All cliche-mongers are annoying. None is more annoying, however, than the politician or pundit who announces that “elections are only won from the centre ground of British politics” and expects the audience to applaud the profundity of his insight. It is true – or, rather, it is a truism – that no party can hope to win without the support of centrist voters. But the land centrists inhabit is a treacherous place. Just when you think you’ve found it, the centre ground shifts beneath your feet.
In 2006, David Cameron rejected the Thatcherite policy of slashing public spending and announced: “We have moved back to the ground on which this party’s success has always been built: the centre ground of British politics.” Now he is slashing public spending with a ferocity Thatcher never managed. In 2007, Gordon Brown slapped down Peter Hain for criticising opulent City bonuses. Such talk would alienate aspirational voters and bring to an end Labour’s winning strategy of “occupying the centre ground of British politics”. Within less than a year of Brown passing his grand judgment, the bankers rewarded him by crashing the economy.