Posted in Social and political rants

How did Politics become so left and right, (and red and blue)

Do you know the origin of the term Left and Right in Politics? Well you’ll be delighted to know that it originally started as insults. ( I know I was)

Although the distribution of Left and Right in the seating of a parliament or congress is generally agreed to date from the french revolution (1789), when the new congress met to hammer out a constitution. Those who wanted to limit or do away with a monarchy sat on the Left (against the status quo) and those who wanted things to remain as close to what they had (monarchy or limited monarchy) sat to the Right. But the first recorded linkage of a horizontal left-right continuum actually started in England in 1679 when the English were trying to decide on who to succeed James the I.

Originally “Whig” and “Tory” were terms of abuse introduced in 1679 during the heated struggle over the bill to exclude James, duke of York (afterward James II), from the succession. Whig—whatever its origin in Scottish Gaelic—was a term applied to horse thieves and, later, to Scottish Presbyterians; it connoted nonconformity and rebellion and was applied to those who claimed the power of excluding the heir from the throne. Tory was an Irish term suggesting a papist outlaw and was applied to those who supported the hereditary right of James despite his Roman Catholic faith.”

So the idea was that those who wanted change or non conformity were Whigs, and those who favoured keeping things as they are became Tories.

The Parties as such did not exist, they were more like loose affiliations of like minded individuals, and they boundaries were very much a movable feast. But the concept seemed fairly wide spread and accepted. Joseph Addison’s essay on Party Patches, published in The Spectator, No. 81, on June 2, 1711, made note of women who had their patches placed on the left and right sides of their faces, and seemed to be mortal enemies of each other. There were also those who wore their patches where ever, and only wanted to hear the opera. Its also reasonable to expect that Men, who also wore powder and patch during this period, were using the same conventions.

The emergence of a political parties in close to the format we know now happened in 1784

“After 1784 William Pitt the Younger emerged as the leader of a new Tory Party, which broadly represented the interests of the country gentry, the merchant classes, and official ad-ministerial groups. In opposition, a revived Whig Party, led by Charles James Fox, came to represent the interests of religious dissenters, industrialists, and others who sought electoral, parliamentary, and philanthropic reforms.”

After the French Revolution in 1789, with its Reign of Terror, so abhorrent to the ruling classes of England (who after all could be next), there was a shake up of the More progressive side and a general renaming as Liberal and Conservative. (Although Whig fell out of use, the Tory epithet is still attached to the conservative party because – well they don’t do change well.)

The association of Blue to the right and Red to the left have had a few ups and downs. Charles Fox’s left leaning Whigs, originally wore blue and buff as their adopted colours But after the formation of the official parties, blue appeared to be the settled colour for Conservative and right leaning parties. (the infamous Men in Blue ties of the NLP as Mentioned by Julia Gillard in 2013). However, the USA, as always, likes to do this differently. With Conservatives being RED. Really the Red and the Blue only settled in 2000 when the Democratic party adopted an unofficial Blue Logo for their 2000 campaigns which seems to solidify the issue.

This is a little ironic given that Red is predominantly linked to Left leaning parties. This is after the designation of RED as the colour of communism and Socialism. I well remember dissertations on the Red peril in my catholic primary school in the still traumatised post McCarthy era. It was a little complicated by the extra Yellow Peril, paused to crush us from above via the added complication of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Someone coined the term of a sort of Orange Peril ready to swoop down from above us on the map and change our Aussie way of life for good. (To which I am thankful for the wave of Asian cuisine that made us the great Food channel nation that we are.)

And this is where things start to demonise the Left. In the 1930’s and 40’s England, and to some extent Australia, had strong Socialist Parties, which lead in a round about way to our Current Liberal/Labour two party system. But then the Second world war and Russia and Italy initially siding with the Nazi’s, and then the rise of communism the Iron curtain and the Asian wars, positioned communism as the enemy. Mixed up with racism and a general weariness over continual threats (especially as the post WWII prosperity and golden age was eroded by the unrest and ideological wars of the 60’s) saw a real fear of the Left emerge. The Left strove to be more centrist and even cleaved to (imaginary) Class lines of Squatocracy and the working man. The Labour party sought to distance itself from the whole concept of Socialism. Even now calling a progressive a socialist, sparks a whole world of frothing and abusive debate on social media.

The real concept that we need here, is that the idea of a truly progressive party aligns itself neither right or left. In fact seeking, as do all Political parties we hope, a genuine improvement of the society they live in, progressive parties may even veer to the right or stay centrist.

The issue they face is being seen as a viable alternative. This is where the name calling is effectively used to denigrate and block their ideas from the public. If people want to see Greens policies, platforms or hear them on question time, they have to go looking for it, like their Facebook posts, and follow them on twitter. The interesting paradox of having to be aware of what you want to seek, to seek it, is what prevents so many from even exploring these innovative and often really well crafted solutions to problems that the two majors just cant even start on. Being mired in their own Bell Jars and echo chambers of vested interests, donors and lobbyists. The main stream media, even the good old ABC who still cleave to the idea of showing both sides of an argument, can’t find a mechanism that allows for a third voice or idea.

The Greens struggle with this, doing all that they can to get their minimal air time or place in the debate. (not just restricted to the Greens I remember Andrew Bartlett, the then Leader of the Australian Democrats bungee jumping in 2017 just to get on the telly) This is not helped by the extreme “Loony” Right and one issue parties who seem to say, “See there is only extremism outside the main paradigm”.

The savior has been to an extent, social media, which flawed though it is, allows for publication and exposure outside of the Mainstream and often hostile controlled Media. Facebook Live and excerpts of Fiery Greens MP’s and Senators, giving the government a serve in question time or senate estimates, have been great to watch. They have been effective in gaining real change. (Go the Royal commissions into Banking, Aged Care and Disability and the NDIS – not to mention the Robo-debt repeal. Go you good things.) The really galling thing is they never seem to get the credit for this and that is possibly the most unfair part of it all.

Disclaimer: I am a long time Lefty and current member of the Greens.