When lefties aren't actually left wing ...

One of the more bizarre aspects of my political experience is that the more often I speak to Labour or "left wing" activists in a context other than arguing accross the council chamber or another formal political forum, the more likely I am to find that they have at least some views that are, to put it frankly, right wing.

Not always in private either - I can remember being very shocked when I was first outflanked on the right by a prominent Labour councillor some eleven years ago, but it's happened to me often enough since then that I can deal with it.

There was a very funny item in the Sunday Times at the weekend called "Face it, you're in denial about turning into a Tory" by Matt Rudd.

He was reporting on an academic paper from James Rockey of Leicester University entitled "Who is Left-Wing and who just thinks they are?" which can be downloaded from here.

The research paper finds evidence from a study of 134,000 thousand people who were asked how right or left wing they thought they were, and whose answers to this question were then compared to their answers to questions about specific areas of policy. The answers demonstrated consistent patterns of bias: for example, "the more educated on average believe themselves to be more left wing than their actual beliefs on a substantive issue might suggest." Similarly the older and better off respondents were, the more likely they were to describe themselves as more left-wing than was borne out by their actual beliefs.

There is an old joke, which has more than a little truth in it, that "If you're not a socialist at fifteen you've no heart, if you're still one at fifty you've no brains." (Though some of use got through our socialist phase younger than fifteen. IIRC mine finished when I was about nine.)

The basic argument is that a lot of people form their self-image while in full-time education at the start of their adult lives, and going through their socialist or "progressive" phase. Later in life they don't like to admit to themselves how far they have moved to the right when they start earning, having to work for a living, paying tax, etc.

I do think there is something in the argument. If I had a hundred pounds for every person I've met on the doorstep who wouldn't vote for me because he or she considered me too right wing, but who had some views himself or herself which are well to the right of mine, I would be much better off. If I had a hundred extra votes for every such conversation I would probably now be in a different job ...


Jane said…
An interesting article.

I have found that on many subjects like the rehabilitation of offenders, racism and civil liberties, that I am far more 'left wing' than my Labour opponents. Jamie Reed voted with the previous Government on many curbs on civil liberties that made me cringe. He never replies to any of my letters, written in support of Liberty campaigns (where I have written as a member of 'Liberty' and not as a Conservative.) Having worked in Manchester during IRA bombing campaigns, where the threat of terrorism, was then far greater than that from 'Islamic fundamentalists' now, I was never tempted to call for laws that would enable the Government to take freedoms and human rights away from all citizens e.g. the right to peaceful protest within proximity to the Houses of Parliament. Labour used that excuse to curtail freedom of speech in their typical control freak manner. I have spoken on the doorstep to Labour voters who think prison is soft on offenders and want to bring back hanging for child murder. I clearly don't approve of child murder, but I am emphatically opposed to the restoration of the death penalty. On economics I am a true blue Tory. Bring down the deficit ASAP!

I have found that my opinions have changed very little since I was a teenager, but the practical means of dealing with them are influenced by experience. I did note at university that some people were fashionable leftists and cynically thought at the time that they would give up the ideas when they inherited daddy's money. In reality human personalities are a little more complex and the definition of left and right is possibly more blurred than the standard definitions will allow.

Logically can one conclude that if left is right then right is wrong? Possibly the problem is in the definition of left and right. Perhaps on both sides there are 'Libertarians' and 'Authoritarians'. Essentially my unchanging stance is that I am essentially a Libertarian, but I believe in the constitutional principle that citizens willingly give up some freedoms so that Government's can when necessary intervene to prevent an anarchical situation where there is a war of all against all and the weakest lose out. Not original John Locke’s argument. Extreme Libertarianism is anarchy (which can be left or right wing.) The definition of the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable state intervention is in a state of flux and is continually negotiable. Solution checks and balances within the constitution and the essential ingredient of public participation.

Having said that Labour is essentially a ‘big brother’ party that raises up the control freak and diminishes the ability of the masses to live their own lives. The micro-management of the 13 years of the previous Labour Government was unbearable. However it may have been very attractive to the people who were bought off by 'universal' welfare and the comfort of not having to take responsibility for their own actions. The principles of one nation Conservatism with compassion tied in with economic pragmatism can unite left and right. It is possible to be a ‘left wing’ conservative upholding what is positive about our traditions and evolve to meet a changing society.
Anonymous said…
What a sad man. Only a Tory would be bothered about politics at nine, the rest of us were living!
Chris Whiteside said…
No, you obviously have not read what I wrote properly. I was briefly a socialist, not a tory, when I was nine.

Then I realised that the grand socialist plan doesn't work.
Tim said…
So what is the grand Socialist plan?
Chris Whiteside said…
That's actually a very good question. Whenever you describe what you think Socialism is, someone on the left comes along and says "No, we don't think this we think that." But I've never yet found one that works.

The corporate social democracy model of socialism which was actually on offer from Harold Wilson's Labour party in 1970 involving nationalisation, central planning, and trade union power certainly didn't. It was to lead to Britain in hock to the IMF and top rate income tax at 98 pence in the pound.

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