Politics as a broader spectrum than Left vs Right


It’s probably fairly obvious, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, that I am (or at least was) confused as to where I sit politically. Although, I doubt this is unique to me. So if you’re reading this and confused yourself, then read on.
I feel that the political confusion problem arises from the incomplete political spectrum by which we are divided in NZ. You know, the Left-Right dichotomy. However, last night I was reading a post on The Standard and was directed to the Political Compass page.This compass approach addressed the social dimension of politics (distinguished by Authoritarianism vs Libertarianism) as well as the economic dimension (Left vs Right distinction). After answering the questionnaire, I was surprised at the result. Extremely surprised. Taken aback even. It placed me as a Left Libertarian (I know the test is not scientifically accurate, but it did have value in understanding the broader dimensions of politics). But knowing this, it helps me to understand why I am increasingly discontented with the supposed Left in NZ. I’ve always disliked the right, so don’t assume that my dislike for the left amounts to support for the right. It does not.
What is meant by Left and Right? I’m going to accept the view by the Political Compass that the Left-Right distinction explains the economic dimension i.e. Communism (left) and neo-liberalism (right). I’m not sure I agree with the distinction but will accept it (for the purpose of this post) because this is the view most people accept.
Left and Right in NZ is pretty much established as Labour (left) and National (right). In my view, this is flawed. Labour have not been a left wing party since the 1980’s when they allowed Roger Douglas to implement neo-liberalism into NZ’s policy making framework. However, despite this swing to the right by Labour (who have failed to move back to left) both Labour and National have anchored themselves as the forefront of NZ politics. Labour are effectively less right than National, but they are not Left. I found a diagram on the Political Compass site that analysed the NZ 2011 election and put the parties on their respective scales – it supports my assessment.
In my view, Labour and National work collaboratively to monopolise the political spectrum in NZ. They do so to legitimise the others claim to their respective economic dimensions (i.e. Left v Right). Notwithstanding the mud slung between these two parties, it is in fact in both their interests to ensure that minor parties do not attract any significant political influence, by way of public opinion.  To minimise any minor party traction, both Labour and National propagate myths of extremism to destroy the credibility and validity of minor party policy and thereby minimising any effective participation they might otherwise enjoy in government.
For instance, if Labour attack ACT (or some other such party on the right) it’s not because they think the vote will then swing their way (that would be ludicrous – a far right voter would never change their vote for a party proclaiming itself as leftist), rather it redirects the vote to the dominant National party securing National’s place on the right and vice versa. Arguably, the major parties create these myths for other reasons i.e. they do not wish either the left or right to be dominated by what they perceive as extremist threats to their own positions in government; but even if this is true, the strategy inevitably props up the other party’s voting base.
In terms of the social dimension the division on the Political Compass (see citation above) is between Authoritarian (i.e. Stalin, Hitler, Pinochet) and Libertarian. Interesting to note there has never been an extreme Libertarian in power – I suspect the reason for this is that power (the State) is incompatible with libertarianism. The interesting feature of the social dimension is how political parties are divided here. If you consider the diagram (linked above), the only libertarian party in NZ is the Green Party. It’s important to distinguish between the Left Libertarian (LL) and the Right Libertarian (RL). The LL is not committed to free market ideology instead (and in general) the LL “…holds that natural resources initially belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner…” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/libertarianism/#2). Obviously an oversimplification of the LL position as there are variations as in any ideology. The RL on the other hand would argue that the freer the market the freer the people – a capitalist based theory (instead of explaining this – which I would do a very poor job at, read anything from Life Behind the Iron Drape and you’ll soon get the picture).
I am not yet committed to Left Libertarianism, but the initial arguments are compelling. 
I didn’t intend to get on here and bag out Labour or National, my point was to raise the issue of the importance and relevance of minor parties. The majority of States around the globe are governed by Right wing Authoritarian governments. This includes NZ. Even if Labour wins the next election, there is no guarantee that they will slip back to the Left, and even if they do, there is no guarantee that they won’t move up the authoritarian scale. If we keep voting on a Labour vs National basis, then we will continue to experience the same problems in perpetuity. 


  1. Interesting post, enjoyed the summary. The Left/Right dichotomy in the New Zealand context with MMP continuing to mature, does provide some fascinating insights into the role of the minority parties.


  2. Thanks…and I agree about MMP and the role of minor parties, but I worry that the more votes a (minor) party gets, the more likely it is to move towards what NZ define as 'centre' in order to attract even more votes. I read something written by Gaddafi the other day 'The Green Book'(I've only read a few pages so far though) in which he places direct democracy as the key to good governance and decentralising power (preferring local bodies)to enable direct democracy. He disliked 'political parties' claiming their agenda was simply to control society and as such, in his view the party system is contrary to direct democracy. He had some compelling arguments. Completely different perspective from media depictions of him (although, I admit I don't have a good grasp of Libya's history).


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