Center the serious place in politics

What in the World: What the GOP can learn from London
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What in the World: What the GOP can learn from London 03:27

Story highlights

  • Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain's Labour Party this month
  • Fareed Zakaria: Most serious place in politics remains the center ground

Fareed Zakaria is host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," which airs Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)When Britain's Labour Party moved way left in the 1970s and early 1980s, somebody called one of its political platforms "the longest suicide note in history." And in fact, during that period, the party ended up losing four elections in a row.

Well, they might be returning to that checkered past by electing a radical left-winger, Jeremy Corbyn, to be party leader. Corbyn is for the abolition of the monarchy, nationalization of key British industries, against Britain's nuclear deterrent and he calls Hamas and Hezbollah "our friends." Tony Blair -- the only leader to have led Labour to electoral victory in the last 40 years -- argued in "The Guardian" newspaper that Labour would not just lose, but lose big in the next elections.
Why has this happened? Many explanations focus on the financial crisis and its aftermath. The public is angry and ready for an anti-capitalist, anti-banker response. But that's not the only piece of this story.
    Fareed Zakaria
    The other, crucial element is that the Tory government of David Cameron has occupied the center ground of British politics. Just how far left has the current conservative government gone?
    Well:
    -- It has moderated its austerity program once its debt and deficit became more manageable.
    -- It enacted a sweeping regulation of the financial sector.
    -- It actually raised some taxes.
    -- It promised to increase spending on the National Health Service.
    -- It announced a minimum wage rise to around 9 pounds an hour by 2020 for everyone over 25. That's about $14 an hour in today's U.S. dollars.
    -- It has massively increased foreign aid -- it's up 36% since 2011.
    -- Cameron speaks urgently about global warming and has set annual carbon budgets.
    -- He is also an eager and enthusiastic advocate of gay marriage, pushed to legalize it while many predicted it would cause a revolt in his party and lead to his downfall in the next election.
    So, the Tories are now to the left, substantially, of every Republican candidate who was on that debate stage last Wednesday night.
    This was not always the case -- Margaret Thatcher was to the right of Ronald Reagan on many issues. But Cameron's reform conservatism places him much closer to the political center. And his move is a masterstroke, because it forces the opposition into a corner. Either Labour becomes a "Me Too" party or it moves to the extreme end of the spectrum.
    And, in fact, the problem for the more mainstream, Blair-ite Labour leaders has been that they were seen as Tory-lite. So now the Labour Party has the genuine article -- an unreconstructed socialist who will keep the party ideologically pure and politically irrelevant.
    The extremes make noise, but look who is governing countries -- Germany's Angela Merkel, Italy's Matteo Renzi. Even the leftist Francois Hollande in France has backtracked on much of his leftism. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's strategy is still the right one in a post-Cold War, postsocialist world -- the most serious place in politics remains the center ground.
    That's where the majority of people are.