I've never been that keen on identity politics. Well, perhaps I was in my mid to late teens. Back then, I was something of a political orphan. My father was dyed in blue wool, and had never supported any other team than Chelsea or the Tories. My Mum had a vague sense of social justice, but no party allegiance or interest beyond what directly affected us as a family. But I had no real knowledge, or beliefs of my own. The impulse to get educated in politics and current affairs came as soon as I'd transferred to a liberal arts focused sixth form. Although I was a very creatively minded person, and although I did fit in there, these people were so cultured beyond their years. Most of the conversations in my new circle of friends revolved about the theatre, ancient history, political ideology and art. With no ideological roots laid down, I made my way to the safest haven of ideas I could arrive at. I was now a cosmopolitan, middle-class lefty, who hated champagne socialists, without knowing I had more in common with them than anyone else.
I stayed in my comfy, lefty echo chamber until I had my first real exposure to the right in my second year of university. Until then, I had conflated conservatives with reactionaries, elitists, and neoliberals without really knowing how different all of them were. At the time, the young left in the UK were, and still are in fact, getting a lot of flack in the press because of a perceived epidemic of campus censorship, and being a generation of snowflakes - which is deeply unfair as a generalisation, but not completely untrue of some of my contemporaries. The enlightenment values that I'd cultivated while on the left - freedom of expression, egalitarianism and in particular - a vision of the campus being a rigorous environment where radical and even dangerous ideas are tested out. The majority of the left I had joined seemed to have shed its skin of these core principles, in favour of what I saw as a censorious, and divisive identity-based politics. This new model based around intersectionality didn't just go against my politics - it went against many aspects of my faith. So much of what I now believed in was now in common parlance with libertarians and conservatives. So naturally, I formed more friendships with those in the Conservative Association, and gradually thought, despite my reservations about their support for a much smaller government, a free market economy and retrenchment of the welfare state, that my home could be with them.
But those were three things that stopped me from becoming a right-winger. I have inherently positive views about Keynesian economics, common sense regulation and a universalist, social democratic welfare state. I just couldn't budge on those issues.
Another reason I dislike identity politics is because I still struggle to concisely explain my own political allegiance within the framework it provides. I'm not anchored to ideology. I'm not conflicted about it anymore, I have a fairly straightforward set of principles. But that has come to mean mixing liberal, conservative and socialist principles together within a framework that is consistent with my Christian morals and ethics. I suppose you could call me a Christian Democrat, but even that doesn't represent me properly. Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May have all been pigeon-holed as Christian Democrats, but I profoundly disagree with her opposition to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Germany, I'm completely opposed to his vision for the European Union, and I think Theresa May's continuation of the roll-out of Universal Credit is too cruel to the most impoverished in our society to ever sit right with my Christianity.
I hope that by using those paragraphs to document those years of soul-searching I undertook, you recognise how much of a waste of time it was. It was self-indulgent, it was about where I felt comfortable, rather than finding solutions to societal problems that benefit the most people we can. We need to move beyond partisan and identity politics, and start using our time to talk about ideas and policies on their own merit - and especially ones the left and right can agree on. That way, we'll witness more positive change we can all be proud of. When it is taken to its logical end, identity based politics can only tell us that we can't truly empathise with or understand our fellow people's experiences, or that fraternity with such individuals is equal to the oppressed siding with the oppressors. I believe we were all made equal in front of God, and it's only ever by working together that we can serve Him. To my non-believer brothers and sisters, I'm sure you can at least agree that we should have the same equality of opportunity, and that to get there, we need to work together to serve others. Ideas, and policies will get us there more swiftly.
The best idea I've found on my journey is one that has been celebrated by some of the finest minds of the left and the right - that is the Land Value Tax. What if you got to keep what you earned, and the government only taxed you on the advantages you gained in the market economy through no work of your own? That's what Land Value Tax does, it takes into account the scarcity value linked to our needs as a society for space for working, living and leisure. Goods and services have costs of production attached to them, land doesn't. Land value owes to society at large, and not to any efforts made by individuals. The most desirable and advantageous areas of land are therefore, taxed progressively. Joseph Stiglitz, a chief economist of the World Bank, and a fan of the Nordic model - believes that this is the fairest way to fund public services. Milton Friedman, the intellectual godfather of neoliberalism, and someone who had an intellectual disdain for taxation, once called this the 'least bad tax'.
Only one minor party stood with Land Value Tax as a pledge, the Young People's Party. The concept was attacked, or more accurately, a straw man was erected and called the "Garden Tax" was used as a stick to beat Labour with in the 2017 General Election campaign. All they wanted to do was start a dialogue about it, as an alternative to an increasingly problematic council tax system, and a way of raising more money from those who have the most of it to tackle the housing crisis. Tony Blair has since endorsed it. We would all be well advised to give ideas like this more time than fall down the rabbit hole of identity politics. Even if we find out that its practically unworkable, or the powers that be are unprepared to implement it on the grounds that it hurts their interests, we will all be richer intellectually for doing so.
Ideas in politics will always trump identity politics. Let's make that a mantra in this divided, polarized landscape we have to navigate our way through.