A Level Politics

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FAQ: what is ‘left’ and ‘right’?

Posted by Matt Walker on October 22, 2009

left or right The terms left wing and right wing tend to permeate political discussion. Indeed, many people like to define their own views in terms of these two labels. But what do they mean?

In very broad terms, the political left tend to be more supportive of state intervention than the right. Put another way, they favour a larger state which does more things, and intervenes more in the economy and society. This could mean various levels of state ownership of the economy, a larger welfare state, and higher levels of taxation.

On the other hand, the right tend to be less supportive of state intervention, favouring free market solutions to problems. They will often, therefore, back measures which reduce the size and scope of the state, and be supportive of a reduction in welfare support. Lower taxation also tends to be important for the right.

Being more or less left and right wing on these and other policy areas, will determine whether you are, for example, left of centre or simply left wing.

However, we must be very careful when using the labels ‘left’ and ‘right’. They are a shorthand reference point which enable us to gain a general understanding of an individual’s or a political party’s political perspective. However, whilst individuals and parties might gravitate more towards left or right, they may simultaneously support ideas from the other pole.

Hence, whilst the Labour Party may be a centre left party, they borrow policies and ideas from the right. This is also true of the Tories and Lib Dems.


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