October 20th, 2008


Going my way?

Back in 2005, I wrote an entry entitled Why does it always swing on me? which predicted -- correctly, as it turned out -- that Koizumi would win in Japan and Merkel in Germany. I knew this simply because it always happened to me; I'd arrive in a country, attracted by a relatively liberal government, only to face a swing, a reaction, a rightward re-adjustment. Since this had happened throughout my adult life, I figured the pattern would continue. Governments of the nations I lived in would always be swinging right.

One of the interesting things happening now, though, is that pretty much everyone -- from George "Socialist" Bush downwards -- has suddenly swung left, thanks to the financial crisis and the sudden collapse of neo-liberal free market ideology. I was one of the few Japan-watchers to be against the privatisation of the Japanese postal savings bank, for instance (the issue over which Koizumi called, and won, that 2005 election), but now it's become a new orthodoxy to regret that privatisation -- the current Japanese prime minister, Taro Aso, was vehemently against it, for instance, and the current banking crisis makes his stance look wise.

One of the most extraordinary and heartening things to happen in the last month has been the rehabilitation of two great veterans of British left wing politics, Michael Foot and Tony Benn. Several commentators have noted that Foot (now 95 years old) called for greater state control of the banks in his 1983 Labour Party manifesto, and that this now suddenly looks pretty smart (We're all socialists now, comrade!). Even free market-friendly papers like The Financial Times and The Times are suddenly hailing Mr Foot (whose glasses, too, look a lot more fashionable than they did).

I remember feeling a surge of hope when Foot was elected leader of the Labour Party in the early 80s. He's probably the only leader of a UK political party in my lifetime whose views even remotely resemble mine. He was, unfortunately, slayed at the polls. Even today, with his values and views vindicated, there aren't enough British people buying his old paper Tribune to keep it in business.

So -- in this political season, when the US looks likely to elect its most left-leaning president in a generation -- what are my political views? And which politicians represent them, in which countries? Well, on the Political Compass test I score:

Economic Left/Right: -7.12
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.03

This makes me solidly left-libertarian. It puts me in a lonely part of the Political Compass, in terms of actual representation in the political process. Only Gandhi somewhat represents my views, amongst the historical figures cited by the Political Compass website. In terms of US politics, Brian Moore, Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney occupy the general area of my views (though I support Obama simply because he has a chance of winning and thereby tilting the US at least in the direction of left-libertarianism).

As The Economist recently pointed out, the UK is generally to the left of the US in its values, and the EUzone is somewhat to the left of the UK. Perhaps surprisingly, that study found that the British were closer to Europeans (and Canadians) than they were to Americans in their political attitudes.

Germany's red-green alliance (in power when I arrived here in 2003) is the closest I've come to living under a government I fundamentally agree with; apart from that, there's still a big gap between my beliefs and the values of most European governments, though Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands come closest. In terms of parties, the New Zealand Greens and the Irish Socialists might be my cup of tea. In the UK only the Greens are thinking my way. In terms of parties in power, Helen Clark's New Zealand Labour Party are heartening (in the Obama way; they actually have power, and somewhat represent my views -- though less than parties too unpopular to govern, like Michael Foot's 1980s Labour). Clark renationalised railways and banks before the current crisis made such things fashionable.

Just as parties out of power usually represent my views better than those in power, so cities probably represent them better than whole nations. My views are closer to those of the average New Yorker than the average American, and the average Berliner than the average German. And if you canvassed people by profession, you'd probably find a lot of artists, writers and musicians at least as left-libertarian as I am, and probably more so.

Now, the question is, have I -- like Michael Foot -- succeeded in living long enough to see the world finally swinging to me rather than swinging on me? Am I about to become gratefully average in my political views? Not just "an average indie musician" or "an average Berliner", but "an average European" or even "an average Westerner"? Sure, my views overlap with Joe "Germlin" Howe's already, and they'll probably never overlap with Joe the Plumber's, but are they about to overlap -- just a bit -- with Joe Sixpack's? And if so, how long is it going to be before we get parties occupying the lonely lower left quadrant of the Political Compass actually in power? Outside of South America, that is?