UKIP: a truly libertarian Party or just a (social) con?


Alexandra Swann examines the current divide in UKIP between libertarians and social conservatives.

UKIP’s constitution claims “UKIP is a democratic, libertarian party”, but to what extent is this true?

I, for one, joined not because of their rejection of Britain’s membership of the European Union, but because of their seemingly libertarian principles including low taxation, a commitment to personal freedoms  ̶  via opposition to blanket bans on smoking/hunting  ̶  and local government policies designed to hand power back to local people, such as binding planning referenda. Indeed, my maiden speech to the Party back in March 2012, in the fabulous town of Skegness, ended by thanking UKIP for their commitment to freedom “not just from the EU, but freedom from the nanny state, freedom from excessive taxation, freedom from needless, damaging bureaucracy, but most of all freedom for the individual.”

But as UKIP grows both in the polls and in members, questions emerge as to the Party’s commitment to its own constitution.

In all successful political parties there are divisions; Labour had Brown vs Blair, the Conservatives are split between Thatcherites and Cameroons, the Liberal Democrats still house a few true liberals such as David Laws amongst the sea of the Cable-esque redistributors. And so, we see within UKIP the conflict between social conservatives and libertarians: essentially the majority of our voters, some of our MEPs and a large proportion of our membership over 50 versus Young Independence, Nigel himself and almost all of those who write our policies.

Indeed my experience running in the May local elections taught me how few of our voters are aware that we are “libertarian”. On the doorstep, time and time again, former Conservatives praised UKIP for its opposition to immigration and equal marriage – and not on grounds of religious tolerance; biting my tongue, smiling and nodding became second nature.

Not to over-egg the pudding, UKIP remains united on key issues: lowering and simplifying taxation, supporting social mobility through grammar schools, increasing defence spending yet tapering the Palmerstonian (despite lacking the international dominance or panache required for success) attitude toward foreign policy exhibited by recent governments, and, of course, exiting the EU.

However, with success comes scrutiny and a series of embarrassing incidents have found the Party’s libertarian credentials lacking; back in May, Farage called in to question our commitment to a flat rate of income tax, and months later the Party opposed equal marriage (albeit on grounds of religious tolerance) then sacked Olly Neville, then Chairman of Young Independence, for voicing a different view. The Party also plans to double the prison population and increase police spending, all the while placing a worrying emphasis on immigration. After reading much of UKIP’s current literature, one would be forgiven for thinking that come January next year there will be a Bulgarian under your bed and a Romanian on every roof.

After reading much of UKIP’s current literature, one would be forgiven for thinking that come January next year there will be a Bulgarian under your bed and a Romanian on every roof.

Last week, UKIP published a list of candidates who will face the national ballot in order to determine their position on the Euro 2014 regional lists (notably, the NEC is able to tamper with this at will). I didn’t make it to the final 60 which was somewhat disappointing but, given that I am 25 and about to head back to university to retrain as a psychologist, hardly heartbreaking.

Previous Young Independence Chairman Olly Neville was sacked after vocally stating his support for gay marriage.

Undoubtedly, if you are interested in which direction UKIP high command envisages the Party moving, the list elucidates. There are a few brilliant and talented libertarians in there, such as Tim Aker, Michael Heaver and Tony Brown (all notably already in the Party’s employ) yet failure to purge the Party of extreme social conservatives panders to the social cons.

As UKIP continues to go from strength to strength, tensions between the libertarian and socially conservative wings must be resolved if the Party is to surpass its inevitable victory in 2014 and finally break in to Westminster in 2015 –  vital if they intend to cement their position as a mainstream political party.

From a personal perspective, I joined a party of principle and can only hope the lures of power don’t cause these principles to slide into a quagmire of populist social conservatism. If this happens then, as in the case of Olly Neville, bad decisions will cause an exodus of young talent. What UKIP must remember is that while older people, who are more likely to vote, tend to be socially conservative, they will not be around forever; as a relatively young party we cannot abandon the principles that made us so attractive to join or after a few years in the sun we will be consigned to the dustbin of failed political movements. I truly hope that those with the power make the right decision.


  1. Interesting article, but misses a big point that highlights the difference between theory and practice. Libertarianism, like socialism, works wonderfully in theory, but in practice, its a non starter. The public as well as businesses expect favours from the government – its why they vote for them or hand them cheques!

    The nearest we will get to a libertarian government, is a less corporatist one. The UKIP is quickly realising that to become mainstream, and get some of the power it wants, its going to have to change what it does, if not what it says.

    Just think of it like how the Tories beat Labour, it just painted the Labour policies blue. UKIP is just going to paint Tory policies purple!

  2. You know why UKIP members are causing it to be less libertarian? Because libertarianism isn’t popular. There’s a reason Ron Paul only garnered a small proportion of support for the Republican nomination, and in the UK where freedom isn’t written so large into our collective fabric, libertarianism is even more unpopular – people want the state to look after them.

    The illibertarianism of UKIP may displease Miss Swann and a few other ideologues, but when it comes to the ballot-box libertarianism is a sure-fire way to abandon yourself in the political wilderness.

    • Bollocks. There have been studies which prove that Ron Paul was given far less coverage by mainstream media in the Republican Primaries:

      And if you think Libertarianism is unpopular in the UK, you need to think again. There have been countless articles from publications such as The Economist, The Guardian et al which illustrate that Generation Y is more classically liberal / libertarian than ever.

      UKIP are not pursuing the Libertarian route – and have not for some time – because their core vote are elderly white middle class men, nationalists, and ex Old Labour voters – none of those groups scream Libertarian.

      Meanwhile, in the shadows of British politics, young people are saying: “Don’t tread on me.”

