It’s hard to argue in anything but support of the proposition that political debate would be a lot better in this country if we ditched the concept of left-wing and right-wing. Jeremy ‘may or may not be an IRA plant – not sure yet’ Corbyn is either left wing or far left depending on how you see it. To some he’s centre-left but these are the same people who don’t find the SNP worryingly authoritarian so we won’t bother with their delusions today.
I find David Cameron right wing personally. Some go further, and yet just last week he and his ilk were talking about not only claiming the centre ground, but the centre-left. Couple this with a Labour party that secretly really liked those racist mugs and we are through the looking glass already.
Of course we’re not. It’s all politicking. It’s bullshit. George Osborne is no more a centrist today than he was a year ago. Theresa May, having moved on from her anti Nasty Party phase years ago is now so right wing she thinks immigrants swapped alphabetti spaghetti with hoops to try and scare her at dinner time. Jeremy Corbyn is far left if you accept the middle ground as Blairism, but no one bar Blairites does that.
The “centre-ground” is a meaningless phrase in modern politics. Once upon a time it was solely about economic policies. The left wanted to tax and spend and the Right wanted to cut taxes and have poor people string themselves up by their bootstraps. Or something.
It’s not now though. Now Left is interchangeable with liberal just as Right is interchangeable with conservative. And since none of us can agree where the centre ground is, aiming for it is an exercise in futility.
Most of my friends are liberal. This is hardly surprising. I’m liberal, one year shy of Churchill’s switching age and most of my friends are younger than me. By and large, the young are more socially compassionate than the old.
Most of my older friends however, to say nothing of the majority of people in my life I have real intellectual respect for, are conservative, at least with a small c. They have more financial interests than the young and are, reasonably enough, more concerned with such things than people currently enjoying a student grant.
But we’re not America, at least not yet. We’re a more interesting people than red or blue. My best friend has voted Conservative all his life and yet found it hard to disagree with what Jeremy Corbyn had to say on social matters. He earns more than the average and has no problem paying more for things like education, foreign aid and the NHS. In the US they’d call him a RINO – Republican in name only – save for the fact that in America, he’d likely be a conservative Democrat because their notion of the centre ground is to the right of ours.
I have liberal friends who hate the idea of foreign aid when British children are suffering in (relative) poverty. I know one young, liberal bar manager who wants to run his own place one day and sees no problem in the basic conservative theory of cutting tax credits so long as the minimum wage catches the difference.
I don’t have a moral objection to private citizens owning firearms, but the results of the US’s catastrophic fuck ups on this front cannot be ignored. Nor am I morally opposed to Trident in the UK. I can see a coherent argument for a nuclear deterrant without balking. My opposition has always been financial – we’re an island nation and I’d rather the funding went to naval defence forces. Or schools and hospitals, but that’s just my inner hippy blethering on.
People are too fond of labelling themselves; particularly in an age and country where we’re all supposed to be individuals, and more than that, we’ve a desperate need to be part of a gang. The SNP speaks for a huge part of liberal and centrist Scotland, but rather than be satisfied with this, there are acolytes who lap up everything Nicola Sturgeon lays out for them as if it were delivered by the Angel Gabriel and actively hound those who dare criticise even a single SNP policy. Despite what most papers would have you believe, they’re not alone. Scottish Labour and many of their supporters are hamstrung by a visceral hatred of the SNP, unable to acknowledge even the slightest good deed, and desperate to criticise things their opponents aren’t remotely responsible for. Gang mentaliy.
But where do these two parties lie on the spectrum? Both claim to be centre-left. There are many pundits who say they are dangerously far-left while on the street (and by street I do of course mean twitter), supporters of each denigrate the others by referring to them as Tories. Red Tories, Yellow Tories, and even some Blue Tories, goes the cynical joke.
If we can’t agree on the centre however, we can’t begin to get into the comparative intricacies of far-left, centre-left, and so on. So let’s just stick with liberal and conservative. Let’s acknowledge that life is too complicated to spend saying, “I agree with X on Y so I agree with X on every-fucking-thing.”
Or we could do what Political Compass do and recognise the need for at least two axes. Left/Right and Authoritarian/Libertarian. Sounds a mite complicated for the average political pundit though, doesn’t it?
Jeremy Corbyn calls himself a socialist. Alex Salmond calls himself a social democrat. I don’t know what the fuck that is. I call myself a left-wing, libertarian, pragmatic, liberal. Or at least I do when someone asks for specifics which is almost never from someone who matters, because those who are worth talking to recognise that your position on one thing need not dictate it on another. We are shades of grey, we are multi-coloured, we are fucking complicated.
And left or right, I don’t like anyone who wants to be part of a gang.