The month is April 2010. The location is Joe’s Bar in the Guild. A lively debate is taking place over four pints of beer.
“So you’re trying to tell me that the Conservatives are anti-poor, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-public services.”
“Well then you’re full of **** because I heard Cameron’s speech on the NHS and he says he’s gonna protect it! They haven’t mentioned anything about punishing the poor either, you’re just making that up, cos we’re all in this together. And they have gay front-benchers, and JUST in case you’ve forgotten Thatcher was a woman.”
How many times have we experienced this rebuttal? This battle for hearts and minds, with us hungover in scruffy jeans on one side and Cameron’s big air-brushed face on the other?
And how many people came back to us over the following months and said “Mate, I’m sorry, if I’d known they were gonna cut my cousin’s benefits I wouldn’t have voted for them.”
But by then it’s too late. We need a shorthand, to unpick all the rhetoric, all the speeches, all the elaborate policies with questionable motives. Left and Right.
To say that a party is right wing is to know its history. Its history of opposing measures for the greater equality of gender, race and sexuality. Its financial backers in big business, its think tanks and advisers comprising the bigoted, the religiously extreme, the regressive. Its instincts to offload responsibility, make a profit, and favour choice over health and happiness. How it will respond in a crisis, where its priorities will lie, what it wants to achieve and the kind of country it’ll leave behind as its legacy.
Right wing and left wing speak for themselves.
And once you understand the divide you can read between the lines of speeches, because you know the place they are coming from in the first place. Ed Miliband declaring that he’s not in the pockets of Unite isn’t going to scare the Unions because they also know that they share a common, left wing, goal with Ed to defend workers against cuts. Whereas Cameron promising not to include the NHS in his cuts was a plea to those old enough to remember the last Tory government for another chance.
Right wing and left wing are more important than election promises. Years after everyone has forgotten that speech that leader made at conference the backbone of the party is still the same, and will react to each new problem in an essentially typical way. Giving credit to the Tories for cutting child benefit for the relatively wealthy is to silently acknowledge that it’s a surprise, that it’s essentially out of character, that it’s even a little bit left wing, because the true right-wing instinct would be to just scrap it altogether.
But that would make them unelectable.