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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Duh! Just as well no one bothers to read my comments or maybe anyone who isn't into Roman Numerals or has a low interest in history (so, being bound to repeat it? ^_^) It should be Henry VII who I branded as little better than a userper, not to be confused with hery VI who became king while still in his cradle.


Tom, The welsh took the English throne followed by the scots. The previous UK governemnt was effectively a scottish one, what is "BFSP" Salmond's beef?

I cant see you as part of the roundhead taliban no matter how I try.

Henry VI was hardly better than a userper. The Stanleys Traitors and possibly in modern terms deep cover Tudor sleepers.

I probably wouldn't have marched with Henry V, not in his train either unless it was to look after the interest of a specific person marching with him.. But my sympathies would most like have gone with anyone including Charlie Chaplain if he had led the English at Agincourt ^_^

james higham

Think my brain hurts after that, Tom.


Given that Bolingbroke effectively stole the crown, yes, I'd have been with the white roses. That said, Richard didn't do himself any favours. I'd have marched with Percy at Shrewsbury, but Henry at Agincourt...


It's good to know someone takes an interest in English history! I don't have a side in the War of the Roses, though some of my maternal ancestors will have been peasant soldiers of Lancaster and loyalty to my paternal grandfather puts me on the side of the red rose when Lancashire plays cricket.

The War of the Roses was resolved by God's gift from the Welsh (God's gift being the meaning of the Welsh name Tudor). Some Welshmen claimed that Myrddin Emrys's (aka Merlin's) prophecy that the Red Dragon of Wales would prevail over the White Dragon of England was fulfilled by the ascent of that dysfunctional family to the throne. The English smiled and assimilated as they were always so good at doing except with the cantankerous and ungrateful Scots.

I guess I should apologise for going so far off topic in my own blog. If someone else did it, this is where I would close them down editorially...


Yes, so would I - at least when the whole nation did and probably before. The abolition of dancing and Christmas would have influenced that but I hope it would have been a more principled turning of the coat.


An interesting post, but Hmnn... on the political compass I am down level with Nelson Mandela and the Dali Lama tho as far to the right as they are to the left. There are no politicians in my quarter of the box to vote for. Disenfranchised? The civil war? Not sure. My sympathies are generally romantically with the Cavaliers... I guess? and the roses? White not red, definately for Richard, not Henry.. just to be clear politically ^_^


Ah yes, we agree on that: free will and the nature of man dictate it is a choice we each need to make.

And thanks!


At SAoT towers, we would have been with the clubmen in the civil war.


Actually, I'd have probably changed sides.


Heh! ;)


I agree with Mark. That's well put. "Right-wing" just means "hateful" to the "progressive" orthodoxy and the more right-wing they say you are the more they hate you. It has nothing to do with your actual ideas. Any BNP supporter is closer ideologically to Labour than he is to the Conservatives. Ludicrously, "libertarian" is now being presented by the orthodox as further right than even the BNP. An unconscious confirmation, perhaps, that they are more outraged by the idea of a small state than a fascist one?


The UK Neither Party. You can be leader and I'll be your spin doctor.


Yes I have. I am in the bottom right quadrant and well below the middle and utterly mystified about how to vote at the next election (the first since I recovered my vote by returning to the UK). As you say, no-one wants me to vote for them; at least not enough to move toward any of my beliefs.


To my personal knowledge you take that duty to your neighbour very seriously and do IMHO a good job of trying to save souls by example and witness. As another ex-lawyer, I think you also know that the law is far too blunt an instrument for such a delicate task. You can increase hypocrisy with laws but you can't decrease sin or increase charity.


I think if there were a God He would be chuckling at the notion that laws could help you love Him. If you want to love Him, open your heart and stop looking for artificial aids.

As always Mark you overestimate the power, value and function of Law. It is a crude, dangerous tool; a spiked bludgeon to ward off a ravening beast, not a screwdriver with which to make delicate adjustments.

If you find yourself trying to juggle thousands of the things in an attempt to make your life perfectly safe, you are as likely to hurt yourself and innocents around you as you are to fell the beast.


Laws derived from the non-aggression principle would be consistent with Christianity. I think the churches made a big mistake in the Middle Ages when they underwrote the divine right of kings in order to have whole nations converted by their rulers. Church and state become intertwined throughout Europe (formally so in England) and the church's notions became law. If a man or woman married bigamously, for example, was God's judgement not adequate? Why did states need to send them to gaol, leaving their partners and children unsupported. The flames of Hell for all eternity are a more than adequate punishment for moral breaches surely? If the Church had enforced its own rules its own way without piggybacking on Caesar's powers, it would not now be in such difficulty about the state redefining marriage, for example. The church says it is not for the state to define it, but it was the Church, when the state was its poodle in many ways, that used the state's power to impose a definition.


