In Depth

Does Britain need another centrist party?

A secret project to create a new political party reportedly has access to up to £50m in funding

Figures from across the political spectrum have been secretly planning to establish a new centrist party for more than a year, it has been revealed.

The movement, backed by a group of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and donors keen to “break the Westminster mould,” has access to up to £50m in funding, according to The Observer.

But critics warn any new party would face a number of challenges - not least the limits of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system – and wonder if the country needs another centrist movement.

What is being proposed?

The group is understood to have been drawn up by a group “frustrated by the tribal nature of politics, the polarisation caused by Brexit and the standard of political leadership on all sides,” the newspaper reports.

Led by former Labour donor and LoveFilm founder Simon Franks, the project appears to be aimed mainly at a liberal, centre-left audience.

“Potential policy proposals include asking the rich to pay a fairer share of tax, better funding for the NHS and improved social mobility,” the paper adds. “However, it also backs centre-right ideas on wealth creation and entrepreneurship and is keen to explore tighter immigration controls.”

Few other details have been made public, and the rest of the group’s supporters remain secret.

There have long been calls for a new party of the centre, especially after the success of French President Emmanuel Macron's En Marche! movement.

There may well be appetite for such a move: a ComRes poll for The Independent carried out before last year’s general election revealed that 45% of voters believed there is a need for a new centre-ground party in Britain.

However, the demise of the Social Democratic Party, set up by disillusioned Labour MPs in 1981, serves as a stark warning to those keen to form a new party.

A source close to the new movement says its founders “know that they might fail” and will need a decent dose of luck.

“But they care about this country and they want to challenge the way things are currently done by our current crop of professional politicians,” the source said. “They want to break the mould of Westminster politics.”

What has the reaction been?

Labour frontbenchers derided the move, with shadow chancellor John McDonnel tweeting: “That’s a novel idea. A party of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. A party for the few not the many.”

Shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, called it a “daft waste of time,” while Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, described the movement as “an establishment reboot job”.

The plans even drew criticism from “arch Jeremy Corbyn critic” Lord Adonis, who was among those who formed the breakaway SDP party, the Huffington Post reports.

Others on Twitter were equally unimpressed with the project:

Writing in the Financial Times, Henry Mance warns that Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system will make it nearly impossible for the party to achieve mainstream success, as the Liberal Democrats and Ukip have found out recently.

“In addition, although many centrists are outraged by Brexit, Britain is due to have left the EU by the time of the next scheduled general election in 2022,” he writes.

The other problem is that the movement lacks a prominent leader, Jane Merrick writes for the i newspaper. “It is a big budget film without a star, a lavish party without a host,” she says.

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