Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Right-wingers stay right because, to quote Mrs. T, “the facts of life are conservative”

I was enjoying bits of James Delingpole’s latest book 365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy (written, the author tells us, for the American market) using the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon this morning, when the following question popped into my head: plenty of left-wingers end up on the Right -why do so few right-wingers end up as lefties?

After all, revising one’s political beliefs in order to follow the petal-strewn path of left-wing enlightenment is tempting (even if you find yourself in the company of blisters like David Bercow, Quentin Davies and  Shaun Woodward). These inner urgings are a bit like those soft, reasonable voices in Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, telling us that all we need to do to be reborn into a world cleansed of doubt is to fall asleep for a little while.  

I think all of us on the Right share one thing in common: a distaste for adopting political opinions simply because they make us look good to other people, while affording us a warm “more compassionate than thou” inner glow of sheer smugness. After all, being right wing means always having to say you’re sorry. 

Wouldn’t it simply be easier to support mass immigration on humanitarian grounds, and giving criminals another chance, and living in deep political harmony with all those social democrats in Europe (what’s a few billion Euros between pals?) and siding with all those darling Arabs against those ghastly, intransigent, genocidal Israelis? And wouldn’t it be utterly divine if everyone – no matter how stupid or lazy or illiterate – could enter adult life with a shiny university degree? And all those wonderful, huggable NHS sweeties: how could one resist giving them more and more of our money to spend as they see fit? And we all know - deep down - that the problem with state schools is that selfish middle class people like us won’t sacrifice their children on the altar of equality.

And aren’t bombs and bankers horrible, and isn’t the monarchy just too silly for words, and isn’t the environment simply adorable and shouldn’t animals have more rights than humans and aren’t children in a very real sense wiser than  adults? And isn’t religion just a ruse by the rich to keep the poor poor. And isn’t a rise in VAT or spending less just because we’re massively in debt an absolutely beastly, cruel notion! And aren’t poor people - in fact, all of life’s “victims” - simply to die for?

Yes, I can imagine floating off to sleep each night with a clear conscience, basking in a warm glow of self-regard, instead of wondering how a supposedly civilised human being such as myself – and a self-confessed Christian to boot - could countenance judicial murder, or could care less about the Palestinians, or feel that far too many dumb people go to university these days, or want to halt all foreign aid and see the money spent on protecting this country instead. 

I sometimes catch myself wondering if I  – and millions of like-minded folk – are doing a Dawkins, i.e. arguing against a belief system whose salient features we are either wilfully refusing to grasp or genuinely can’t grasp because our imaginative or emotional faculties are somehow deficient.

I believe most of us are naturally politically on the Left or the Right, just as we’re naturally optimistic or pessimistic - or left or right-handed. I’m sure Michael Wharton was correct when he suggested to his daughter that one’s political leanings were largely a matter of temperament - most of us just go with our inner flow. 

The first big test of our natural political inclinations tends to come between the ages of 16 and 21, when the world’s myriad injustices and inequalities somehow demand urgent redress – no matter how comfortable our own lives are.  This period can make a natural left-winger turn into a raving Trot, or make a natural conservative flirt with Social Democracy. But from the age of thirty or so onwards, we all tend to drift rightwards – left-wing firebrands become cabinet ministers, Tories with a social conscience begin to wonder whether our taxes need  be quite so high, or whether it would be unreasonable to expect benefits recipients to occasionally display even the teensiest smidgin of gratitude for other people’s generosity. 

I don’t believe this rightward lurch has much to do with hardening of the mental arteries, or being too lazy to think things through, or becoming set in our ways, or because, having started to accumulate property and possessions, we wouldn’t mind holding onto them rather than seeing them handed over to the 12-strong Romanian family who entered the country illegally last week and can’t be sent back because they might be sent to prison for being a bunch of workshy thieves.

No, the tendency to become more right-wing as one grows older is, I believe based on something Mrs. Thatcher once pointed out (which is quoted in James Delingpole’s book): “The facts of life are conservative”.

