The left-right spectrum is a political model used to identify the politics of individuals and parties. The two main parties in the UK are the Conservatives and the Labour Party and both are now regarded as centrist parties. But this has not always been in the case, and many policies within each party have changed in the recent years to a more centrist opinion from opposite sides of the spectrum. Firstly the Labour Party has moved from being a left-wing party to a much less radical centre party.
Historically Labour has been a socialist (essentially centre-left; leaning more to the left) party, particularly regarding economic policies. Socialism is commonly defined as a common ideology of common ownership and this idea can be identified in Labour’s early history. For example embedded in the Labour Party constitution (clause four) written in 1918 Labour stated an aim of nationalizing the majority of industries in the country.
However as part of the Clause 4 Moment in 1997 led by Tony Blair, the constitution was rewritten to more centrist views. An example of this is the removal of Clause Four which meant Labour moved to free market economic ideas. Free market economics is largely based on limited government intervention and leaving the market to its own ends which is in stark contrast to Labour’s early socialist economic views.
Though this change is looked upon as the time of ‘New Labour’ when Labour moved to the centre, for the previous decade under Neil Kinnock they had already begun accepting centrist views like joining the EU. The counter view would be that the Labour constitution still contains socialist opinions like equality of power, tolerance and justice; however all these views are now very widespread among the public and are viewed as fundamental rights. The other main party are the Conservatives; they too have shifted to the centre and now include much more liberal ideas.
This can be seen throughout the 20th Century as under moderate pragmatic leaders like Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath they ensured despite their preferences for conservative values they still appealed to the working classes. Indeed this continued under Margaret Thatcher; although her Conservative government was and is viewed as very traditional and did indeed have strong conservative elements (strong government and leadership, family values, patriotism, religion) the Thatcher era did introduce neo-liberal attitudes like free-marketism, individualism and minimal state intervention.
Recent Conservative leaders like John Major and David Cameron can also be seen as being very liberal and very centrist in the majority of their views. For example- Cameron is socially liberal on issues ranging from gay rights, to equality and the rights of minority ethnic groups. These modern Tory views are sometimes viewed as the Conservative reaction to New Labour, in an attempt to ensure the Conservatives still appeal to the public and showcase the now majority liberal views.
Whereas some would say that some modern Conservative MP’s retain anti-EU, anti-immigration and strong authoritarian attitudes, they are a very small minority in Parliament and are backbenchers with no real support or say. The majority opinion is now centrist so in order to be elected, all major parties ensure they appeal to this majority. It is fair to say that in most countries, the new age of technology has ushered a growing sense of tolerance.
In addition most people are no longer as divided on issues ranging from the economy (the majority being predominantly market economy), society (protection of vulnerable members of society) and human/personal rights. In addition the failure of radical parties in the 20th Century (popular examples include the Nazis, Communism in Russia) and the This means that this must be reflected in the attitudes of political parties, as the aim of a political party is to form a government and in a democracy like the UK that means be elected by the public.
While the media and public like to sensationalize and stress the numbers of extremists and radicals, at the 2010 General Elections 90% of the electorate voted for centrist parties (Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats) which shows just how largely public opinion is based around centre politics. It also needs to be remembered that UK politics is not just about English politics, and the parties’ currently holding most seats in the other Home Nations have also moved towards the centre.
For example the SNP, like Labour have shifted towards the centre from previously being more socialist. Another example is in Northern Ireland, where despite remaining largely right-wing, the DUP have toned down some of their views towards the centre. In conclusion, it is a more than valid argument to suggest that the main parties have moved towards the centre of the political spectrum as many of their policies have become less extreme to capture a larger portion of the electorate. Perhaps the real question is how far have the major UK parties moved to the centre?