After 2016, Does Left and Right Mean Anything Anymore?

2016: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Depending where you fall on the political spectrum. And it would be easy to describe this purely in terms of the left/right dichotomy. But the political events of 2016 have actually showed just how uninformative the terms “left” and “right” even are.

They obscure the true nature of certain political positions and can, in fact, be deeply misleading, hiding genuine differences as well as convergence between people on the so-called “same side” or even opposing sides.

The Brexit campaign in Britain revealed all kinds of novel and unique political alliances. It definitely did not split along left/right lines as we would traditionally understand them: conservatives teamed up with communists, Lib Dems and Greens with centrist Tories, and the Labour-voting North opted for Leave in contradiction to the official Remain position of the Labour leadership.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

After the EU referendum result, political pundits have suggested that the new dialectic is “globalist” vs. “nationalist”. Yet not even that stands up to closer scrutiny. Not everyone who voted Leave necessarily had the same goals in mind. Though it has often been characterised as a strike against internationalism, for some Leave voters, exiting the European Union meant even more openness, rather than less. The Spectator magazine, for instance, argued that Brexit would present an opportunity for the United Kingdom to pursue more global ambitions beyond the confines of Europe.

I strongly favour an adversarial approach to political discourse. I believe that the best ideas emerge out of debate and I abhor self-righteous moral absolutism of any kind. In this vein, I wonder if the paradigm shifting events of 2016 will create new platforms for political opposition. Perhaps not sliced cleanly between left and right, but around specific issues – such as Britain’s relationship with the European Union. That will certainly make for nuanced political discussion that is maybe more reflective of reality.