragmatic, they are slick, polished and completely driven by identity politics. Spending the best part of the last two years trying to oust Corbyn on fabricated and unfounded anti-Semitic allegations.
Head honcho Jo Swinson has aligned the Lib Dems as the primary remain party, the ultimate safe space for the middle class, bourgeoisie pious brigade. A group who insists on telling any ‘leave’ voter who will listen (or not) how wrong, racist and stupid they are. Without even considering the individual’s personal reasons for choosing Brexit, which incidentally was primarily a kickback against the neoliberal establishment, for which centrists are so wedded to. It’s important to note that during the coalition government, Swinson regularly presided over austerity and tax cuts for the rich. Just to clarify, here’s a portion of Jo Swinson’s voting record.
I’ve written this article with the hope of reminding people that an enemy to the people doesn’t automatically possess diametrically opposing views. Sometimes they are parasitic politicians or parties awaiting a chance to latch on so they can benefit from a volatile situation, such as Brexit. Chameleon’s who will say one thing and do the opposite (Obama) or who will champion the requirements of the wealthy to the detriment of the poorest in society while furthering their own careers (Hillary Clinton).
In summary, centrists are made up of professional politicians who will meticulously groom their image and mould themselves accordingly in order to obtain the highest office. These are people who will never reveal what they truly believe, all we are provided with is the hollow shell of a purposefully manufactured, careerist politician. But sometimes, just occasionally like Justin Trudeau they get caught out. Which frankly makes me smile from ear to ear. Just don’t expect too much to come from it.