I’m pretty sure that’s what stop us diluting our opinions in order to gain applause from our leftist peers: experience shows us that Man is far from perfectible, that spending more than you earn is a bad idea, that standing on your own two feet makes you happier, that only a monster would sacrifice their children’s future (or their present) in the name of “social justice”, that Big Government is invariably Lousy Government, that throwing money at social problems just makes them worse, that giving people money without expecting anything from them in return is daft, and that showing leniency to evil people means more – and worse – criminals. 

Because every time you hear an argument to the contrary, it’s usually based on something that happened somewhere else (normally Sweden), or you’re being told that the expensive, enlightened measure that just failed dismally would have worked if only even more of your money had been spent on it, or a measure was a good thing – no matter how disastrous its outcome – because the motive behind it was “Progressive” (i.e. involves even money being taken from your bank account and handed to someone who has no right to it).

And I suspect it’s not just in these areas that thirty-somethings start turning right: I’m convinced that, as they get older, many people who don’t attend church  or pay much attention to the doings of the Monarchy, begin to realise that the continued existence of these institutions just somehow makes them feel better - they’ll do their best to keep sniggering at all those left-wing comedians denigrating Anglicanism and Royalty, but it’ll maker them uneasy.

Life just is right-wing. 

Which is why – no matter how alluring it would be for those of us whose friends and work-colleagues are predominantly left-wing to change sides, we very rarely do so. And it’s why so many former left-wingers hoik their little darlings out of state schools at the first opportunity, and join BUPA, and move to areas where the council is Tory-controlled. Those actions aren’t really hypocritical – it’s just that life has simply demonstrated that “social justice” and equalitarianism are dandy in theory, but bloody horrible in practice. (When these people won’t admit to voting Tory, keep on reading the Guardian and continue sneering at “Tory Bastards” – that’shypocrisy.)

So, the reason natural right-wingers stay that way, and the reason so many natural left-wingers end up on the Right is simple: life itself.  


  1. Oh dear, Scott, you seem to have got this all wrong. You and Mrs Thatcher.

    You just have to read Clancy Sigal on the subject [1].

    The well-known screen-writer and novellist is reminiscing about his friends and himself in the "sixties sex-dope-'n'-rock'n'roll scene and its street-fighting politics. Once, we marched, fought neo-Nazis hand to hand and hurled ball-bearings at police horses riding us down" and bemoaning the fact that so many of them have become right wing in later life.

    Their mistake? Where have they gone wrong while he has triumphed and "returned to [his] younger self who identified with the caged criminal not the robed judge"?

    Simple. It's the Bible:

    Obama might do worse than linger over his next Bible class and re-read Ephesians 6:12-18, as I've very slightly updated it:

    "For we wrestle … against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places … against those who would destroy social security and a living wage."

    I hope you're feeling suitably contrite.


    Sunday, January 9, 2011 - 08:46 PM

  2. Prompted by your comments, I read some of Sigal’s vapourings on the Guardian site. What is it with Sixties radicals and their terrible hankering to be seen as “street-fighting men”? To them, the world is just a backdrop for their own personal psychodrama, where they battle mighty forces with only outlaw cunning and courage and an utterly inexplicable belief that they’re on the side of right to sustain them. Why can’t they just play online sword and sorcery games and watch superhero movies like every other silly old fool who finds it hard to adjust to being an adult? The language gives it away: “police horses riding us down”. You can almost hear the tumblers click into place as he unlocks the door into that imaginary land where he walks into a bar and all the noise stops – “Gee, that Clancy. He fought good, that guy. Still out there, keepin’ it real, beatin’ up police horses, one step ahead of the pigs.”

    Mind you, it must be sad when the people around you start growing up and becoming sensible, and you’re still locked in your bedroom miming in the mirror to Jimi Hendrix tracks. And you know anyone who cites Pete Seeger – a silly old Commie and crap banjo player – as staying “awkwardly, stubbornly” young is really desperate. I expect Clancy flicks through old copies of Rolling Stone magazine at night with a tear in his rheumy eye.
    Monday, January 10, 2011 - 03:32 PM