My Right, Your Left: Political Labels (and a word on The Agora)

Do you consider yourself “left-wing” or “right-wing”?

Let’s assume that by “left” and “right” we’re talking about the level of state intervention exercised to balance wealth – left being in favour of significant state intervention, right being in favour of minimal intervention.

What about the specifics? What do you think of criminal justice? Is that left or right? The economy? Europe? Healthcare? Immigration?

You might have a uniform answer to all these, but the odds are there will be a little discrepancy. What’s more, the “state intervention” definition doesn’t always fit with the normal ideas of what “left” and “right” mean, particularly for immigration and crime.

I had a quick Google for some recent polling numbers on this (and didn’t find any on the first few searches*) and came across this quote from Nick Clegg in March 2011 on the Lib Dems:

Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right. But we are not on the left and we are not on the right. We have our own label: Liberal. We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics.

I disagree with part of this quote, not because I don’t think the Liberal Democrats are in the centre – they probably are. I disagree with the notion that labels of “left” and “right” are out-dated.

The labels are still relevant for political parties, and play an incredibly important part in giving a broad idea of what parties are likely to stand for. But to my mind they have been applied widely to individuals, whether members of the public or backbench MPs, and it doesn’t always work. Worse than that, I believe it sometimes impedes genuine discussion and debate, as tribal tendencies obscure pluralism.

There’s a wonderful quote from the West Wing which seems relevant (Season 1, Episode 20: Mandatory Minimums):

I dream of a great discussion, with experts and ideas and diction and energy and honesty

As I hope this post shows, I haven’t forgotten about The Agora! I’m working away on several overhauls of parts of the site and look forward to getting them online. More than that, I’m looking forward to seeing the sort of discussion where labels and political categories are ignored entirely.

* This is more an indication of my lack of skills with Google than an absence of numbers