Left wing, right wing, or neither

According to YouGov, the terms left wing and right wing “aren’t that useful”. After putting one hundred political views to the public, 53% of the British people couldn’t identify any as specifically left or right wing.

But what do these terms actually mean? Left-wing politics refers to progressive ideas associated with achieving better “social and economic equality”, whilst right-wing agenda relates to a desire to preserve existing conditions, institutions and traditions.

But the simplicity of these definitions negates their complexity. According to YouGov, we often use these terms to categorize people with certain political views, but such terms become redundant when not properly understood by the public. 28% would consider themselves left-wing and 25% right-wing, with 19% in the centre and 29% not knowing.

Of the people who said that there should be a greater redistribution of wealth, considered a left-wing view; “59% support capital punishment, 72% think the criminal justice system is too soft and 68% want tighter restrictions on immigration”. The long-held belief that someone is either left-wing or right-wing negates the reality that people are often categorised on the basis of single issues, failing to take into account the possibility of a broad variety of views and opinions. 

The British public are fragmented in both how they view and understand current political divisions. So when should we use these terms? According to YouGov, sparingly. The meaning of left-wing and right-wing should correspond to the extremes of both sides, communists and fascists. The Labour Party’s fight against antisemitism has divided the party over questions of how left wing it should be in post Corbynite days. And Boris Johnson is on the brink of putting the Conservative party into division over a Brexit deal.

Whilst these divisions aren’t new, the problem now concerns how and when these terms are used, and whether they are relevant in the 2020 Political scene. Brexit has widened divisions. Contrary to popular belief, there are many left-wing Brexiteers and right-wing remainers. The larger political parties of Labour and the Conservatives ignore the politics of Greens, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and many others. The expansion of parties battling for control in Parliament only adds to the necessity of left-wing and right-wing to be redefined, especially given the emergence of many forming on the basis of a single issue, such as the Brexit Party. 

Whilst the political landscape has changed, the terms to describe it have not. The misunderstanding relates to the view that left or right-wing people believe in a long list of views. But pro climate conservationists may also be tougher on crime, whilst support for decolonization of university curriculums doesn’t necessarily correspond to views on matters concerning abortion or nationalisation. 

Left-wing and right-wing is often used to imply danger of a certain individual as well as this person’s set of views. When described in terms of factions, many use it as a form of attack, thus dividing people on the basis of their political beliefs. In post Brexit Britain, the term has become divisive instead of discussional.

To come together, we must discuss our differences in a safe psychological space, and the language we use is fundamental. The question remains: must we define each other based on our place on the political spectrum, or are we better than that? 


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Andre Hughes

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October 2021
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