I am wary of ever quoting Daniel Hannan after his outrageous attack on the NHS on Fox News some years ago. However, his articles are usually thoughtful and always challenging – none more so than this one where he challenges the Right to be consistent on capitalism and its rewards, and the Left to be moral rather than moralistic. It’s a bit one-sided and simplistic, but contains an alarming kernel of truth.
In Northern Ireland I suspect more people see themselves on the “Left” than on the “Right”, though I must say this is a self-identification. There are people on the “Left” that I hear stating views which are well to the “Right” no matter how defined; yet also people who deny the label “Left” who take fundamentally socially responsible and surely by any definition “leftist” positions. My own position is essentially that I’d love to be on the “Left”, if only I thought people really believed in it. But when it comes to action, it is clear to me most people are actually to the “Right”, almost regardless of definition. This is often for the reasons Mr Hannan suggests.
Too many people self-identifying with the “Left” frankly do exactly what he says – because, for example, they’ve called for higher taxes it is then perfectly reasonable for them to spend “their own” money on a Spanish villa rather than on setting up a charity, for example, to help the (genuinely) fuel poor. I have long pondered, indeed, whether it is possible to have a second home and still be “left wing”; and I think I’ve decided: no, it isn’t. “It’s my own money, I earned it, I can spend it on whatever I like” is perfectly reasonable logic, if you are on the political “right“. But if you are serious about redistribution of wealth, it is outrageous to invest in a second home when you could instead spend it helping people out there lacking even a first home.
The straightforward truth is we are all very happy to argue the case for good causes provided it is other people’s money which will be spent on them. We all define “the rich” as people who are richer than we are. In the end, if we’re asked to put our own hand in our pocket for some vague good cause in preference to that long weekend in Mallorca, well, who else is putting their hand in their pocket, eh?
The only people who can be taken seriously as “left-wing” are the small minority who set up the charities, raise the money, and physically redistribute income including their own. (Very often, these are actually Churches – themselves oft maligned by many on the “Left”.) If you are waiting for “the State” to do it all while sipping on that Prosecco on a balcony on the Cote d’Azur, I say fair play to you, you probably earned it – but please don’t insult us by calling yourself “left wing”.