COMMENTARY
The View
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Opinion: How to test whether you’re Liberal or Conservative

Election victories have done nothing to close the gap between liberals and conservatives – not helped by the Brexiteers and Trump’s attitude of ‘I won, you lost; now suck it up’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 10:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 10:37pm

The single biggest ideological split in the world today is not communism versus capitalism, right versus left, Britain versus Europe, Protestant versus Catholic, Shia versus Shiite, carnivore versus vegan, or even Ronaldo versus Messi. It is Conservatism versus Liberalism.

All of a sudden, I am being called a “Liberal”. It comes as a bit of a shock to a former UK Conservative Party Parliamentary hopeful. My views on immigrants, welfare, religion, capital punishment, abortion, same sex marriage, defence, voting, business, terrorists, and reality television shows are still (in my view) doctrinally sound and have not changed.

Admittedly, the wisdom of age is marginally softening them in some areas and hardening in others.

Liberals are hated and Conservatives are despised. Recently, the world has shifted well to the conservative side. Strong conservative ties curiously bind the US Religious Right and the Russian leadership.

When I last looked, China is not looking to change anytime soon. Africa and much of Asia lean towards the conservative. Brexit was fought on an anti-foreigner stance while President Trump decried Muslims, Mexicans and Liberal Hillary.

In the current British election campaign, the left-leaning Labour Party looks no closer to the liberal camp than their conservative Conservative Party opponents.

We actually invented the global conservative/liberal divide in Hong Kong

The US Democratic Party is still to the right of most Western European conservatives – unbeknown to my conservative American friends, who spit on the grave of liberals. Nevertheless, recent election victories in Europe have resulted in leaders well to the conservative of their liberal predecessors.

The French presidential election had no candidate at all from the liberal left. Election victories have done nothing to close the gap between liberals and conservatives – not helped by the Brexiteers and Trump’s magnanimousless attitude of “I won, you lost; now suck it up”.

We actually invented the global conservative/liberal divide in Hong Kong.

One of the city’s most conservative, pro-administration, pro-bosses, pro-old-money, pro-establishment and one of the earliest political parties after the handover, styled itself the Liberal Party. Then again, I have always found it easiest to understand the political stance of a party in Hong Kong by attaching the opposite label to its name.

The catchy “DAB” stands for the unmarketable “Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong”, although the wits summarise its policies as “Direct Administration by Beijing”.

“Youngspiration” could equally apply to a group of spotty, thick spectacle-wearing, conservative pro-Beijing students, as to a group of louche liberal arts hippies who want to run the world – as only a 20-year-old can.

The old colonial administration in Hong Kong was naturally conservative and that struck a chord with society. Our conservatism however has always had a big liberal influence stemming from the historical laissez-faire nature of our economy, our refugee heritage, emphasis on the family, and a desire to support oneself and one’s loved ones.

Our three key freedoms of religion, law and the internet are unique to much of the world and we do try hard to look after the health, education and wealth of our people, even if improvements are overdue

Our three key freedoms of religion, law and the internet are unique to much of the world and we do try hard to look after the health, education and wealth of our people, even if improvements are overdue.

Business suffers when one side of the divide becomes too dominant. Conservative bosses want employees to work all the hours of the day and night for no money.

Employees are much more productive if they enjoy their work and feel that they are contributing to themselves and a cause – and not just to the idle second son of a greedy boss.

On the other hand, excess liberalism could result in no one doing any work. Being liberal in a conservative environment, as in late-20th-century Hong Kong helps business.

Being conservative in a liberal environment as in the German or the Scandinavian economies also makes us richer.

Conservatives and liberals in Hong Kong have to live with each other to secure their futures but the stronger conservatives have to compromise more as they hold the upper hand.

Bosses can no longer tell their uneducated workers how to live their lives merely because they are in charge. “What gives you the right to tell me what to do? Who do you think you are? The Emperor of China?”

Growing up in Hong Kong makes me a natural conservative. But if liberalism means giving people a chance to shine on a fair playing field that allows equality of opportunity based on ability, application and attitude and provides the individual with more time with his family, and more money in his pocket to live well in return for a fair week’s work; then perhaps I have finally become a Liberal.

Richard Harris is a veteran investment manager, banker, writer, broadcaster and financial expert witness

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