No joke. You astonish me. It wouldn't even take a moment to decide and I don't know how anyone can hope to function as an Englishman without knowing something about the English Civil War which is, in some ways, still being fought! As for your other question, I see it has been answered already by ChrisM.

PS you would have been a Roundhead! So, sadly, would I.


Wouldn't that be covered by the laws to limit economic aggression?


Well yes... perhaps not impossible...


Mark, a moral life is not impossible without a social structure, but it is often lonely, and it is bloody hard work. It is, after all, up to each of us.

More importantly, that is not the basis of my point. As a Christian, we have a duty not just for our own souls, but also for our neighbour. It is morally dangerous, to say the least, to sanction by civil law grave sin: I would be failing my duty as a Christian not to speak to vote, or to live against it.

Law should not 'enforce' Christian values, but they certainly should reflect them, or at a minimum not contradict them (and therefore the natural law). On that, I would imagine Tom and I agree, but for different reasons perhaps.


" Just as every Brit knows which side he would have been on in the Civil War"

Eh? The English Civil War? Never given it a moments thought! Was that a joke?

"We only want laws to limit physical or economic aggression."

So laws limiting the power of those with magic money creating powers, and the corresponding power this gives them a good thing... no?


I basically agree with this - it is impossible to live a moral life without some kind of social structure supporting it - so a social structure or legal system which aims to make a Christian life easier certainly isn't an insult to God.
On the other hand I think that there is a danger that when the law directly enforces Christian values, what might really be encouraged is the apperance of Christianity - rather than Christianity itself. Hypocrisy.
I'm not sure that laws can directly make us love God or others - though they can pergaps make it easier for us to do so.


Nicely put!


Christians who seek to have the law of the land consistent with His law do not insult their God. They may be acting out of love for others, or seeking to serve Him.

A better argument, and one harder to rebut, is that the state should stay out of marriage. However, whilst it is meddling there, it deserves and indeed requires those of us with Christian values.

What a shame we are more interested in elevating any and all sexual acts (ironically neutralising them of any meaning) as the highest form of human endeavour, whilst we tear down the structures of children and family.

Yes, Tom, I am still reading - I couldn't let that one go!!

Sam Duncan

No idea, Tom. The Left would call you “right wing”, and nobody else would care. That's the basis of my take on the Left-right thing, which is that there's a self-defining group of people who call themselves the Left (hence why I always capitalize it), and their enemies - all of them, no matter what their politics - “right-wing” (hence why I never capitalize it, and usually put it in quotes).

Some of those they call “right-wing” buy into this categorization and tie themselves in knots trying to work it out from their own perspective, which is impossible. How can a crowd of republican socialists - the BNP - be further to the “right” than the Conservative party? This only works from the perspective of the Left itself: clearly, to almost anyone, Left or ”right”, the BNP is more hateful than the Tories. Therefore to the Left, it must, by definition, be more “right-wing”. This is nonsensical from any other viewpoint.

To be glib, it's rather like the constellations only making sense from our solar system. Most of these stars are nowhere near each other. They're light years apart, some of them further from each other than we are from them. They only resolve themselves into the patterns we know if you're standing here. Similarly, the Left sees its enemies stretched out in a line from its centre; it's only when you step away you realise that they're scattered all over the place and the neat line to the “right” is an illusion.


"Yet I hate the fact that saying so makes most Brits label me as what I am emphatically not; a Tory."

Recently a friend from university got in touch to ask if I'd like to present my views at an informal political gathering.

The first person that spoke was apparently a "radical". He wanted more taxes on the rich, more welfare spending, and nationalisation of "important" industries. He was cheered.

The next person was more of the same except he wanted greater regulation instead of nationalisation.

And then it was me.

And it was less than a minute before the first "Tory bastard".

But when I asked, not one of them was willing, or able, to tell me what made them radical for wanting more government, while making me a Tory for wanting no government.


Neither, just as I am neither - despite regularly being labelled right wing by some and left wing by others. Which, I guess makes my "neither" pretty accurate.


Have you tried this out....

I don't think they have the analysis of UK political parties correct; they show the Lib Dems as nearer Libertarian than Authoritarian, which is (IMHO) wrong, and they show the Greens as pretty Libertarian which is ludicrous.
Essentially, if you are in the bottom right quadrant and well below the middle on the vertical axis (as I am, and I suspect you are?) then it seems nobody wants your vote.

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