THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Voltaire's wisdom forgotten
Allies for a day

Left, Right, Wrong

The traditional political division into 'left' and 'right' must be used with caution. For much of Europe 'right-wing' refers to nationalist authoritarians seeking to impose traditional values on society at large. I would be uncomfortable in such company. No right-winger on the Continent and few in America would share my stance on what they would call 'social issues' and I would call 'none of your damned business.'

The 'good guys' of Continental Europe are usually called Liberals. The bad guys of American politics have made that glorious name unusable in English. In their constant gee whizz quest for euphemism, our American cousins have made a cuss-word out of a formerly-useful term. They do that a lot. How little of a life would you have to have to keep up with American fashion on what to call a black man or a red indian, for example? 

These labels matter more than they should. Serious political debate is of interest only to a minority. Most voting decisions are made on impressions rapidly formed by the free use of labels as either praise or abuse. How many voters analysed what Tony Blair meant by 'New Labour' for example? They simply thought of themselves as left, hated the mess Old Labour had made and welcomed a new brand they weren't embarrassed to be associated with.

For my part, I hate the Labour Party as I hate the very devil. Indeed I suspect Old Nick would make better company than any socialist and might actually have better intentions. Yet I hate the fact that saying so makes most Brits label me as what I am emphatically not; a Tory. I am, in truth, a Liberal. I happen to know from personal experience that there are gallant members of the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain still clinging to the true meaning of the L word, but they are out-numbered by leftists too snobbish (and who can blame them) to be in the same party as John Prescott. So the label I use in my head is no use in the wider world.

The conversations in my primary school playground were conducted in a higher register and exchanged far more complex information than most political 'debates' that make a difference to voting intentions. In the Labour heartlands where I grew up, calling someone a "Tory [Anglo-Saxon expletive of choice]" was all it needed to win an argument. I have never lived in a Conservative constituency until recently, and judging by the copies of the Guardian in evidence around here, I doubt it will remain one long. Perhaps there are Tory Shires where one could similarly raise the tribal flag to end all discussion? I don't know.

It's pointless to be a purist about this and dismiss the use of 'left' and 'right' altogether. They carry an emotional weight that cannot be denied. Just as every Brit knows which side he would have been on in the Civil War, he knows if he is left or right, often with an unjustified prefix of 'Centre-" to make himself feel moderate. It would be great to have more accurate labels, but we don't.

The easy route to explain my position to my fellow citizens is to say that I am socially-liberal and fiscally-conservative, but that doesn't tell the truth either. 'Social liberals' in Britain are highly illiberal. They are more like authoritarian Continental Christian Democrats in seeking to impose moral orthodoxy. Why, for example, was I expected to pay tribute to a dead foreign Communist before Fulham FC's game against Aston Villa yesterday? No similar tribute was offered when Margaret Thatcher died and rightly so. But a darling of the 'social-liberals' must apparently be lauded, however disgusting his political views.

For another current example, it's not enough that you don't give a damn who shags Tom Daley. They expect you to 'be supportive;' to 'ooh' and 'aah' sympathetically and tell him how 'brave' he is. If someone in my immediate circle is gay and wants to introduce me to his or her partner, I will buy them both a drink. If I liked him or her before the news, I will after (and will try to like the partner too). It's my business because I am a relative or friend and I need to know their situation so as to welcome their new partner into our family or group of friends. The sexual preferences of people outside my circle, however, are properly a matter of indifference.

Genuine liberals don't give a public damn what you consider to be right or wrong as long as you don't impose it on others. We only want laws to limit physical or economic aggression. As to the rest, go to it with a will and take all the consequences yourself. We afford you the tolerance we expect of you, but we don't demand or offer approval of private choices. The clue is in the adjective, 'private.' So don't be so needy. Shut up and get on with it. We will think what we please, to the extent that we become aware, and will factor it in in deciding whom to drink with or give the time of day to. Feel free to do likewise.

The right-wing and left-wing in Britain share a disgusting desire to shape thoughts and private preferences by law. They seek to pull in different directions. It's the pull I mostly resent. If they are of the Right seeking to reinforce traditional Christian views of marriage, they insult their God by thinking He needs the feeble help of Earthly powers to enforce His Divine will. If they are of the Left seeking to suppress the expression of 'inappropriate' opinion on Twitter, then they should have more trust in the ability of 'the people' to deal with such matters informally. Both expose the feebleness of their views by doubting their eventual triumph without misuse of law. Law is a blunt, violent instrument. It is not a teaching aid.

If you have a need for approval from strangers, I suggest you get professional help. You may think that's harsh but on the other hand, if you leave me to make my own life choices, I will happily take no interest in yours. Furthermore, I am remarkably unlikely to preach to you. Most likely, I will offer you no opinions on any subject not affecting my family's interests unless you are my friend and you ask me.

Does that make me right-wing or left-wing? You choose.

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