Tom Freeman doesn’t see the sense in The Times capitalizing the words “Left”, “Right”, and “Centre” when its writers use them to describe political leanings. I think the newspaper is right to do so.
Language is a communication channel, and shouldn’t be a fashion accessory or status symbol; however, in this country, more than many others, it often is. Being the classless geek that I am, I find one good way to think clearly about English usage is to put aside appeals to tradition or authority—not that Tom has made any—and be functional. The question I ask myself when I have to make a choice about a matter like this is:
“Will there be times when my making this distinction helps others to understand what I mean?”
For example, it’s worth insisting that “different” always takes “from”, so that sentences like
“Bob looked different to Alice.”
remain unambiguous in their meaning.
In this case, the “Left/left”, “Right/right”, “Centre/centre” distinctions pass the test. It’s trivially easy to come up with examples:
“Gordon Brown always positioned himself on the left of Tony Blair at full meetings of Cabinet.”
“Nick Clegg was at the centre of a row between two long-opposed factions within the LibDems yesterday evening.”
“When David Cameron confronted last week’s meeting of the No Turning Back group with this apparent contradiction, many observers wondered if he was addressing his question to the right wing of the party.”