If you believe the media Britain and America are mesmerised by the grassroots insurgencies roiling the Labour and Republican Parties respectively. Supporters of Donald Trump and, to an even greater extent, Jeremy Corbyn are testing the theory that the best bet for a politician is to stake out and stick to a distinctive position. Never mind that the victories of Blair and Cameron and the failures of Hague and Foot appear to have confirmed that elections are won in the centre ground, the new legions of Corbynites, indeed many people with an interest in politics, believe passionately that having strong principles and differentiating yourself from the bland and middle of the road is the best route to success .
In this they are aping, consciously or otherwise, the current received wisdom in business. It is widely accepted these days that existing in the undifferentiated middle will lead inevitably to decline and failure in all sorts of industries, from airlines to gyms to supermarkets. Indeed, just this week results published by Wal-Mart and Asda seemed to bear this out, with disappointing figures blamed on the squeeze between high end, luxury food retailers and the hard discounters . The evidence that having a distinctive brand is the holy grail is all around us. Companies which fail to acknowledge the need for distinctiveness both in their products and services and in their brand and corporate positioning will struggle and die.
But, turning back to politics, that leaves the crucial question unanswered. Who is right: the plethora of New Labour luminaries and Republican grandees urging their parties to regain the middle ground, or the swarms of brand strategists urging everyone trying to sell anything to head for the poles? Or is it simply the case that politics is wildly different from business, and no parallels can or should be drawn?
Clearly the answer to the last question is no. Consumers are voters and voters are consumers, and no matter how high minded we would like politics to be the same rules apply. Like it or not, political parties are brands (just try Googling 'political parties as brands' to see how many people have 'proved' this). Politicians have to stand out in a crowded and noisy marketplace, just like other brands. So why does the undifferentiated - or, to be fair, the less differentiated - middle work for them in a way that doesn't apply to consumer goods? What sets politics apart?
I think the answer to this is that politics is a binary choice. I get one vote, and have to choose just once. In business things are different. Alongside polarisation, in fact the root cause of polarisation, is the fact that we have an unprecedented ability to pick and choose from a range of providers on and offline. So I can go to Waitrose for my fish and meat and Aldi for my staples, I can fly Emirates for business and Easyjet for a weekend break, I can eat Wagyu beef and mac and cheese. But I can't vote Labour and Conservative, Democrat or Republican. So I need my political parties to offer me a bit of everything, inoffensively and easily, in a package that appeals to me but also to the maximum number of other people. In short the Corbynites and Trump devotees are wrong. In politics you need to be middle of the road. You need to be a generalist, not a specialist. In politics you need to be Tesco, or Sainsburys, or Wal-Mart.