Conservative, Labour and Liberal (Left and Right)

Capitalism, Communism, Mixed Economy, Socialism Democracy Where do you get the facts? (a) sources (b) crapometers


Capitalism is a system where trade and industry are owned privately. Businesses, banks, etc. belong to individuals, or groups of people, not to the state.

Communism is where things are owned ‘communally’. Often, that means it all belongs to the government who are supposed to run it on behalf of the voters.

Old fashioned capitalism was called ‘laissez faire’ (French = allow to do). That means leaving things alone to look after themselves, not interfering in whatever happens in a country. Businesses can do what they like.
Modern capitalism, in the UK, is called a ‘mixed economy’.  We have controls to stop businesses behaving badly and some things are owned by the government, so it is a ‘mix’ of public and private ownership. The NHS is publicly owned. Railways used to be but now they are privately owned. Right wing ideas tend to want more private ownership, left wing people more public ownership.

But do not get confused. All of the major parties in the UK are in favour of ‘mixed economy’ capitalism; none of them is for laissez fair of communism.


Mixed Economy 

Laissez faire capitalism

The community (really the government) fix wages and working conditions. You can’t just start your own business so any movement up the social ladder tends to be by getting a different kind of job. Everyone is responsible to each other. In reality, that may mean responsible to the government speaking on behalf of the people.

Tries to get the best of both worlds - enough control for a civilised life balanced with personal freedom. People accept the need to pay tax to support anyone in need (e.g. sick and needing an operation), unemployed and hungry. They accept laws to restrict bad behaviour. Some vital services might be ‘nationalised’ = belong to the nation.

Anyone can own what they want and are free to behave as they want with fewer restrictions. You can get rich, but if you are poor nobody is responsible for you. In major emergencies (e.g. famine) a government may have to step in.

  mixed economy  

left - Labour

more control


right Conservative

less control



Now you need to be careful with the next word. Socialism is a belief in ‘social ownership’. That means that a country should be owned and managed by the people who live in it (society). How far can voters take control of all the things that affect them, like hospitals, water supply, electricity, house building, banks, railways etc?

It doesn’t mean communism. The term ‘state socialism’ can do, but that is not the same.

It isn’t always against mixed economy capitalism. People called Social Democrats try mix up both systems.

Socialists are more likely to join the Labour Party, but not all members of the Labour Party are socialists.

Take it slowly.

  Labour Party  

Socialist (more left)


social democrats non-socialists (more right)


In arguments, which are not always fair or logical, some people use ‘socialist’ as an insult because they think it means we all have to be controlled by the government instead of being ‘free’.

Socialists argue that, in fact, by letting private companies control our jobs and wages, nuclear energy, electricity, water and railways we are giving away our freedom and losing control of our lives. We need to take control of our own country through our own government and keep businesses more under control for our benefit.  Otherwise they run off with all the profits and sometimes don’t even pay enough tax or provide proper pensions.

Their opponents argue that if you try to control businesses they’ll run away to another country to find workers and you’ll be unemployed and poor.
The two sides disagree over whether or not that is true.


Some basic research

Can you find out who owns the following in your area? Is it public or private?

water  electricity   trains   busses  hospitals   gas  any coal under the ground    seashore (coastline/beaches) dentists    any gas under the ground   the biggest area of open country  the biggest bank 

What is the name of your local MP?

Who does s/he think should own them?

There are certain words that are considered good or bad by voters even if they don’t really know what the word means. Words like ‘democracy’ and ‘stable government’ are ‘hurrah’ words, whereas ‘fascist’ or ‘nazi’ are usually ‘boo’ words.

A fascist is someone who believes in strong government - a strong leader who can make people behave and keep order. Real fascists are willing to give up some personal freedoms - especially other people’s - to let the strong leader keep people in order. The word is sometimes used a general insult for anyone who wants to be in charge or impose rules - if you ask people to tidy up when they make a mess you are fascist. But used properly it means giving up certain freedoms because you are afraid if we are too free there will be too much disorder.

Nazi is a really ‘boo’ word because it is associated with Hitler. Some people are very careless and use it to mean anyone who likes to keep order, or to give orders. In fact it is usually associated with racist views (white power and anti-immigration) and anti-semitism (blaming Jews for the state of the economy). Confusingly, the word comes from a mixture of nationalism (my country is superior) and socialism (more power for the people) so that ‘national socialism’ really meant ‘more power to white gentile German people’.  It shows how careful you have to be with the way people use labels.

One of the most popular hurrah words is democracy. But what does it mean? - - Next page - Democracy