Ideology (specific sets of beliefs and ideas held by particular people or groups) has always been at the core of all political systems. But what exactly are the underlying ideologies shaping politics today?


Learning Objectives

  • Understand the components of the political spectrum: “left-wing”, “right-wing”, “authoritarianism”, and “libertarianism”
  • Be able to outline what each region of the spectrum generally stands for
  • Understand the general core values of the 3 most prominent ideologies: liberalism, socialism, and conservatism

Each political ideology can be placed onto a larger political spectrum. The political spectrum is essentially a system which people use to classify where their position is in the world of politics; in other words, which sets of beliefs they stand for. Although the spectrum has been represented in different visual forms by different people, organisations, and websites, it (generally speaking) looks like so:

 Generally speaking, each ideology can be placed in different regions on the spectrum. For example, someone who follows the ideologies of the Green Party (usually a combination of ecologism, progressivism and socialism) may place themselves in the “libertarian left” region, whereas someone who believes in UKIP’s ideologies (those of British nationalism and right-wing thinking) may place themselves in the “authoritarian right”. At the far ends of the spectrum, you begin to delve into “radical politics”: these are the extremes of any given ideology om the spectrum, for example an extreme left-wing ideology is communism and an extreme right-wing ideology is fascism.

 3 of the largest and most popular ideologies are liberalism, socialism, and conservatism. These ideologies (like all) are prone to seeing alterations, both big and small, in their form and how they’re viewed. However, here is a general overview of what some of the core values of these ideologies are:


1.   Liberalism

 An ideology that is akin to libertarian views, promoting individualism (idea that the individual should be independent and responsible for themselves) and the idea that humans, being rational creatures, can make decisions for themselves that are best for them without the need of a higher governing body or state: in these ways, it therefore strives to promote liberty (freedom) and free-thinking.

2.   Socialism

 An ideology that is largely built around opposing capitalism by providing a more idealistic view of society and the economy based on collectivism (ideology that a collective effort pays off to the economy and encourages more social behaviour far more than individualism does) and socio-economic equality; both of these place them firmly left-wing. They also believe in co-operation and sociability, fuelling their prior humane ideas of collectivism and equality.

3.   Conservatism

 As the name implies, seeks to conserve society as the way it is (see above: this hence places it firmly on the right-wing due to their reluctance for reform and desire to maintain the status quo and tradition). It is far more pragmatically driven than it is ideologically (meaning its policies are shaped by what works practically for society over how people want society to function) and is typically based upon ideas of libertarianism, individualism and paternalism.


Other key ideologies

Ecologism: promotes and advocates for sustainability and environmental protection in an increasingly industrialised age

Progressivism: idea that any change or reform bought about by one’s policy will advance and improve society

Nationalism: promotion of the interests of one’s own nation over any other

Communism: communal organisation of society in which the ownership of wealth is shared and everyone in equal

Fascism: autocratic system of government in which there is an individual person or party with complete control over the nation

Individualism: ideology driven by independence and responsibility; people should work and do what’s best for themselves

Capitalism: economic ideology in which goods are sold for a profit and wealth and industry are privately owned; the state has little to no control of such private transactions

Collectivism: idea that the collective is far more effective and beneficial to the economy and society than the individual

Pragmatism: the method of dealing with issues in a practical way which is sure to work instead of basing it off of theory or ideology

Paternalism: power is exerted by the state in a way to maintain social order among the people



Try and match the following UK parties to a region on the political spectrum based on their ideologies. You may need to look their ideologies up!

  • Labour Party
  • Conservative Party
  • Liberal Democrats
  • SNP
  • DUP
  • Plaid Cymru


Taking it further

Knowing where you lie on the political spectrum is a key part in any operations one takes in the world of politics. Take this test here ( to find out where you lie. If there are any words you don’t recognise or understand, don’t feel afraid to look them up!