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Ideas & Observations

Straight down the middle

As the next General Election moves increasingly into view, John Duns, director at North East Times Magazine, advocates a centrist approach after years of politics on the margins.

The home of the Royal and Ancient Game of Golf has produced many a fine player.

And in 1960s Scotland, one in particular was adding his own unique swing to the decade of revolution.

Ronnie Shade, contrary to his surname, was a shining light, a top amateur who won numerous tournaments and played many times for Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup against the might of the US.

He had three middle names – David Bell Mitchell – meaning his initials read as R.D.B.M. Shade.

And as an accurate player – his shots invariably found the fairway – it didn’t take long for golf’s cognoscenti to christen him ‘Right Down the Bloody Middle’.

And it is right down the bloody middle, I contend, where most people in our region, and indeed the UK, sit politically.

But what does this mean?

Roughly, it’s a feeling of tolerance as to what works best.

It isn’t a politically dogmatic stance.

Instead, it means it is fine to have a national health service – a socialist introduction of the 1945 Atlee Government – while also fine to want to own your own home.

It is fine to be proud to be British, while also fine to accept new people seeking to become so.

It is ok to feel good about the best parts of our past – rule of law, great inventions (from rail to penicillin) and it is ok to acknowledge we made mistakes from India to Ireland.

It is ok to be ambitious and ‘get on’ to make a good living, and it is ok to take care of the less fortunate.

Today, however, everyone seems to be asking, ‘which side are you on?’

On the far left, we have those who say everything the West has done is dreadful, and that we should perennially wear sackcloth and ashes.

And then we have the far right, who dream of the height of Empire of 1897, when Queen Victoria watched over all it controlled.

This highly unhelpful dichotomy has been a battleground in politics for some years, but has been – and continues to be – exacerbated by multi-clarion calls of endless social media commentators.

The nature of such instant – usually instinctive – activity is that the extremes make the most noise, while the rest of us feel dazed and confused.

Life is grey, not black and white.

Look at our region’s history.

The North East was at the forefront of the industrial revolution.

It’s pioneers, such as Stephenson the railway man, Swan with the light bulb, Armstrong with hydraulic cranes and Parsons with the steam turbine attracted mass immigration to the region from other parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and beyond.

The region’s population grew tenfold from 1800 to 1900.

We helped make the world a more prosperous place. We built ships and railways to make it smaller.

However, for many, working conditions were shocking and life was short and dangerous. Pay was invariably low.

Unions developed to help make things fairer.

Governments began to loosen voting restrictions and the middle class began to grow.

Education was radically improved, allowing opportunities to ‘rise up’.

This combination of innovation and international trade improved working conditions and increased health provision, leading to life, for the vast majority, being better than ever before.

Health insurance pensions were pushed through – often with hard battles against vested interests.

In simple terms, UK governments sought to follow a roughly middle way, encouraging industry while tempering a profit-only motive.

Even the most radical on the right – Thatcher – did not denationalise health or seek to destroy benefits (she wanted them reduced relative to earnings).

The irony of the extremes is typified by the attitude of the right and left towards Boris Johnson.

To the right, he’s a near socialist, who endorsed government intervention and spent far too much.

To the left, he was a proto-fascist.

In truth (a very loaded word these days!) he was neither.

Johnson simply craved personal power, and didn’t possess the executive skills to manage.

The plain truth is that providing a country with a good standard of living and a safe place to live is damned complicated.

Compromise, evaluation and the studying of fine detail are all necessary components. They are not throwaway lines.

History shows more people are happy when things go down the middle, just like a good golfer regularly finding the fairway.