Sunday, 9 January 2011


I love this clip.

The response that it usually provokes is that all left-wing groups are the same, endlessly fragmenting, bickering, arguing, re-forming, splitting again, and so one.  When I went to Cambridge, among the University societies there was one Conservative Association but a truly endless list of left-wing groups.  That was no doubt partly because there tend to be more left-wing students than right-wing students (even I was more centrist back then), but it is instructive nevertheless.

What people never ask is why.  Why is the left so prone to division, in a way that the right is not?  After a little thought, it seems to me that the reason is obvious.  Socialism is about telling people how to live their lives; Nanny tells you what you may or may not do, and Nanny's Chancellor takes your money away from you because he knows how to spend it and what to spend it on better than you do.  In that approach, there is endless potential for disagreement.  What should Nanny's priorities be?  Which minority groups should be on the favoured list?  Should they have lots of money spent on them, or eyewatering amounts of money?  What is the process for allocating the cash between them?  How many State bodies should be involved in the decision process? Should we take direct and open control of all industries, or just regulate and tax their owners into submission?  And so on.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they keep dividing.  There is material aplenty.

The right, however, takes the view that individual freedom is paramount.  Freedom to do as you choose, and take the consequences.  Freedom to control your own funds, and spend them only on what you wish to.

There is not a lot of scope for disagreement there.  Indeed, the potential sources of division are in how far it is proper to depart from that ideal; to what extent we need to coerce people to give up their income in taxes, and to what extent we must limit people's freedom, to force them to respect the freedom of others.  The core belief, however, is a simple one, a unifying one.

Which is why we are right (as it were).


  1. Apologies to PJ O'Rorke.

    God is Tory and Santa Claus is Labour.

    God is an elderly or, at any rate, middle aged male, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well being of the disadvantaged. He is politically connected, socially powerful and holds the mortgage on literally everything in the world.

    God is difficult. God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God's heavenly country club.

    Santa Claus is another matter. He's cute. He's non-threatening. He's always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without the thought of quid pro quo.
    He works hard for charities, and he's famously generous to the poor. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.

  2. I like that! I will try and remember it...

  3. I'll differ slightly with your analysis, if I may :)

    "Nanny's Chancellor takes your money away from you because he knows how to spend it and what to spend it on better than you do." True, but even older is the position of: you have wealth; many do not. Since you cannot, in our opinion, be trusted to be generous and look after the poor, we will take your money and redistribute in a way we consider fair, and if you disagree it can only be because you are selfish and ignorant. As the state represents all individuals, it is more important than any one individual. The 'Nanny knows best' thing is much more recent.

    You then say that all the disagreement is about how and what to redistribute. I think it's deeper than that. All left-wing thinkers owe something to a reading of Marx, but they differ in how well they understand it, how they interpret its ambiguities, and how far they are prepared to go to organise things accordingly. The 'splitting' is usually on matters of ideological purity - we are more socialist than you, kind of thing. In this, of course, it has all the pertinent features of a religion with its various sects - think Sunni/Shiite, Catholic/Protestant, and so on. All believe they, and only they, have access to The Truth. Same with the Left.

    Good piece, by the way!

  4. Feel free!

    I think the argument that the poor need to be looked after was spot on 100 years ago. It lost its validity when those on the breadline had a better telly than me.

  5. Yup, that just about sums it up. When those 'poor' enough to be on state benefits can afford long nights in the pub, big TVs, computer games consoles and hundreds of pounds to lavish on their kids at Christmas (none of which I can manage), then I begin to wonder who is the mug here.

  6. The 'splitting' is usually on matters of ideological purity - we are more socialist than you, kind of thing. In this, of course, it has all the pertinent features of a religion with its various sects - Catholic/Protestant, and so on.

    Not quite. The comparison would be better made Catholic = Conservative and Protestant = left wing. The reason being that P's piece is about one side remaining united, and the other side being divided. Over half of all Christians are Catholics, the rest are divided up into a multitude of differing and mutually exclusive groups (which keep on dividing).

  7. @ Albert - fair point, although you are taking it slightly further than I intended. All I meant to say was that religions all apparently believe in one thing, but are willing to fight to the death over their particular interpretation of it. When you quoted me, you edited out the reference to Sunni and Shiite Muslims, which was germane to my point. But agreed, the Catholic/one and Protestant/many divide is an exact match for the Right and Left in politics.

  8. Richard, I think the Sunni and Shiite comparison is good. They are not even divided over doctrinal issues (as far as I understand it), whereas some Protestants in particular can sometimes accuse Catholics of ceasing even to be Christians (an opinion which is not reciprocated, except with Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses etc., but most Protestants don't recognise them either).

  9. Albert - your experience and mine must differ. I have never heard a Protestant deny that Catholics were Christians (they just think they focus on the wrong things), whereas my understanding was that at a theological level, Catholics do indeed believe that Protestants have moved away from the True Church, and are therefore 'lesser' or even non-Christians. As a baptised member of the Anglican church (no longer practising), I have been refused communion in a Catholic church, the reason being that 'my' Christianity was not recognised as sufficient by the church in question. I found that pretty unfriendly.

  10. Richard. It's not so much experience (as a former Protestant, now Catholic, I have shared your experience of not being able to receive communion in Catholic Churches), it's theological. Catholics do simply recognise other Christians as Christians because they recognise their baptisms (all things being equal). Indeed, it would be heretical not to!

    However, some Evangelicals do not recognise Catholics as Christians because they believe Catholics deny what Evangelicals regard as the fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, and they mistakenly believe Catholics worship Mary and place the Pope above the Word of God.

    However, you have isolated the key point from the Catholic point of view. While we recognise Protestants as Christians we don't recognise Protestant communities as Churches in the Catholic sense (but then again, Protestants don't claim to be Churches in the Catholic sense). This distinction inevitably means intercommunion makes no sense from a Catholic point of view.

  11. But on the other hand, Albert, orange is such a nice colour!

  12. Yes, but not as nice as yellow and white.

  13. P.S. I wonder if the right is so united. In the very least, we have the Conservatives(a range of factions), the UKIP and the far right.

    But if the right is more united, I wonder if that is more for historical reasons. The 20th Century gave the right a worse press than it gave the left, and this perhaps limited the options for the right.