By Matthew Stinchcombe
There is no obvious political choice for voters in the UK if their aim to support a mainstream party with a libertarian stance, this is the case for two main reasons; either political parties feel that this stance will not win votes, or their ideology is confused and cannot be seen as representing a libertarian stance when looked at under the microscope. In which case does any political party have leanings of a libertarian nature? And is any party likely to win the support of libertarian voters?
The Conservative party have had the most prominent libertarian history, under Thatcher in the late 70s and early 80s the emphasis was placed on the individual and away from the state, focusing on privatisation, home-ownership and tax cuts. There was a strong libertarian thought process guiding many decisions and although Thatcher wasn’t entirely libertarian the legacy of her libertarian principles left a lasting impact. This libertarian culture within the Conservatives now resides among the backbenchers, whilst leadership of the party has drifted towards the political centre in an attempt to win support. Cameron’s Conservatives, much like the Labour party before, has focused on society, welfare and international development. Libertarianism within the conservative party would appear to not be at the forefront of their political decision-making post Thatcher.
UKIP is the only mainstream political party that openly portrays itself as libertarian, describing itself on the UKIP website as ‘populist, non-racist and libertarian’. However its policies, when even loosely examined present a paradox of ideology. Surely a party that supports the idea of doubling prison spaces in Britain and is also opposed to gay marriage cannot be seen as a party that endorses the individual and wants to reduce the impact of the state on its population. It is these paradoxes that discredit UKIP and deter libertarian voters, some critics describing their approach to libertarianism as ‘politics on the back of a beer mat’. Libertarian supporters have been removed from UKIP for presenting a difference of opinion, Olly Neville’s article on the backbencher in January describes his removal from UKIP for expressing opposition to the party’s line on equal marriage, he further describes the majority of UKIP members as ‘angry old men’, this public image is hardly likely to attract libertarian voters in their droves come the next general election.
I feel that beside from UKIP being far from ideologically pure the foremost problem for UKIP in winning the support of libertarian voters, is that even if the ideology may itself be from a libertarian background the way in which it is presented by UKIP creates the impression that the libertarian ideology is merely a facade, from which they can defend their nationalist agenda.
A libertarian stance may also not be viable in the face of the current economic situation. This may also be central to why the present Conservative party in particular no longer overtly portray themselves as libertarian. Since the economic downturn tighter regulation on banks and financial institutions has been one of the key areas parties have focused on to win public support. A strong centralised government is seen as one way of keeping tighter control over these financial institutions and too adopt a libertarian perspective economically could be seen as regressing to the point where banks dictate to government rather than vice versa, offering the banks free reign over the countries economics.
For a libertarian voter in the forthcoming election it would appear the options are fairly limited, on one hand there is UKIP, who although portraying themselves as libertarian, actively removes libertarians for having ideas and opinions not shared by the leadership. They would also appear to have policies that infringe on personal liberty. On the other hand is the Conservatives, they have libertarianism ingrained into their ideology yet, under David Cameron, libertarianism is not the driving force to Conservative party policy like it was under Margaret Thatcher. It is unlikely that this will alter in the near future barring a change in leadership; as a result it would appear at present that libertarianism is being squeezed out of British politics in favour of vote winning centre ground politics.
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