In our topsy-turvy world, right-wing and left-wing politics are no longer where they were


It’s not just the French election and a presidential candidate who called himself a “radical centrist”.

It’s not just the US where a billionaire running on a Republican Party ticket could claim to be a champion of the working classes.

It’s not just the UK, where a life-long socialist such as Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn now seems too internationalist because he represents a metropolitan London constituency rather than an insular, rural bit of England.

In many parts of the world, the right and the left of politics are no longer exactly where they once were. Consider India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist cheerleader for the freemarket, is increasingly hewing left with price controls on heart stents, airline tickets and suchlike.

What do you call Mr Modi, who sees a conspiracy against poor people even in illegible prescriptions by medical doctors? He recently said, “Doctors write prescriptions in such a way that poor people do not understand the handwriting, and he has to buy that medicine from private stores at high prices… We will bring in a legal framework by which if a doctor writes a prescription, he has to write in it that it will be enough for patients to buy generic medicine.”

So, what do you call a politician who is instinctively right-wing in his cultural view of the nation-state but tacking over to left-wing class-warrior issues?

“An opportunist,” some would say.

Some French pundits think this is no laughing matter. An editorial in La Dépêche du Midi in Toulouse said of far-right Marine Le Pen’s vitriolic insults at the last debate of the presidential campaign: “Through lies and incessant interruptions, striking proof was given last night that it is difficult, if not impossible, to debate with the far right, in conditions of minimal democratic respect.”

But despite that note of certainty, everything isn’t clearcut about the great linguistic conundrum of our shifting political landscape.

(Tomorrow: What’s politics that’s not quite left and not quite right? ‘Light’. )