Why Turnbull is Right: We Need the Sensible Center

PM Malcolm Turnbull’s call for parties to move towards the “sensible center” is the only thing that can redeem politics from the mire of distrust and extremism in the Trump era.

The best democracy is liberal, insofar that it upholds freedom; and constitutional, in that it is ruled by laws and not by mobs. And while democracy is better than the alternatives, it is hard work, and far from perfect.

Democracies are by nature adversarial, they encourage a competition of ideas but also bitter and acrimonious attacks on rivals. Candidates do not so much try to debate as much as they attempt to destroy each other. Democracies often result in the election of a plethora of disparate political parties which are rarely united, leading to legislative gridlock, and political inaction. Governments often come to power by playing on collective fears and appealing to the unspoken prejudices of the masses. Democratic processes can be riddled with the corrupting influence of lobbyists who promise political donations and post-political jobs for favorable legislation. In Africa and the Middle East, democracy simply means that the biggest tribe or the largest sect rules at the expense of the rest.

But democracy is better than a totalitarian state where there is repression, tyranny, and people do not have a say in how they are governed.

What is more, if we are to avoid political extremism – of both the left and the right – which is not conducive to a pluralistic democracy, comprised of people of all forms of political, religious, and cultural beliefs, then we need to mount a case in favour of an inclusive and centralist democracy.

If there is one thing that the current political climate is teaching us it is that our relative prosperity in the west has not made us any less acrimonious in our political beliefs. Indeed, if anything, the political divisions in Australia and the USA are probably worse than ever before. Bi-partisanship is not merely fantasy now, it is an offence. Even for good, one should not cooperate with those “fascists” or those “marxists.” The purpose of oppositions is no longer to hold the government to account or to offer an alternative, but to obstruct for the sake of obstructing and to render governments ineffective even if they are trying to do the right thing.

This is why Malcolm Turnbull’s call for the ALP and LNP to work towards a “sensible center” is so badly needed, as is his plea to his own party to govern from the center. (Of course, whether the LNP is marching towards a sensible center rather than drifting to the right is a very good question!)

Centrism is needed because:

– It is inclusive rather than divisive
– It seeks after consensus rather than manufacturing mutual contempt
– It builds bridges rather than erects barriers.
– It delivers us from the ethno-nationalist right and the statism of the left.
– It proves that the things that bind us are ultimately stronger than the things that divide us

The “sensible center” has had critics from both the right and the left, but it is the only alternative if we are to stop our political divides from widening even further. It is the only way we can prevent dissatisfaction with the major parties leading to the election of either an alt-right or quasi-marxist populist party unleashing its punitive chaos upon us.