UK Politics

Are you a 'centrist dad'?

Tony Blair and family on his final day as PM Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The original centrist dad?

We've had "dad dancing" and "dad rock" - now meet "centrist dad", whose antics are an apparent source of frustration and embarrassment to young Labour Party activists.

"Centrist dads are middle-aged men who cannot come to terms with the world and politics changing," says Matt Zarb-Cousin, who helped popularise the term, which has been flying around among supporters of Jeremy Corbyn at this week's Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Mr Zarb-Cousin was the Labour leader's official spokesman and is now a vocal advocate for his former boss on social media.

Image copyright AFP

"They think that they must know better because they are older and wiser," he says. "Their politics are vague because they just come across as contrarians, unwilling to engage in any meaningful political debate."

When Mr Corbyn was elected leader in 2015, just a handful of MPs supported his left-wing platform, which most thought would prove electorally disastrous.

The prophesies of electoral doom were not borne out at the general election, when Labour confounded the polls to gain 30 seats and deprive the Conservatives of an overall majority.

Stephen Bush, special correspondent at the New Statesman, says: "'[Use of the term] 'centrist dad' is a reaction to the condescension faced by Corbyn's supporters over the past two years.

"It's a reaction to that worldly wise, 'Well, Son, when you get to my age you'll think differently.'"

Image caption Centrist dads... fans of Top Gear?

Ellie Mae O'Hagan, a journalist and supporter of the left-wing campaign group Momentum, goes further than this.

She sees centrist dads as characterised by their "aggressive condescension" towards women, especially online.

"These are men who message me repeatedly, addressing me as 'young girl', and are constantly trying to 'teach me' what to think. It's patronising, but it also has a sleazy edge."

She insists it is a "peculiarly male phenomenon" and offers a description of a stereotypical centrist dad: "He's white, middle-class, wears a leather jacket and probably watches Top Gear on Amazon Prime."

Mr Corbyn's supporters consider his election strategy a huge success, proving the party's younger, more left-wing cohort better understand the new political context.

But not all party members agree.

Glen Miller, a Labour member living in Manchester, says he and others online have adopted the nickname as a "badge of honour" in the battle for the soul of the party.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Corbyn supporters - old and young - turn out for a rally in Brighton ahead of conference

Ms Mae O'Hagan objects to this, saying: "It definitely is a negative label - 'centrist dad' doesn't just mean you're centrist and a dad." But she's not surprised some are attempting to reclaim the term.

However, Mr Miller says: "I and others are on the edge of giving up. Other more indignant centrist dads are in for the long battle. It's a hard decision."

Chris Sheridan, a 39-year-old Labour member living in Glasgow, remains happy to be identified as a centrist dad.

He says: "[Labour has] been on a downward trajectory since David Miliband lost to his brother [in 2010].

"The general election was not a victory, on any terms. We lost to a breathtakingly bad Tory campaign."

Mr Sheridan says Mr Corbyn would be a "disastrous" prime minister, adding: "I don't agree with simply backing the Labour leader because the alternative might be the Tories."

Centrist dads tend to take issue with left-wing policies such as nationalising the railways and public utilities.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A protest by anti-Brexit campaigners outside the Labour conference

But the bitterest split is over the UK's vote to leave the EU. Labour has committed to carrying out Brexit by leaving the single market and ending free movement, rejecting calls for a second referendum.

Self-identified centrist dads dislike this, noting Mr Corbyn's history of Euroscepticism before he became party leader.

Mr Sheridan says: "I cannot agree to park those concerns for some fairy tale socialist nonsense, or to pretend that ignoring the hard Brexiteers leading the Labour Party is a price worth paying for the appearance of unity."

Mr Corbyn's supporters think the party should focus on domestic issues, such as the NHS, education and housing, rather than Brexit.

"[Centrist dads] think Labour should take a position that does not respect the result of the referendum," says Matt Zarb-Cousin. "You can't ask the country what they think about something and then ignore what people have decided."

Is it a real demographic?

In June, young voters turned out in significantly higher numbers than at other recent elections. The 18-24 group overwhelmingly voted Labour.

This was one of the reasons the party did so much better than expected, but this demographic makes up only a small proportion of the voting-age population.

Voters aged over 55 backed the Conservatives in a big way, helping the party win 56 more seats than Labour.

Slightly younger voters, though, swung to Labour. People aged 25 to 34 were twice as likely to vote Labour as Conservative, while Mr Corbyn's party also had a big lead among those aged 35 to 44.

However there was a gender split within these age groups, with women more likely to vote Labour than men.

"Labour won the mum, and both the twenty-something kids," says Stephen Bush. "But the Tories took the grandparents, great aunt, and the dad as well.

"So centrist dad got the last laugh."

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