It is common to hear commentators refer to the left and right in politics and it is a sure put-down to call someone far right or far left. Such terms mean something to the politically-minded but because many people are not political it is more helpful to use other, more exact descriptions.
People have different ideas what is left and right, with different meanings in the UK and USA. The mainstream media (MSM) in the UK is described as ‘soft left‘, and from the perspective of the left, left is ‘nice’ and right is ‘intolerant’. Politically there are different definitions. The BBC has no difficulty in labelling foreign political parties as ‘right-wing’ and voters as ‘deep right to centre-left’, whatever this means to the average person. The BBC can label those on the left as ‘right-wing’ if they are Brexiteers, as a put-down. We are told that Brexit has polarised politics – what is more polarised than the political left and right?
Rather than left and right being informative terms, they are tribal terms that are often used as pejorative terms about ‘the other side’.
I do not use these terms if I can avoid them. I may use them to point out that they are used as tribal ‘us and them’ terms, which are often used in a pejorative way. In other words, the introduction and use of such terms suggests that the conversation is turning tribal. It is better to ‘name the sin’ rather than using the left or right sledge-hammer of identity politics.
Left and right
In a general sense one can consider left and right to be different political worldviews explaining human affairs and suggesting solutions.
Historically, the left and right referred to the seating arrangements in the French parliament after the French Revolution (1789–1799), and developed as descriptions on the left-right political spectrum.
As political ideologies, they push Christianity aside as of minor relevance in trying to assess social affairs and explain human affairs. This may account for the limited interest in the Christian Party in UK politics. Few people recognise that Christianity addresses the source of social ills. We need to change hearts as well as laws – the substance and spirit as well as the form of civil governance and government. Civil and criminal sanctions do not change hearts, and penal reform programs are piecemeal, failing to reach the heart of the problem.
Left and right are binary choices, which are often inadequate choices and so the left-right political spectrum developed, but even this is inadequate to describe the whole of life. Quantum computers utilise the fact that nature is not binary and just as the binary nature of digital technology is simply a developmental phase through which electronic computing is going, hopefully left and right politics is just a phase in mankind’s progress towards the more fully integrated Christian politics of the biblical Millennium.
The folly of the left and right debate can be illustrated by ‘the middle’. In Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s day politics was about “occupying the centre ground” in order to gain the votes. Nowadays, having polarised again to left and right with Jeremy Corbyn’s cultural and economic Marxism and Donald Trump’s ‘far right’ policies, the mantra is “if you stand in the middle of the road you get knocked over.” Like statistics, there is always a way to re-frame the merit or demerit of any position.
So which is it? There is a mantra for each position and the folly of political comment is made manifest.
My observation of ‘the left’ leads me to the conclusion that those on the left are jealous of the benefits that others have.
As far as I can see, their solution to social ills is to rob Peter to pay Paul. It is the Robin Hood principle and draws its motivation from a sense of fairness. It justifies its thieving behaviour from the concept of equality, because it must find a good reason for their stealing and a justification for their jealousy.
There are so few Christian politicians that the public are not reminded what Bible students know, that “godliness with contentment is great gain” 1Tim 6:6.
If they had been taught the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which was removed from Scottish schools in the mid-20th century, more than two generations ago, they would have learned about the sin of grieving at the good of their neighbour. Instead of jealousy and grievance politics they would have learned about personal responsibility, social justice and that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” Act 20:35. They would have learned thankfulness for small mercies and the benefit of communal living.
They would recognise the grievance politics of the Scottish National Party for what it is.
Our biblically illiterate leaders have still to learn that the danger of such grievance politics is the social unrest it foments when politicians justify discontentment. The two referendums on Scottish independence and Brexit are bringing the worse out of people.
Rather, we should count our blessings and be thankful for them Ps 40:5.
Another feature I notice is that the left are bad losers. If they do not get their way, they find safety in their numbers and go on public demonstrations and shout down their opponents with megaphone diplomacy. The phrase ‘the silent majority’ does not apply to ‘the left’ and by default, definition and experience it applies to the non-activist middle. Possibly left and right simply identify political activists – people with a polarised opinion.
It is so prominent in the Brexit debate that Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi more than once reminded the public that “democracy is predicated on the consent of the loser.” It is a basic lesson in sport – where coaches teach teams to accept defeat and to learn from them in order to improve.
