A NETWORK of “entrepreneurs, philanthropists and donors” has been working secretly to establish a new centrist party, reported The Observer, and its columnists greeted the idea with at least two cheers. “Precedent suggests that a new party will fail,” noted Andrew Rawnsley. “Then again, the past few years have repeatedly shown us, from the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to Brexit, that precedent has become a lousy predictor.”

In another article, The Guardian asks whether this new party can “break the mould” of British politics. For decades, politics in the UK has been defined by the centre ground, with leaders quick to sacrifice principles for votes, their own version of a corruption more damaging to the centrist cause than any cash-for-questions scandal.

It’s interesting that centrists, usually seen as the people who quickly dispose of any political views for electability, are now seeking to hop on the bandwagon successes of the populists of left and right. And we have seen, both the left and right do well from the centre ground’s collapse. From Syriza in Greece to the rise of the populist right across Europe, political views which were until recently very marginal have seen growing electoral gains.

Increasingly, centrists are styling themselves as a protest movement. Demonstrations, rallies and new papers in defence of the cause have become a new curious phenomenon. Being out of power, in both the parliamentary and popular sense, has allowed them to discover a new sense of intellectual self-confidence and, observing young people’s opposition to the Brexiteer Tories and Trump, many have started to believe that a pro-business, socially liberal majority could emerge to permanently rule Western politics. Proof, again, that nineties fashions might be back in vogue.

For anyone who has possibly forgotten how awful the nineties were, it’s worth looking at France, where the centre ground clings on to its last hope. Emmanuel Macron, with a little help from business and political elites, built a new centrist party in a matter of months. It quickly achieved spectacular electoral success. It thus represents the best imaginable scenario for the complete victory of a new centrist realignment in politics. Macron even looks like a throwback to a young Tony Blair.

But fast forward a few months and France is buckling under the impact of rail strikes and student protests. Public opinion is divided 50-50, despite the inevitable commuter chaos that comes with railway stoppages. It’s quite possible that Macron could lose. Either way, it’s clear that his government is defiantly on the wrong side of history.

A renowned Anglophile, Macron wants to “liberalise” his country and make it more British, starting with two industries he sees as social democratic sacred cows, the universities and the railways. However, if the French centrists had paid closer attention to the British politics they admire so much, they would know that railway and university “reforms” are two of the reasons that UK centrism has collapsed in disgrace.

Faced with opposition, Macron has responded with an immigration and asylum clampdown, a tactic that’s boringly familiar to anyone who has lived under Tony Blair. His border plans, which he dubs “humane and firm”, have been met with street protests and condemned by human rights groups. However, this form of opposition suits Macron. Indeed, he probably calculates that it’s to his advantage, since it will deflect from his wider, unpopular agenda of privatising industries and scrapping workers’ rights.

Macron came to power offering a package of pro-business reforms and “humane” social liberalism. Electorally, he’s achieved everything a British centrist could dream of. However, it’s all come unstuck very quickly. Despite an overwhelming mandate, it’s taken him less than a year to abandon the “humane” immigration policy for a “tough” one, a sacrifice necessary to give him enough scope to enforce his Anglophile labour market reforms.

In France, centrists got lucky – very lucky. The traditional left and right were brought down by corruption and incompetence on a massive scale. It’s a luck that can’t be easily replicated elsewhere. Centrism found a charismatic leader who was able to harness youth. All the conditions were right. And still it’s produced the inevitable mixture of chaos and authoritarianism that recalls New Labour.

The tech entrepreneurs who dominate the world dream of combining personal freedom and capitalist freedom, open borders and open markets. But it can’t happen. Even under the best possible conditions, pro-business centrists find it difficult to lead with a stable majority. So the metropolitan likes of David Cameron and Tony Blair, the British leaders idealised by Macron, ended up lurching into alliances with racism whenever they encountered trouble. This undoubtedly led to the Brexit referendum. It also helps to explain the popularity of Scottish independence and Jeremy Corbyn. Everything that centrists hate about British politics, in other words, is a product of their own policies.

Outside of France, the centrist luck has run out. Our era is increasingly defined by ongoing punishments for the political centre ground. In Scotland, Labour – even with a new left leader – are still struggling to recover from the mistakes of the past.

But Labour’s problems are by no means unique. Most traditional centre-left parties made their pacts with the neoliberal devil in earlier decades and, as with New Labour, selling out to world markets seemed to help social democrats get elected as long as the finance-led boom continued. But come 2008, Labour and their sister organisations had no answers. Across Europe, the centre-left has tailed the neoliberal right, attacking their own supporters with brutal austerity measures while not-too-subtly shifting the blame onto immigrants. The result is a Europe-wide legitimacy crisis.

In many countries, the beneficiaries are the radical right. By contrast, in Spain and Greece, and arguably also in Scotland, left movements have occupied space traditionally held by barren social democratic parties.

In reality, there can be no returning to the alleged stability and conformity of the centre-ground neoliberal politics that defined the 1990s. There is something that glued politics, economics, and society together that has come unstuck.

Despite these attempts to secure new ground, the foundations for a new centrist party are far from solid.

So can this new, business-funded centrist party gain any serious electability? Probably not. But even if it did, it wouldn’t change anything: the current crisis of British politics didn’t happen overnight, and simply bankrolling more of the same won’t restore “normality”. Breaking the mould of British politics will take a move much bolder than rehashing the policies we’ve left behind. Like bucket hats and bowl cuts, centrist politics is a 1990s fad so awful that no amount of nostalgia or business millions can make it legitimate again.