When the late Margaret Thatcher died earlier this year, one of the first public statements made by Prime Minister David Cameron included the contribution that “we are all Thatcherites now”. This statement was met with some controversy, not least for its provocative undertone but also for its sloppiness (“Who is this ‘we’? Can you define a Thatcherite for me, Dave?”). At any rate, it isn’t really true. I’m not a Thatcherite, and nor are most other people, in any discernible sense. But a quick glance at any national newspaper will tell you something perhaps a little more generalising, but also more soundly diagnosable; we are all right-wingers now.
Who do I mean by “we”? Well, society. The vast majority of credible politicians, including many in the Labour ranks and the Lib Dems. The press. The loose umbrella of cultural ethics which pervade in modern Britain. All of these things are now centred around various values historically associated with different threads of the Right. Politics is now a working out of the nuances of these threads; be it isolationism or neoconservatism, supporting completely free-markets or some regulation for ‘compassionate conservatism’, how far one goes to criticise the extremes of different cultures to that of traditional Britain, the role of religion in public life; I could go on, you know.
Look at the last three domestic stories which received a lot of news coverage: the energy bill prices dispute between Labour and the Conservatives; the Chancellor, George Osborne’s recent international trade visit to China; and the Autumn Budget. All of the mainstream papers and magazines in this country, including those of a leftist bent, covered the events in right-wing terms; talking of growth through free trade with the Chinese, where the only disputes over the economy are about what should be cut rather if we should cut at all for the Budget, where anything reminiscent of nationalisation of energy companies is barked at and played down as a disastrous idea. Let’s face it; the right have the monopoly on politics at present.
Saying that, there still pervades through political commentary, social practice and individual conscience that, somehow, to describe something or someone as “right wing” is an unpardonable slur which any decent person should take offense to. The image of the stereotypical “right-winger” still conjures up pictures of a racist, bigoted fundamentalist, with a Bible stuffed under one arm whilst carrying a riding crop to beat the poor, possessing no compassion for anything other than their prized desk portrait of Margaret Thatcher. This image of what it means to be “right-wing” has to die.
Any impartial spectator would notice it as quite the opposite. There is a lacking of a serious leftist voice in modern politics, a fact I both enjoy from a personal perspective, but deeply lament from a political perspective. ‘The Left’, to lump them all together, possess such a small voice in British politics now, which often projects itself as confused and incoherent amidst the hegemonic ethos of the Right. The flagship Leftist paper, the Guardian, is liberal on certain things, illiberal on most. The Independent are broadly both anti-Government and pro-Big Government, a circle I cannot myself square. The New Statesman, a magazine I still read every week, has at its most controversial contributor Owen Jones, the poster boy of the modern Left, a man who thirty years ago would have been seen as a sop and a centrist by the old guard of the Left. Yet many on both the Left and the Right hold Jones’ views to be eccentric and outside the majority voice.
This tells us two things: one, that the Left is losing the argument; two, that politics is becoming increasingly more not centralised but “centricised”. While many on the Right might applaud the idea of the Left gasping for air above the sea of right-wing opinion, this could in the future have negative consequences for them, too. What happens when the centre swings the other way? Will The Spectatorcolumnists be in a similar position to Owen Jones at The New Statesman? Who knows.
When I hear many friends and associates of a Leftist bent deplore the “right wing press”, I usually reply, “well, has the left got anything interesting to say anymore?”. After the shaking of the heads, the pressing issues rings home. If Leftists are to have anything to contribute to British politics, they’d better work a bit harder than they currently are. Because as it stands, the commentary on the Right doesn’t just carry the day; it sets the events for the day, too.
Perhaps some of the readership will chastise me for calling for a stronger Leftist presence in the media and in the press. But the fact is, from a right winger’s perspective, the lack of argument and opposition is getting a bit boring.