When the vote went against the Remainers in the Labour Party Conference today on ‘Composite 13’, wanting the Party to campaign to Remain in the European Union during the approaching General Election campaign, I predicted correctly that the Remainers would call for a card vote. On cue, one delegate used a point of order to try to overturn the chair’s decision that ‘it was a clear majority’ that did not merit a card vote. Nicholas Watt, the BBC Political Editor, said on BBC Newsnight tonight – “all in all one of the most dramatic days I have ever reported on at a Labour Conference”.
Each early attempt to reverse a Referendum result is a manifestation of bad losers, and they tend to be on the political left, who are unable to live with an unwanted result.
Nigel Farage describes this democratic revolt as a new globalist politics but it needs a more realistic name. It is Bad Loser politics – the teenage tantrums of an electorate that thinks that it should have its own way. Just as the UK Government succumbed to the violence, aggression and terrorism of the IRA, which is still central to the Brexit debate, so the left realises that teenage tantrums will be effective with effete politicians.
American Democrats, associated with the left, have tried to impeach five out of six US Republican presidents. When America has a Republican president, the anti-American rhetoric rises in the UK, and it cools when the US president is a Democrat, if the BBC Question Time audience is a gauge of this. This selective moral outrage comes from bad losers.
The above commentary may be misinterpreted as 1. indifference towards the lot of others, which can certainly characterise the right, or as 2. fatalism, seen in some religions such as islam, which explains unwelcome events as the will of Allah.
My observation of those who are described in our day as ‘the right’ is that they tend to be people with assets and enough ‘to get by’ in life. They are sufficiently independent and self-reliant that they think that they can afford to ignore other people whom they judge to be of little benefit to them.
Margaret Thatcher realised this when she gave the opportunity to people to buy their Council home. Some have said that young people are socialists until they own some property, when they change their political views. Once they own a motor car, or some asset that they want to protect from thieving hands, their views begin to shift. This might be so at some levels or areas of society, but it does not explain socialism and it simply confirms the view that the right measures things and people by assets.
At today’s Labour Party Conference, John McDonnell quoted Bernard Crick’s one-sentence definition: “socialism is the achievement of equality through democracy.” This begs the question ‘what equality?’
Margaret Thatcher once said: “Socialist governments … always run out of other people’s money”.
Whereas there is some truth in each of these categorisations, they are throw-away catch-phrases to justify one’s own worldview. They are secular one-liners to provoke thought.
The problem with the right is that their self-sufficiency can lead to complacency and even to the idea that they have a right to what they have, even although many of them have inherited rather than earned what they have. Indeed many who inherit other people’s hard work squander it – the collapse of Thomas Cook today reminds us that it fell into the hands of those who could not assess risk, who risked all and lost all – except their pensions.
Yet such self-sufficient rich people may be spiritually poor. Jesus Christ used financial illustrations frequently in His parables.
Beggars and paupers
A pauper is poor but ‘gets by’. A beggar is poor but cannot get by. He must beg. Jesus used this difference to illustrate the blessedness of the spiritual beggar who must rely upon their Creator and Benefactor, contrasted with the self-sufficient who ‘get by’ while ignoring their God. The rich person may be spiritually poor. Jesus illustrated it with a rich, industrious and prosperous farmer who was ready to retire but God said to him that “this night” his soul would be required of him. He was unprepared and he was not “rich towards God”.
Jesus taught us about the rich man in torment who he had his “good things” in this life but poor Lazarus who had begged at his gate was now inheriting everlasting blessedness.
Jesus did not teach that it was wrong be rich. Many rich people have been godly people who did much good with their riches. Many godly people in the Bible were rich. Rather, Jesus and His followers warned against trusting in “uncertain riches” 1Tim 6:17.
Law and the right
The right tend to be lawkeeepers in order to avoid being fined or losing their reputation. Because of this they are keen to shape the laws of the land in accordance with their wishes, particularly lowering taxes.
Law enforcement agencies fine the poor as they are easier to harass. However, it is difficult and not very cost effective to fine the poor and those on welfare.
