This week we have already been swamped with coverage of this year’s General Election, as the week began we were treated to a chorus of “100 days to go” from all the news sources imaginable. But, it has only just begun and in the next few months, The Evans Review will also join in the coverage. But there are two terms which are bandied around so often that it’s often easy to forget what they actually mean. The terms “left wing” and “right wing” will be used as identifiers for many political parties in UK politics in coverage for the next few months and can be one of the first ways in which a person decides where there vote will land.
In the Industrial Revolution, employers would typically vote for parties which would represent their views on economic and social policies such as economic freedom and anti-welfare (in order to maximise profits). Subsequently, the working class turned to parties which encouraged trade unions to defend workers’ rights and that had policies to tax the wealthy and promote support and healthcare for the poor. Essentially, these two parties exist today in the form of The Conservatives (the former) and Labour (the latter).
The terms themselves are actually a relic of the French National Assembly in which the ‘pro-monarchist conservatives’ sat on the right of the chamber while the ‘revolutionary republicans’ sat on the left. The terms are now used to describe, more or less, the whole spectrum of politics.
In a very general sense, a left wing party is one which uses the state to help individuals. They tend to tax members of society who work in order to spend money on the rest of society. So, for example, the NHS or Pensions tend to be best represented by Left Wing parties because these are funded by the Taxpayer. Left Wing parties tend to emphasise the importance of the wellbeing of everyone on every level of society; this means benefits for those who can’t work or afford healthcare, trade union support and policies on the rights of workers.
Traditionally, The Labour Party is left wing and The Green Party is Far-Left because it holds more extreme left wing views.
Usually right wing parties support big companies and those who work and run businesses of their own. They tend to also hold traditional values (eg. importance of religion, marriage and national identity), protection of inheritance and to impose less tax on those who are successful financially. For example, a right wing party would tend to give entrepreneurs help in setting up businesses in the hope that they would become successful, create wealth and jobs, and benefit society as a whole.
The two main parties in the UK can be identified as being generally centre in their policies. The centre is basically where parties sit when they wish to appeal to the maximum amount of voters possible. Their policies are neither fully left wing nor right wing, but may have elements of both.
For example, The Conservative Party is usually identified as right wing, but some of the traditional views which once defined rightwing parties – like strict limits on immigration – have been diluted in favour of policies which promote equal opportunity. Even so, The Conservatives are still right wing in many policies. For example: powers to strenghten our economy by supporting big business, suggested caps on benefits, tighter controls on immigration, tax cuts those earning (not specified which income bracket) and a proposed referendum on the European Union.
UKIP would be considered to be part of the far right. Parties who identify as far right have similar characteristics as those in the right: the belief in restricted state intervention (Austerity), ‘everyman for himself’ ideology, advantages for the wealthy, as well as strong foreign policy. Extreme right, or far right, parties often retain the traditionalism many centre right parties ditch. This often leads to a very insular approach to society, “keeping things the way they were”. I.E. Making sure that nobody is allowed to come and change this (UKIP or other Far Right parties like the BNP focus on restricting immigration to achieve this).
Labour are still relatively left-wing. Their policies on the ‘living’ wage could benefit those struggling in society, and by increasing spending on benefits and child care for working parents, ending zero-hour contracts and spending more on the NHS they would be by definition very left wing. Usually left wing parties support the idea of taxing those who work to spend money on those less well off.
The Green Party is far left in its policies. It plans to implement tax on any kind of wealth and scrap the current jobseekers allowance to be replaced by a Citizen’s Income of £72 a week funded by the government. They intend on essentially withdrawing the UK from its global position and ensure that our society no longer relies on big international businesses and instead focuses on small local industries, to do this it would massively tax imports, foreign performers (The so called ‘Beyonce Tax’). It will also allow “open door” immigration to ensure that anyone can benefit from the wealth of our country.