Cleavage. Political cleavage

So. National are going to discuss a Tainui claim for the city of Auckland. Labour don’t like Auckland home-buyers with Chinese-sounding last names. Is it just me, or has the whole ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ thing become a lot more confusing?

The confusion is partly because we’re no longer clear what counts as Left and what counts as Right. In other words, it’s all about cleavage. Political cleavage.

One of the most popular approaches for understanding political complexity is to depict politics as a single left-right spectrum. This spectrum is based on big political differences, or what scholars (with dubious minds) call ‘cleavages’. There are many types of cleavage that can influence the make up of this left-right spectrum, including:

  • Socio-economic class differences (ie rich and poor)
  • National, religious, ethnic or linguistic differences
  • State intervention versus free market economy
  • Socially conservative versus socially liberal
  • Authoritarian versus libertarian government styles
  • Rural versus urban interests
  • Internationalist versus isolationist foreign policy
  • ‘Materialist’ versus ‘post-materialist’ values/concerns (google it)

Political scientists often put two of the above cleavages on an x-axis and a y-axis, rather than a simple left-right spectrum. While these schemes are more useful, journalists and politicians tend to prefer a simple left-right spectrum because it helps us make sense of some complicated stuff. Unfortunately, this leads to often complex and diverse political positions being shoe-horned into either Left and Right. This invites the question: which political cleavage/s make up the Left and Right in New Zealand politics?

I stole this from Bryce Edward's blog,

NZ political landscape in the 2000s. I stole this from Bryce Edward’s blog,

The most historically dominant political cleavage in New Zealand has been state intervention in the economy, particularly social welfare, housing, health and education spending. However, the shift to MMP has increased the importance of socially conservative/liberal cleavage.

Also stolen from Bryce Edwards.

Also stolen from Bryce Edwards.

While these cleavages generally map well to a simple left/right spectrum, there are some big exceptions. In particular, some of social policy in the ACT party would normally be considered left-wing, but the party is typically considered right-wing. Conversely, some of the possibly-racist-but-definitely-conservative social policy in New Zealand First would normally be considered right-wing, but the party is currently (unfortunately) considered left-wing. Doesn’t that make the whole designation of Right and Left a little fishy?

In the next few posts I’ll argue that Left and Right are (understandable) bullshit. I will also go into the language, values and ideas that comprise the bullshit we call ‘The Right’. I’ll then explore how the bullshit we call ‘The Left’ can use right-wing language, values, and ideas to left-wing ends.

A lot of this is lifted from work I did as part of my Masters at Victoria University, including the stuff in this post. If you want to know where I got all this from, hit me up in the comments or on twitter at @aaronincognito. I don’t want to do footnotes or in-text citation in a blog because it’s ugly.

And I’ll definitely connect previously-written posts to topical events in a similarly ham-fisted manner.