Most government income comes from the rich, who therefore use their political connections to reduce taxes and employ lawyers and accountants to minimise their taxes. For the most part it is middle-income earners who must pay their way through life, which explains the growing gap between the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming relatively poorer, but only relative to each other. On the whole, the standard of living improves among the poor in Western societies. In a rising tide, all vessels rise.
It is easier to fine the rich, who will usually pay up rather than face bad publicity. I remember an attendant in a petrol station in the affluent west end of Glasgow telling me that the police wait nearby to catch traffic offenders coming out of the petrol station because ‘they pay their fines’.
On the other hand, the poor in some council estates ignore the rules about wheelie bins because few sanctions can be levelled against them. This leads to an authoritarian backlash from the self-sufficient right.
The attitude of the self-sufficient right towards social justice goes only as far as is necessary to maintain social order. They are viewed as looking after their own interests rather than the collective good and it is relatively easy to demonstrate that they have little understanding of the law ‘on the street’ among the poor.
They know so little about the concerns of the poor that they could take a leaf out of the godly Job’s book who, although he was a millionaire oil magnate, was also a town councillor who helped the poor and spoke up for them to such an extent that he was respected and highly esteemed among his peers. Abraham, the father of the faithful, became a millionaire long after leaving his privileges behind. Moses, the heir to the throne of Egypt, the greatest empire on Earth in his day, left it behind to help his enslaved people escape from their slavery in Egypt. The apostle Paul had a similar attitude to Abraham and Moses. He turned his back upon his rabbinical career to advance and preach the Gospel of God’s free grace to all and sundry, to the betterment of the world at large. It is a feature of the godly that they consider the common good.
The Christian worldview
The aim of this blogpost is to point out that left and right are not useful labels but they are used in tribal politics. The Christian Party supports many policies on the left and right, but we protest against the unchristian policies on the left and right. I prefer to name the sin and explain the policy.
The bibical right and left
God warns people against leaving ‘the straight and narrow’ and veering to the left or right:
Binary choices suggest a lack of imagination. When presented with two choices, one should be cautious about choosing either one because there is likely to be a third one. Why? There is almost always an error to ‘the right’ and another to ‘the left’ of the correct answer Deu 28:14.
Christian politics is neither left not right. It cannot be confined inside such secular descriptions lacking Christian imagination.
26 Sep 2019: demonising opponents.
1 Oct 2019: agreement that left and right are meaningless terms.
1 Nov 2019: the Hugh Grant handshake controversy: “the right think the left are naive, but the left think the right are evil”. Morality and moral superiority enters the fray, but it is secular morality. So now we have another left-right divide, demonstrating how vague these terms are. It is worth recalling – to introduce Christian balance into the debate – that there are medical reasons why a person may not shake hands. 2 Mar 2020: with the outbreak of coronavirus, it is now recommended not to shake hands. 3 Mar 2020: new imaginative ways to greet each other.
14 Dec 2019: the reaction to Boris Johnson’s winning the General Election from those who do not know how to lose a vote.
10 Feb 20: Stephen Kinnock on BBC Daily Politics today said that the old politics of left and right is being replaced by “value and identity”. This seems to be confirmed by Danny Kruger’s maiden speech in the House of Commons on 29 Jan 2020 who pointed to the new politics of ‘a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences’, while he preferred to draw lessons from our Christian heritage. “I am not sure that we should so casually throw away the inheritance of our culture,” he said. You don’t miss the water till the well runs dry, and it is quite dry at present. It is time for Christians to speak up as Christians, as Kruger began to do.
11 Jan 2021: western democracy has been characterised by ‘loyal opposition and the peaceful transfer of power after fair election’, but the inability to hold fair elections and to accept the result of elections is fracturing the USA.
23 Jan 2021: US President Joe Biden is considered to be on the left, but his opposition to countrywide health care would make him ‘extreme right’ in the UK, showing the folly as well as the fluidity or watery nature of these terms.
25 Jan 2021: George Galloway draws attention to the inadequacy of binary choices in his own inimitable way.
9 Mar 2021: Mahyar Tousi also draws attention to the pejorative use of ‘far right’.
5 Mar 2022: “War does not determine who is right, but who is left.”
3 Apr 2022: Mahyar Tousi complains that the media need to define what it means by “hard right”.
18 Apr 2002: George Galloway calls the left-right debate “cross-dressing”. He has abandoned the concept of “the left”, which has changed its meaning.