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Does Britain need a Macron?

By Alex Chatham
June 27th, 2017 at 10:14 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

Walter Ellis is an accomplished writer but his columns for the excellent news website Reaction are depressing. He believes that Brexit is a huge mistake and frequently reveals his contempt for the public. His latest piece is no exception.

His interpretation of the vote to leave the EU, like so many on the Left and even some on the Right, is about a long standing dislike of foreigners: whether it is dressed up as getting back sovereignty or to stop migration. Even classical liberals who argued for taking back control see the debate in terms of being in charge of policy. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that the Brexit vote, by a slim majority true, is a liberal call to arms. People want to control their lives and feel they don’t. Leaving the EU might be the beginning of that.

But the most depressing bit of Ellis’s article is hie belief that the new French President can solve everyone’s problems. Ellis is also unhappy that there isn’t a British Macron. The belief that one individual can transform a country and make it better is a myth that keeps on getting revised despite the disappointment of voters every time they vote for such an individual. Ah they say later, we made a mistake about that one but the next one will be better. The truth is, it isn’t the individual. The way real change happens is when it evolves and is created by people. They don’t need one person to lead them to a promised land. For many reasons, that can’t be done: society is too complex, one person doesn’t have all the knowledge to make the right decisions and so on.

If Ellis and others would trust people, trust spontaneous order, he would see the sort of change he wants.


Homeless liberals

By Alex Chatham
June 19th, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Comments Off on Homeless liberals | Posted in Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Libertarians

For some, Tim Farron’s resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats demostrated the failure of the party to live up to the first part of its name. It is more likely that the equivalnt of Lib Dem ‘men in gray suits’ wanted Farron out because he failed to secure many more MPs at the General Election. Of course, the party has long been associated with nannyism and a desire to interfere in people’s lives: none of which is very liberal. It is certainly nothing like its previous incarnation. The old Liberal Party might have had its quirks but the liberal tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill coursed through its DNA.

If the Lib Dems are’t liberal, who is? Conservatives for Liberty are doing their best to stake out liberal ground within the Tory party. The problem is that Conservatism is a broad church and some of that church, as we have seen recently, doesn’t much like liberalism. Even the Tories who argue for low taxes and a small state don’t talk about limiting government, a key component of classical liberalism. Of course, you can keep making the case and right now the Conservatives are about the best you will get if you want economic liberalism.

The other options are to support a liberally-inclinded think tank or individual electoral candidates. At some point, we might get a liberal party committed to the rule of law, limited government, tolerance, liberty, plurality, peace  and free markets. In the meantime, homeless liberals have to work out how best to maximise freedom in a climate rather unsympathetic to the liberal creed.


Scepticism: an underrated liberal value

By Alex Chatham
October 8th, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Comments Off on Scepticism: an underrated liberal value | Posted in Environment, Liberal Philosophy

Scepticism has always been one of liberalism’s most important values. These days it seems rather forgotten or underrated. It is important because questioning accepting wisdom helps get at the truth. Liberals are also sceptical about power. That means they don’t naturally trust governments or those who want to exercise authority over others. Questioning accepted wisdom means rejecting a view simply because many people hold it.

These days it seems that many of the political class go with accepted wisdom and tend to think the State can sort most problems out. A healthy bit of scepticism in the current climate is what is needed more than ever.


Things That Are Not Going To Happen (SDP Edition)

By Sara Scarlett
September 19th, 2015 at 11:39 am | Comments Off on Things That Are Not Going To Happen (SDP Edition) | Posted in Labour, Liberal Philosophy

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1. Labour MPs are not going to defect enmasse to the LibDems.

  • One does not leave Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party because he’s unelectable and improve ones electability by joining the Liberal Democrats.

2. The Labour Party is not going to split.

  • And even if it did, so what? It did before and that didn’t hinder the Labour party in any way nor did it thrust the SDP into power…

3. The LibDems are not going to rebrand or restructure.

  • After the 55th committee meeting on a night when the moon is full, Sal Brinton will decide that she does not have the authority to do anything because nobody in the LibDems takes responsibility for anything, ever. The LibDems will continue to be woeful guardians of both Social Liberalism and Classical Liberalism alike.

