Facing increasingly polarized political positions, some members of the Liberal Party of Canada seem to be lobbying for a campaign that specifically brands Liberals as being in the “middle.” The centre may be a place to govern, but it is not the campaign messaging that will help the party regain relevance. Here are five reasons why political parties relying on a “centrist” message to get elected will ultimately fail:
It’s a moving target.
The trouble with a party in the middle is that it only exists in relation to the other two party positions. The centre can’t be staked out until the other two sides are clearly nailed down. While the centre party waits for those two sides to get themselves grounded, they lose precious time and give their opponents a head start. And the two sides can shift and shuffle around endlessly as a strategy to keep the centrist party off balance.
It is crowded.
Because the centre is so benign and neutral, it can shift to accommodate parties on either side. It belongs to no one. Other candidates can quite easily crowd their way into the centre and steal a centrist party’s thunder. This is the black hole of politics—parties that try to stay permanently in the centre will disappear from the limelight in the end, squeezed on both sides into a narrow space without room to grow.
It doesn’t inspire.
Sandwiched between two positions like an Oreo cookie, the middle is just too “vanilla” to inspire voters. It’s hard enough to get people out to vote as it is, but if your election platform is a collection of sensible but “unsexy” solutions you will have real trouble capturing the imagination of the electorate. Let’s face it—boring voters as a way of getting them to vote for you is a losing proposition. The Oreo centre is nothing without the two chocolate wafers, which is why it has never made it on its own.
It doesn’t attract strong leaders.
No leader wants to lead a party where the platform is uninspiring, the positions on the political spectrum are constantly in flux and the field is so crowded it’s nearly impossible to stand out. Leaders want to be bold, definitive and they want to separate themselves from the crowd. Leaders can’t lead a party to election victory from the so-called “sensible centre.” They need to break out and emerge from a position of strength, distinction and clarity.
It looks too much like “fence sitting”
Managing a campaign that is supposed to stay in the middle of two opposing sides will have another perception to battle. It appears to the average voter that you are “sitting on the fence,” afraid to take a decisive position on anything. If there’s anything voters dislike in their elected politicians, it is hedging, dodging, sidestepping, flip flopping—whatever you want to call it—there’s a reason the thesaurus has a large number of phrases to express this idea. People distrust those who don’t clearly state their position or who change their position frequently. The centrist position, by its very nature, is fluid and constantly changing.
Getting back to naturally governing requires getting back to basics
Aspiring to govern from the centre once elected is a worthwhile goal. The centre is where you want to end up, after giving all sides an opportunity to give input and have their say. It is a place where the other side has agreed to meet you. It makes everyone feel like they’ve made sacrifices for the greater good to get there. No one party can claim they own the centre or the beauty of the centre becomes tainted.
The Liberal Party of Canada needs to put forward a strong liberal vision that differentiates itself from the opposition. What does the party stand for? Liberals themselves are all over the map in forums and social media.
The best way to convince Canadians that Liberals should govern again is to clearly define positions with a focus on the roots of liberalism–what it means and how it translates into policy making in the modern world. The battle for election should be between clear choices and positions. Muddling things by pushing a message about simply being in the “centre” is not an effective election strategy.
Miss Cranky Pants (aka Jody MacPherson) is a communications consultant, social media fan, politico, soccer mom, divorcee (is it any wonder?) and coffee addict who gets a little testy without regular caffeine.