Andrew Withers (Leader of the Libertarian Party UK) calls for a return to the spirit of past centuries and the re-emergence of a ‘Country Party’.
We have been here before bemoaning the cynicism of Whitehall that has bailed out its friends in the Banking Industry: socialising the losses through what is essentially criminal behaviour.
The colour of the party rosette does not matter. All governments since 1916 have been centralising ones, ripping the commercial and political heart out of great cities like Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, and Bristol in favour of a London-based political elite squatting in Whitehall. It has not mattered a jot who occupies the green benches in Parliament; the permanent Civil Service headed by unelected Mandarins and the commercial interests of the monopolistic big corporations run the country. In days gone by, they were called the ‘Court Party’. Their interests diverge so greatly from the interests of the rest of the Country that yet again, a schism has opened up between the Court Party and the Country Party (i.e. between the rulers and the ruled).
Green issues, Gay Marriage, HS2, mass immigration and EU membership are some of the preoccupations of the Court Party. Such is the mistrust of this party that they have turned to a surveillance state to monitor the country – whilst looting its wealth.
The years before 1640 in England were years of national disillusionment, as they are now. The ‘breach of trust’ was made final by the expenses scandal and the lies over the Iraq War that Chilcot has still to report on. The first Elizabethan state was a police state, because of religious antagonism and the perceived illegitimacy of the Tudor usurpation in 1485. Order was maintain by suppression, imprisonment, punitive fines and bloody executions. Censorship was extreme. By the time of Elizabeth’s death, the State was so bankrupt that James I (VI) had to undertake to pay for Elizabeth’s funeral expenses. This was as a result of intervention in foreign wars that was largely unsuccessful in the last ten years of her reign.
The Country party opposed to the extravagances and incompetence of the Court Party – grown in strength under the Stuarts – as economic power was leached away from traditional landowners by the increasingly more powerful merchant and gentry class.
This class was developing its own religious and political voice and the rights of the ‘freeborn Englishman’, unable to find a voice in Parliament, turned to the courts of common law.
Opposition was mounting against the arrogance of the theory of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ by constitutional lawyers like Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), who viewed law not as the instrument but as the boundary of royal prerogative. The King was under the law and not above it. Coke was dismissed from his post as Lord Chief Justice in 1616. A chance to have constitutional reform was lost, twenty four years before the outbreak of the Civil War.
The Court Party was desperately short of cash and started levying increasingly punitive levels of taxation. Opposition to ‘Ship Money’ was propagated vigorously by people like John Hampden.
The Country Party included the Puritans, but also included other sections of society like Lord Saye and Sele, who also reacted against the systematic abuse of granting royal patents and monopolies to the worthless favourites of James. In turn, James threatened to drive the Puritans out of the country and so in 1620, the Puritans and others established the “Holy Commonwealth” in the New World: thus exporting the seeds of the American Revolution in 1776. The boards of these new colonial corporations were the cover for meetings of those that violently opposed the Court Party.
The English Civil Wars cut across all sections of society, but on the 14th June 1645 at Naseby, the Constitution of the modern British State which consists of but three words was established.
‘Parliament is Sovereign’. Not ‘the people’ – ‘Parliament’. Thus, we are saddled with the undeniable fact that a body of six hundred people has held a monopoly of violence to this day. All Acts are made in the name of Parliament and given ‘assent’ by the Crown.
On May 1st 1660 under the Treaty of Breda, Charles II was allowed back to reign. It was not long before he would rather accept French subsidies from his cousin than call Parliament to vote on funds.
‘Parliament is Sovereign’. Not ‘the people’ – ‘Parliament’. Thus, we are saddled with the undeniable fact that a body of six hundred people has held a monopoly of violence to this day.”
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke was especially influential in stating the need and outlining the machinery of a systematic continual parliamentary opposition. Such an opposition he called a “Country Party” which he opposed to the Court Party.
For Bolingbrooke, the spirit of liberty was threatened by the court party’s lust for power and money.
“Liberty could only be safeguarded by an opposition party that used ‘constitutional methods and a legal course of opposition to the excesses of legal and ministerial power…’. He instructed the opposition party to “wrest the power of government, if you can, out of the hands that employed it weakly and wickedly”. This work could be done only by a homogeneous party, “…because such a party alone will submit to a drudgery of this kind”.
Yet the Country Party remained a movement rather than a party from 1680-1740. It was a coalition of Tories and disaffected Whigs, and also attracted influential writers such as Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson and Andrew Fletcher.
The ‘Country Party’ believed that the Court Party was corrupting Britain by using patronage to buy support and thereby threatening English and Scottish liberties, as well as the proper balance of authority by shifting power from Parliament to the Prime Minister. It sought to constrain the Court by opposing standing armies, calling for annual elections to Parliament (instead of the seven-year term in effect), and wanted to fix power in the hands of the landed gentry rather than the royal officials, urban merchants or bankers. It opposed any practices that it saw as corruption.
I hope that by now, the parallels with today’s Constitutional and financial crises are becoming apparent. From 1714 to 1760, the Whig Ascendancy which derived itself from the ‘Country Party’ movement laid much of the foundations for prosperity. This prosperity came to a country with a tendency towards the rational, the Enlightenment, and opposition to influences of those that surrounded the Court and the Crown. Edmund Burke was a supporter of the Rockingham Whigs, and the Radical Whigs were very influential in the thirteen American Colonies which pushed opposition to the Crown towards Republicanism.
An interesting footnote is that in 1833, the United States Whig Party was formed to oppose a strong Presidency and Executive.
In Britain, the Whigs devolved into the Liberals, who in the late twentieth century sold their soul to the avowedly socialist Social Democratic Party, which had broken with the Labour Party. Having done so, it should have given up the word ‘Liberal’ in its title.
It is clear that the ‘Country Party’ movement is stronger now than it has been for one hundred and fifty years. Socialism and welfarism have proved themselves to have bankrupted half of the Western world, created authoritarian structures like the European Union, and engendered a surveillance state.
I consider the Libertarian Party UK to be a successor to the Whigs in its policies of breaking the power of Whitehall, devolution of power to the Counties and pressing for a written constitution that protects the individual from the depravity of the State. The old Liberal Party still exists in a reduced form; inside the Conservative Party there is a group surrounding Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan that are clearly Whigs. UKIP does have Whigs, and whilst it is strongly against the authority of the EU, it is also quite prepared to use the central authority of the State to legislate against those that it disapproves of.
Now is the time for a new ‘Country Party’ movement that can call itself the Whig revival – advocating constitutional reform and establishing a new political settlement. The alternative is a return to the political conditions of the 1630’s. The first step is proportional representation, so that all strains of political thought are represented.
The days of laws being made in the name of the six hundred in Parliament are numbered.
Laws must only be enacted in the name of all ‘The People’.
Andrew Withers is the Leader of the Libertarian Party UK.