Every decade in politics someone confidently pronounces the death of left and right and every decade the coffin stays empty. Today, the terms are supposedly being rendered meaningless by a new, more apposite binary of 'open' versus 'closed'.
Left and right, it is said, do not satisfactorily explain the political upheavals of the past 12 months, and are unhelpful in explaining the populist insurgency more generally. In the past few weeks I have heard it said several times that Brexit, Donald Trump as well as the forthcoming presidential election in France are all best viewed through this newer prism of open versus closed.
Going a bit further back, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair said much the same thing shortly after leaving office. "The real dividing line to think of in modern politics has less to do with traditional positions of right versus left, [and] more to do today, with what I would call the modern choice, which is open versus closed," Blair said in a 2007 speech about globalisation.
Modern politics is less Edmund Burke versus Thomas Paine and more Marine Le Pen versus 'Davos Man', the neologism given to a supposedly stateless international elite by Samuel Huntington. The first lot wear national boundaries like a comfort blanket, whereas the second view them as outdated obstacles to worldliness and profit. For the openers, globalisation is something to be embraced; whereas the closers want to pull up the drawbridge, bolt the doors and return to a sepia-tinged past of penny farthings and tripe shops.
When put in this (albeit crude) way, perhaps it does seem silly to still be basing our political terminology on who sat where in the French National Assembly in the late 18th century. Left versus right, or Labour versus Conservative, are not necessarily the best predictors of where a person will stand on globalisation and its resultant upheavals.
I am still not convinced, however.
For one thing, declaring left and right dead in favour of open versus closed seems incredibly convenient for those pushing for more of a certain type of globalisation – the model of hyper-capitalism that has stirred populist revolts in the first place. Who, aside from the most fanatical isolationist, wishes to have the epithet 'closed' applied to them? I am open whereas you are closed. Why not simply go as platitudinous as it gets and declare that politics has become about 'good' versus 'bad'?
In truth, and like so many other binaries, there are as many differences within both 'open' and 'closed' as there are between them. The same is probably true of left and right, but then at least in that instance there is a semblance of a shared critique/defence of capitalism. For example, some on the left wish to reform capitalism whilst others wish to overthrow it; yet no one believes that it works for the majority when left completely unrestrained.
In contrast, open versus closed seems to crudely bracket anyone who does not wish to live in a sharp-elbowed meritocracy with movements like the Front National and UKIP. As Blair himself put it, "The defining division in countries and between people is increasingly... open to the changing world or fearful, hunkered down, seeing the menace of it not the possibility."
This is a world in which a 25-year-old working in a Burnley call centre has the same political interests as Jeff Bezos, the billionaire CEO of Amazon. So long as both adopt an attitude of openness to the world and do not 'hunker down', then both essentially want the same thing: flexible labour markets (few workers' rights), wealth concentration (the replacement of the high street by identikit out-of-town retail parks), and low rates of corporate taxation (the running down of public services).
When put like this, 'open' versus 'closed' sounds like arrant nonsense.
While globalisation is both inevitable and a good thing, the pace at which it is happening feels different depending on which social class you belong to. For the middle classes, it tends to mean cheap foreign travel, increased contact with people from different cultural backgrounds, and cheap nannies and plumbers. Go to a town like Blackpool, however, and 'open' appears to denote the government-sanctioned death of local industry, privatised services and increased competition with cheap foreign labour for what insecure and poorly paid work that is still about.
If you believe politics is about open versus closed you have two options at this point. You can either embrace some variant of isolationist bigotry, or you can glibly assert that the 'left behind' classes need to pull their socks up and adopt a mindset that is sufficiently 'open'. You can blame foreigners, or you can cling to some '90s meritocratic fantasy which says that what the person on a zero-hours contract really needs is the state off his back.
Perhaps, then, the binary of left versus right does have some mileage left in it after all. There may be more than one left and one right, but the division between those who want globalisation to work for the benefit of workers (even if that means taking the lid off more slowly), and those who seek to blithely tear the lid off or to seal it tightly shut, seems to me as stark as ever.
There are in fact good reasons to be in revolt against elites. You do not have to be a nativist bigot to see that doubling down on a particular strain of liberal capitalism will give further ammunition to the populist enemies of the decent society.
James Bloodworth is former editor of Left Foot Forward, one of the UK's top political blogs, and the author of The Myth of Meritocracy. Follow : @J_Bloodworth