Political Compass

Abridged from www.politicalcompass.org if you want to know more, go there.

The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’, established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today’s  political landscape.  It’s not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can’t explain.


If we recognise that this is essentially an economic line it’s fine, as far as it goes. We can show, for example, Stalin, with their commitment to a totally controlled economy, on the hard left. Socialists like Mahatma Gandhi  would occupy a less extreme leftist position. Margaret Thatcher would be well over to the right, but further right still would be General Pinochet.

That deals with economics, but the social dimension is also important in politics. That’s the one that the mere left-right scale doesn’t adequately address. Both an economic dimension and a social dimension are important factors for a proper political analysis.


By adding the social dimension you can show that Stalin was an authoritarian leftist (ie the state is more important than the individual) and that Gandhi, believing in the supreme value of each individual, is a liberal leftist. The opposite of fascism is not communism but anarchism (ie liberal socialism), and that the opposite of communism ( i.e. an entirely state-planned economy) is neo-liberalism (i.e. extreme deregulated economy) The usual understanding of anarchism as a left wing ideology does not take into account the neo-liberal “anarchism”, which couples right-wing economics with liberal positions on most social issues.


How The Parties Have Shifted

UK Parties at different times


UK Parties 2010 General Election

UK Political Parties chart

Once you accept that left and right are merely measures of economic position, the extreme right refers to extremely liberal economics that may be practiced by social authoritarians or social libertarians.

The UK Independence Party might be described as BNP Lite, with a more well-heeled social base of generally older hardline Tories unhappy with their former party’s drift in a more socially liberal, Europe-friendly direction. Like the BNP, UKIP is sympathetic to the reintroduction of capital punishment. UKIP’s economics, however, are well to the right.

The socially liberal Greens by strong contrast, have shifted from the single-issue tendency of their formative years and sprouted a comprehensive left manifesto, appealing to a diametrically different kind of disenchanted Labour voter: strong on civil liberties, social justice, prison reform and the welfare state; passionately opposed to unfettered market forces, foreign invasions and all things nuclear.

This time around the somewhat mercurial Liberal Democrats look like Green Lite beside the Labour and Conservative parties. Their economic pitch is left of Labour’s. The LibDems maintain considerable distance from both the main parties on the social scale, with a rehabilitative approach to crime and a far greater concern for civil liberties. The only one of the big three parties to have opposed the invasion of Iraq.

The new “progressive” Conservative Party can appeal to more socially liberal voters with an appetite for the full-throttle neoliberal economic policies that would inevitably follow their election. ” Tory party, as revealed in a recent Financial Times survey, remains one with a large number of climate change deniers. Despite recent history, most in the party are opposed to all but the lightest fiscal regulation, and don’t want to see any cap at all on corporate bonuses.

There’s considerable truth in the assertion that it’s easier to be socially liberal in opposition than in office. Labour  has moved towards a more authoritarian position. While fiscally there are hints that the party is now reaching back to its core values, under Blair and Brown Labour went to extraordinary lengths to privatise the economy and nationalise the public.

Underlining the absence of substantial differences on the economic scale in particular, the public – and even the commentators – refer more than ever before to the three main leaders rather than to their parties. We know more about their personal lives; less about concrete policy. The tv debates, as welcome as they might be on some levels, have helped bring about a more presidential approach to politics. A presidential political campaign tends to highlight the style of the candidates rather than the substance of their policies.

It’s a handy diversion in the absence of profound ideological distinctions.



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