How can you tell left from right in politics?


Politics can be confusing sometimes. There are so many politicians and policies that it is hard to keep track. To make things easier, people and ideas are often described as ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’. There are no actual wings in politics, so what do these terms mean? 


In general, ‘left’ means using government to make change and shape society, while ‘right’ means less government, letting people provide for themselves and make their own choices. It is important to remember though that these terms are only general.


Why do we have ‘wings’?


No two people agree on absolutely everything, especially in politics. It is therefore useful to have a system for grouping views that are similar. We use the words ‘left’ and right’ because they have a historical meaning. 


In the eighteenth century, France had a national assembly. This was a group of people chosen to represent the views of the French people. To stop arguments between them, they sat on opposite sides, or ‘wings’, of the room. Those who supported the King sat on the right, while those who opposed him sat on the left. This is where we got the terms left-wing and right-wing. But what do they mean now?


Big or small?


One difference between left and right is how involved they want the government to be in society. This is called the size of a government. Most people on the left prefer ‘big’ government. This means high spending on public services such as schools and hospitals, and higher taxes to pay for this spending. Most people on the right prefer ‘small’ government. This means they think services should be provided by people themselves, meaning less tax is needed to fund the government.


Change or conserve?


Another difference is their attitude to change. Generally, the left is in favour of change. They believe in trying to make progress through reform. Meanwhile, the right is seen as conservative. This means they are against change, and prefer to keep things as they are. They believe in the importance of order and tradition.


Society or individual?


The other major difference between left and right is their attitude towards society. Those on the left believe policies should improve society, even if they limit our choices. Those on the right believe it is more important to protect freedom. They see us as individuals with rights, rather than a society.


You don’t need wings to fly.


It is important to remember that these differences are only general. The terms ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ are simply tools to make politics easier. They should not restrict your beliefs or opinions. There are good ideas and good people on both sides. The important thing is for us to decide what is best ourselves. After all, through politics we have the power to shape our lives, and the lives of those around us.



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