Been reading some blog comments today about the "past-it's-prime" nature of the left-right political spectrum. You tend to see more whining about this over on the Conservative side, but it seems some of us are following suit - perhaps reflecting a commonly heard political comment.
Actually the left-right paradigm is quite applicable in current times - and has been reinforced by social scientists everywhere. There is another school that believes that all the "wings" are only looking for "utopia" - which is similar for both communist and fascists. As you go further right from conservatism, to fascism, you get closer to "utopia", and the spectrum just curves (pretty much does a 180). On the left side of the spectrum, you go from "democratic socialism", to socialism, and eventually to communism and on to their "utopia".
I don't recall if it was Durkheim or Weber who championed this view, but they contended that the political "spectrum" was actually a circle, where the communist utopia, was the same as the fascist one - the true worker's utopia - taking the classes out of the equation...
These models are not just based on some "vague theory" from 50 or 100 years ago. They are conclusive results from years of ongoing study. The groups in politics can quite easily be described in these ways. Conservatives tend to have a very particular world-view, as do socialists on the left. Ideologically they will agree on most everything 95% of the time. Sure there are the 5% of detractors (for example Conservatives with a social conscience, or Liberals or New Democrats opposed to abortion), but these are exceptions to the rule, rather than the norm.
Everyone can easily be fit along the spectrum. You have gradations of each "section" of the spectrum as well ("social" conservatives, "progressive" conservatives, etc.).
It is more likely that the people who speak most loudly about the spectrum do so because they realize what they are, but don't want to admit it, or own up to it. Hence, you get the intolerant social conservative, who claims some measure of social conscience within their party - usually the handful of pro-choice members, or the smattering of visible minorities. Don't call them "right wing". They want to be "Joe Populist".
The right is much more apt to decry the political spectrum labeling. Why? Being a party representing basically one thing - tax cuts for the filthy rich - they try to appeal to the masses with the "Joe the Plumber" logic. You know, "We hear ya...", "We're just one of you", etc. If you label them right wing, or "reactionary", it just doesn't fit into their attempts at populism. Just because they spend lots of money, get media backing, etc., to attract the populist vote, it doesn't mean their policies are the best for the working classes, or working poor. They tend to garner the support of people who technically SHOULDN'T vote for them through "hot-button" politics: "the enemy is coming, we will protect you (with more army, police, etc.)", "crime is on the rise (when it is NOT)". Make the people (too busy working to research ideology and platforms themselves) think that basically, "big brother will protect you". Dangerously close to the the old "il duce" framework in Italy. Notice the odes to "the leader", or the "great leader" during the Conservatives recent campaign.
There surely will be "confused" people, who tend to be in parties they shouldn't. They often have other reasons: opportunism, personal conflicts, bad experiences. We ended up with some social conservatives in the Liberal caucus back in 2004, and again in 2006, because they couldn't possibly win as Reform/Alliance/Con members in Ontario. We find a handful of visible minorities, and quite obviously more "liberal" folks in a Conservative caucus because they know they could not get elected where they are under a Liberal banner. This is how you get people like Peter McKay ending up in the Conservative Party, or people like Nina Grewal, or others. Believe me, the party isn't going to change their ideology just because a handful of opportunists got elected in some areas. What does end up happening, however, is that the opportunists can, at times embarrass the party (if they're not whipped) during votes.
Often these opportunists are "tokens" (insert your Grewal, Obhrai, Jaffer here) who get some morsels tossed their way, because of the group they represent, or the region they come from (this could be in the way of private member's bills written for them, being named Parliamentary Secretary, etc.).
Personal conflicts and opportunism are also huge. For example, Gurmant Grewal spent much of his first few years in public life pursuing a Liberal nomination in his Surrey riding. Personal conflicts led him to seek the Reform nomination. He took the nomination with "bussed in instant Reformers", angering a HUGE number of Reformers in the riding. When things calmed, many of those old Reformers just walked away.
Is the "political spectrum" out-dated? Not likely. What we are more likely hearing is the angst of people who feel their philosophy is out-dated, but don't want to wear a label. I'm a moderate centrist, by label. There are times when I espouse an opinion that may be "center-left", and times when I may espouse a "center-right" thought, but I remain a centrist. If you try to sliver the spectrum into tiny blocks, you will find differences, but not if you maintain the definition of left, center, and right.
Edit: If you noticed the "circle" above, note that it is based on the American spectrum, which is more to the right. Canadians can shift to the left a little bit, where the US Democrats would be "dead center", or even "center-right" up here.
The following is from a Conservative Resource Website. It is quite well done:
Elaboration of the Political Spectrum Everyone disagrees about what the political spectrum should look like. In my own view, if we were to contrast the right wing vs left wing division on a diagram, it would look roughly like this:
 Correspondingly, if we were to include government types on a right wing vs left wing diagram, the political spectrum would resemble the following:
 The center of the political spectrum is occupied by liberalism, a word used very curiously in American political discourse. Properly understood, liberalism is a temperate philosophy concerned with both freedom and equality. Liberalism generally includes what Americans call "conservatism" as well as modern liberalism. Liberalism as a whole is best seen as a standing argument on 6 fundamental principles.
Even this American commentary highlights the misuse (and abuse) of the term "liberal" in the US. A liberal is a centrist, pure and simple.