There is still no economic liberalism (despite Mrs T’s efforts)

By Leslie Clark
April 11th, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Comments Off on There is still no economic liberalism (despite Mrs T’s efforts) | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

Is it safe to go on Twitter yet? Has the 24/7 reporting of the death of an octogenarian ceased? I’m sure the whole population of the UK, including the late Prime Minister’s most ardent supporters, have reached Thatcherisation point. But amongst the litany of tributes and critiques, a lot of the comments surrounding the Government of Margaret Thatcher are clouded in myth. Both left and right share in the mythology of Thatcher as some sort of economically liberal Boudicca who challenged the prevailing economic orthodoxy and shrank the size of the state. If anything, Margaret Thatcher was insufficiently liberal.

The Mythology of Left and Right

In the spring of 1986, Jo Grimond penned an article for the IEA entitled ‘Still No Economic Liberalism’ in which he argued:

Statism, though dented, remains the dominant political and economic philosophy in the UK…we live in a corporate state in which the organisation has become more important than the individual. Government takes a higher proportion of the national income than ever…The flood of legislation and government expenditure is out of control…So we who hoped for radical measures must be disappointed by acts and omissions.”

Whilst there were many positive liberalising measures such as privatisation, curbing the over-wielding power of trade unions, her signing of the Single European Act, the sale of council houses (MT was initially sceptical about this measure and was persuaded of its merits by the decidedly ‘wet’ Peter Walker), statism did indeed remain dominant:

  • Government expenditure rose throughout her premiership, standing at 41.5% of GDP in 1991-92. In his book Paradoxes of Power, Alfred Sherman, a former adviser, aptly named the Thatcher period as an ‘interlude’, with the post-war consensus largely remaining intact: “we are back to where we started”.
  • State monoliths like the NHS were safe in her hands – spending on health increased 32% in real terms.
  • In the aforementioned article, Grimond lamented the lack of choice in education and social services. For all the talk of radicalism, there were no moves toward education vouchers advocated by Liberals such as Arthur Seldon, Professor Alan Peacock and John Pardoe MP.

In many ways, Margaret Thatcher was a pragmatic conservative. Heath’s 1970 Manifesto was far more orientated toward the free market than Thatcher’s in 1979 and for someone who was so set against ‘consensus’, her first Cabinet looks remarkably conciliatory with its balance of ‘wets’ and ‘dries’. Moreover, the doctrine that became known as ‘Thatcherism’ owed more to Conservatives like Enoch Powell (who questioned if Thatcher actually understood monetarism) and Keith Joseph than liberals like Hayek. Margaret Thatcher allegedly slammed a copy of The Constitution of Liberty on the table proclaiming ‘This is what we believe!’ but there is precious little evidence of Hayekian thinking making its way into policy, especially in monetary terms [The Denationalisation of Money anyone?]. Presumably she skipped ‘Why I am not a Conservative.’

For all the bluster of many supposedly ‘economically liberal’ Thatcherites, liberalisation certainly did not extend to sexuality or race. Today, many self-proclaimed Thatcherites will rail against state spending whilst championing wasteful defence spending and Château Lafite options like Trident. Then as now, they lack consistency.

Economic Liberalism Beyond Thatcher

The disappointing record of the Government has quite wrongly been seen as discrediting these [economically liberal] doctrines. There is a feeling that liberal political economy has been tried and failed. That is not true.”

Grimond’s words in 1986 were as true then as they are now: in 2013, there is ‘Still No Economic Liberalism’. Contrary to popular perception, public expenditure is rising not falling: like with Thatcher, we are merely controlling the rate in which it is rising. Despite the birth of free schools, there is still insufficient freedom and choice in many public services.

As David Laws wrote in the too often misunderstood ‘Orange Book’, Liberal Democrats need to reclaim economic liberalism (the Conservatives merely embraced the language and some of its substance) and our Liberal heritage. The likes of the Jeremy Browne and Liberal Reform fighting for a genuine four-cornered liberalism offer me hope of a more liberal future.

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