This article is linked to the 3rd part in the series here.
We often describe ourselves as ‘libertarian’. It is written into our Party Constitution, as shown thus in our Objectives:
2.5 The Party is a democratic, libertarian Party and will espouse policies which:
- promote and encourage those who aspire to improve their personal situation and those who seek to be self-reliant, whilst providing protection for those genuinely in need;
- favour the ability of individuals to make decisions in respect of themselves;
- seek to diminish the role of the State;
- lower the burden of taxation on individuals and businesses;
- ensure proper control over the United Kingdom’s borders;
- strengthen and guarantee the essential, traditional freedoms and liberties of all people in the United Kingdom.
Not particularly contentious for us, you may think, but I would like to say something about Points 2, 3 and 4, starting with Point 4 since this connects with a previous article on taxation policy. Everyone loves low taxes until they have to rely on the benefits taxation brings. It would be an interesting challenge to our more sceptical readers to put hand on heart and not think of some public sector or two of their personal experience or knowledge which is not desperate for more investment, and where that investment can only realistically come from the state. Granted we might be able to make a few more savings from efficiencies in the public sector, though there is not much which has not already been sold or cut to the bone; and undoubtedly there are major new savings to be made from misplaced government priorities – notably our net EU contributions, the bloated foreign aid budget and the nonsensical HS2. It will not be enough, however, because there is so much to do to get our country up to scratch in myriad ways. So could we perhaps say lower the burden of taxation on individuals and businesses in accordance with revenue needs? Or, much better – if you agreed with the earlier article – raise taxation on individualsand businesses in accordance with their ability to pay?
We must move on to Point 3, because the role of the state is closely bound up with taxation policy but is also about much more. It covers the whole gamut of economic policyand state initiative – or lack of it.This will be the subject of another article. Sufficeto say here that there is very definitely a useful role for the state in economic management, in transport and energy infrastructure, in research & development, in education &training, in industrial investment. Denying that role is Pavlovian liberal economics dogma, which has been lamentably failing to deliver, partly because it has been subsumed by the scourge of the globalizationit has itself spawned, but chiefly because of its inherent fallacies. The ‘trickle-down’ wealth effect is now almost universally discredited; banks continue to have a free ride from the taxpayer yet still will not play their proper role in supporting industry, where investment and productivity remain chronically low and foreign penetration alarmingly high; emergency quantitative easing has only ended up benefiting capital asset owners; the manufacturing sector goes on shrinking remorselessly, which threatens our few remaining strategic industries; the litany goes on. We must not allow our old support for privatisation and competition to blind us to other possible ways of doing things. Can we not just say harness the potential of the state to promote growth and prosperity?
Which leaves Point 2. The trouble with an apple pie and motherhood statement like the one before us is not simply that it is essentially meaningless. In being all things to all men it is positively dangerous. If it is code for rolling back the state, especially its welfare bits, then we really have to think how that is going to go down with those traditional Labour folkwe keep talking about – yes, the ones we say we want to vote for us. Do we think the average patriotic Labour voter has the means to make decisions in respect of themselves about private health care, or private education, or escaping the sink estate they are stuck in? How do you think they will react if they bother to read our Constitution or, rather more likely, hear about the attachment we seem to have so strongly with this apparently innocuous word libertarian? There is however an altogether different aspect to this questionable affirmation of our liberties: it doesnot sit verycomfortably with some of the ideas, customs and practiceswhich have lately come to our shores. It makes no reference to those decisions being consistent with British values, or the British way of life, or the overriding primacy of national security. This Objective ought to be omitted, but if it really has to stay, we need to try a little harder: encourage every citizen to maximise their personal independence and realise their potential. Still bland, but safer.
If all this is too much for some, let us reflect that we have come a long way since Alan Sked first conceived our opposition to the Brussels behemoth. All parties change and evolve; they have to. It is only recently that we seem to have cottoned on to the idea of going for the Labour vote at all, and we have not yet translated that into policy development specifically designed to get it. Some ex-Tories among us may well find some of the necessary rather distasteful, but do not be surprised if traditional Labour voters remain unmoved by ‘libertarianism’. Yes, we all like liberty, but ‘libertarianism’ in any context is far too airy-fairy and vague for ‘ordinary people’ – and if they suspect it is mostly shorthand for free-market economics, which it is, they are not likely to be enthused. We must persuade our libertarian ideologues that now is the time to drop the word from the title line and insert another: The Party is a democratic, patriotic Party and will espouse policies which … will do very nicely.
Do we want to win – or not?