It’s been quite pleasant to see the reinvention of former Blairite Rottweiler Alastair Campbell as whoever is replacing Phillip Schofield to Rory Stewart’s Holly Willoughby on The Rest Is Politics podcast, and listen to these former adversaries “agreeably disagreeing”, as they would put it.
Except there isn’t that much disagreement between the pair. They’re both anti-Brexit, with a hatred for the populist post-truth tsunami of guff that’s been polluting our politics with an air of impunity that would only make sense if Therese Coffey were in charge of keeping them clean. They despise Putin and Trump, loathe Boris Johnson, and share an outward-looking approach to foreign affairs and international development. And, at the other end of the spectrum, Labour’s Corbyn experiment left them baffled and dazed and full of the joys of I-Told-You-So.
OMG, they’re basically me. And all the centrists I know. So why were they in different parties, even if they’re no longer in those parties now?
I blame the fence.
Imagine a fence that runs between the left wing and the right wing of British politics. That fence represents the proposition that the country needs a minimum level of public services in order for it to be habitable, and that those services must be paid for through taxation. If you’re just on the right of the fence you believe the proposition to be true and a necessary evil, and if you’re just to the left of that fence, you believe it’s true and a necessary good.
Most of the time, the people nearest the fence can co-exist happily and post sandwiches and Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers to each other through the bars, and talk about the many things they have in common, including the disdain they have for the people furthest away from the fence, who are, to be fair, absolute roasters.
But when money gets tight, the side that believes taxation is a necessary good will tend to raise the level of taxation to maintain and improve public services, while the side that believes taxation is a necessary evil will cut public services to maintain the level of taxation.
And that’s why, in the end, Alastair Campbell remains in the same camp as John McDonnell and Rory Stewart is on Liz Truss’s side. If they hadn’t already been booted out of both teams.