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The difference between left-wing and liberal

September 12, 2013


For a while now, British people look on, wondering what the difference is between Conservative and Labour. You’ve got a choice between a middle class bloke in a suit wearing a red rosette or a middle class bloke in a suit wearing a blue one.

The concepts of Labour, Conservative, left-wing, right-wing and all associated terms are increasingly complicated. The Left in the UK is moderate, which is also true of the leader of Conservative; David Cameron is by no means the Tory-est Tory to have ever quivered his jowls and bristled.

He’s reasonably liberal, insomuch as he appears to be concerned about social justice issues, to the extent where his backbenchers have come into disagreement with him. The Conservatives have a problem moving on from the congealed fogies, because traditional Conservative is not a concept but rather a a group of old people who haven’t gotten around to dying yet and it would be rude to invite them to quietly do so as soon as possible.

Left-wing and liberal are not the same thing. In several European countries (for example, Denmark) the Liberal party is not the more left-wing party but rather Right wing – about equivalent to the Conservative party over here. Liberal and Left have become inaccurately synonymous.

Indeed, the idea of liberalism is often accompanied by a fair amount of scorn by right-wingers, as if liberalism involves laying around on your back smoking pipes of psychotropic substances and talking about John Lennon being the reincarnation of Buddha. In actuality, liberalism often refers to economics and the free market, a right-wing baby.

If you look up the definition of Liberalism on that fountain of ramshackle knowledge that is Wikipedia, you will read that it is founded in equality and “generally supports ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property.”

You may not agree with all these things, but you will agree with some. Only a fascist does not believe, even broadly, in equality; fascism is a belief in totalitarian government, whereby one individual or small select group decides everything and nobody gets to argue, often on pain of death.

No political party could be accurately described as fascist because in order to have party politics, first you must have a democracy. Hitler was not inviting the Jews to start the Jewish Independent Party and run for election against him. Yet, that doesn’t stop people declaring that Right-leaning people are fascist, even though the most ultra-left movement, communism, becomes at its worst indistinguishable from fascism.

You can see how that sort of miscommunication would be a problem; a presenter introduces a member of the Conservative party and several liberal members of the public yell “Boo!” and switch off, not sticking around to witness that the party representative is also liberal. It’s time to get our terminology sorted out, updated and better understood.


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