New politics puts left and right out of the picture

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The Independent Online
The traditional map of British politics, in which voters are described as right- or left-wing, is being redefined, according to a survey to be published tomorrow.

Such labels are simplistic and out-of-date explanations of people's ideologies, it claims. Instead, the survey's authors say people today can be classified as conservative, libertarian, authoritarian, socialist and centrist.

The report, Beyond Left and Right, by MORI and the Institute of Economic Affairs, offers a revealing picture of the British public. There is strong support across the political spectrum for legal abortion, VAT on private school fees and the view that private medical coverage diverts resources from the NHS and should be discouraged.

A majority of the public also opposes a ban on any sort of sexual act between consenting adults. But the notion of identity cards is strongly supported and there is broad opposition to British membership of the European single currency.

But what is also apparent is that these issues also caused divisions among those voting for the traditional political parties. Many of those questioned do not fit into the traditional spectrum where people are "hard left", "Tory wet" or "centre left", according to the report. It says such labels are "crude instruments". Far better, they claim, to classify people according to their views on economic and personal freedom.

Under this model, someone who is conservative in outlook favours the free market, but wants strong state legislation on issues such as drugs or abortion, while an authoritarian broadly favours state intervention in both personal and economic matters.

In contrast, a socialist favours personal freedom and a role for the state in economic matters, while a libertarian is broadly in favour of a laissez-faire approach to both. Centrists stand broadly in the middle.

The MORI poll found that the greatest number of people are conservative (36 per cent), followed by libertarian (19 per cent), socialist (18 per cent), centrist (15 per cent) and authoritarian (13 per cent). Women are slightly more authoritarian, conservative and centrist than men. In contrast, men (42 per cent) are likely to be more relaxed on social issues than women (32 per cent).

Although the largest group is conservative in outlook, legal abortion is supported by 56 per cent of people, 60 per cent feel there is too much red tape, 55 per cent believe that private medical cover should be discouraged and 71 per cent that public transport should be subsidised.

A greater number of people (47 per cent) oppose police powers to tap phones than support them, and 43 per cent oppose random stop-and- search powers, with 42 per cent backing them.

Yet an authoritarian streak runs through Britain, according to the poll. Some 65 per cent of people asked feel that there should be a national identity card scheme, more people favour military service (45 per cent) than oppose it (36 per cent), and just under half the population (44 per cent) favours compulsory private pensions.

The headache for the three major political parties is that support or opposition for many of these issues is never unanimous within party ranks. For example, 39 per cent of Labour voters support police stop-and-search powers, while 56 per cent of Tory voters favour subsidised public transport.

"The figures show just how out of step the present Tory party is with their supporters," said Brian Gosschalk, managing director of MORI.

But Labour may find Europe as taxing an issue as it was for John Major: 41 per cent of Labour voters oppose a single currency.

The view that people become more conservative as they get older is borne out. Just 18 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 are conservative, but this rises to 54 per cent among people aged 55 or more. Similarly, 23 per cent of the youngest age group consider themselves socialists, but this dwindles to 10 per cent among people over 55.

The more money you have, the survey suggests, the more relaxed you will be about social issues. Just 10 per cent of those earning more than pounds 25,000 are authoritarian, compared with 16 per cent of those earning pounds 9,500 or less.

The results have clear implications for the political parties, with Labour having broad support across the redefined spectrum, according to the MORI chairman, Bob Worcester.

Labour won a landslide even though 55 per cent of potential voters (conservatives and libertarians) were free market supporters, 49 per cent were socially conservative (conservatives and authoritarian) and only 37 per cent strongly in favour of personal freedoms (socialists and libertarians).

MORI interviewed 1,700 people during April. They were not asked "Are you a libertarian?", but their views were sought on issues such as the legalisation of cannabis, police powers to tap phone lines and Third World aid.