  3. The public do not care about ‘libertarian’ or ‘social conservative’ or whatever other nonsense people in politics come out with. Nor, I imagine, do the majority of UKIP voters or supporters. I can tell you that in the election not one person asked me if I was one or the other, they asked me about policies, local issues and my background.

    The party is not divided between ‘libertarian’ or ‘social conservative’. Quite frankly the argument between the two doesn’t exist because few care about it.

    As a 23 year old who was elected as a UKIP Hampshire County Councillor in May I think I can speak with some authority on this matter.

    • Yeah… so libertarian/social conservative policies are applicable? Banning equal marriage? Socially conservative. Legalising drugs? Libertarian. Are you saying what Nigel believes in (self described libertarian) is irrelevant?

      Also, don’t be such a pretentious tosser “I think I can speak with some authority on this matter.”

      • The debate about whether we are either ‘libertarian’ or ‘social conservative’ matters very little to the public, such labels are open to interpretation and their definitions contested by different theorists. Theorists the majority of the public don’t care about either. It is a label, nothing more. The public only care about the policies, not the political words associated with them.

        • No. Socially conservative or libertarian principles inform the policies you have.

          Look at drug policy for instance where they are very divergent and the different kinds of end-policies that result can be most clearly grasped.

          Whilst members of the public may not generally have a hold on the underlying political philosophies that guide policy decisions, they most certainly do on the policies that are based off of them.

    • Politics is perception. And the party appears hopelessly split between libertarians and social conservatives.

      Its constitution says it’s a libertarian party, and it acts like the complete opposite: moving further toward social conservatism and even protectionist/progressive economics.

      You say you speak with authority on the matter. You’re wrong and deluded to think so. The people perceive, the people decide. Theirs is all the authority that’s ultimately needed.

  4. UKIP is a confusing mess, Alexandra.

    But first of all, there are two broad strands of libertarianism:

    1.) Moderate libertarianism, which can be broadly defined as taking a liberal
    approach to social and economic matters. They tend to be pro-SSM, pro-drug
    decriminalisation, pro-legalisation of assisted dying, pro-free market and
    pro-low taxes. They also tend to have at least some sympathy for legislation
    banning racial and sexual discrimination, however this varies. They prefer
    their state to be small and efficient, as opposed to non-existent.

    2.) Radical libertarianism, which can be broadly defined as being more anarcho-capitalist in nature. They tend to take a more negative view of the law in general, opposing legislation on necrophilia for instance in some cases, and would take not just an axe to government spending but a chainsaw. They tend to be fanatical
    privatisation proponents, and view ANY state endeavour as wrong in itself. They
    occasionally lean even toward a mercenary-based defence policy (violating one
    of Machiavelli’s key lessons from The Prince: in a war, why would soldiers give
    a sh*t about breaking a contract if the other party gets defeated in war and they end up getting paid more to defect?).

    Both strands probably exist within UKIP, but even on the more moderate basis,
    UKIP cannot be said to be libertarian. The evidence is that UKIP has decided
    against even aspiring to be either moderately or radically libertarian (despite
    what their own constitution says), and have rushed head first into cheap,
    socially-conservative populism.

    Drug decriminalisation? Nigel Farage has himself admitted that he couldn’t get it past the party’s members.

    Tax policy? Was for a flat tax in 2010, but now likely to be against, no matter
    what Godfrey Bloom thinks, after Farage said in April he believed in a “two-tier flat tax system” and that the top rate should be “40% or something like

    Free markets? Well, despite getting into a flap over Gibraltar when Madrid
    talked about introducing border tariffs, no-one in the Party seemed to remember
    that UKIP proposed tariffs for foreign lorries on British roads in their 2013
    local manifesto… which is hardly free market, and which will hardly make Britain more competitive (and UKIP has the audacity to moan that the political class has no business experience?)

    Gay marriage? Opposed it on the flimsiest of grounds (the ECHR said itself it
    was up to individual states to decide), and are now desperate for people to
    shut up about it.

    Gay rights in general? A dreadful record. Why is Winston McKenzie still in his
    job after saying what he did about gay parenting and child abuse?

    Cameron’s porn opt-in plans? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall UKIP
    batting an eyelid about it.

    It just goes on and on and on…

    It’s now obvious what their strategy is. They intend to stay vague on specifics in the hope of picking up as many “p*ssed off” voters as possible. They can’t announce a complete policy platform, or even half of one, until very late in the game for fear of dividing their coalition of social conservatives, (frankly deluded) libertarians, economic protectionists (read some of the comments on their Facebook page: UKIP is NOT one big happy free-market family), nationalists (y’know, of the “SOMETHING must be done about Islam” variety), Christian conservatives, ex-Tory free-marketeers, and the list goes on. This coalition cannot last. Farage must be panicking. And if he isn’t concerned, he’s either arrogantly complacent or stupidly blind to his dilemma.

    Once we get to 2015, UKIP’s hoping that enough people will be sufficiently angry that they’ll vote to get rid of Cameron et al no matter what. It’s a stupid strategy. If they fail to breakthrough in 2015, they are completely back to Square One.

    What should libertarians in UKIP do? Throw down the gauntlet to Nigel Farage, and force him out if necessary. A leadership election would do the Party the world of good. There’s still time before 2015 to get it out of the way.

    The bottom line is this: UKIP is not libertarian, and is becoming LESS libertarian all the time.

  5. The question is, and I say this as a libertarian, is will the British voter stomach a “truly libertarian” party? Considering some of the populist knee-jerk legislation a large percentage support I think it is a fair ways off. Add to that notion spread by Cameron & Co that libertarians (of any kind) are just anarchists who take baths and you have a problem.

  6. If I was the Con agent in the author’s seat, I’d be stuffing excerpts from this article through the door of every UKIP VI for 10 miles around.

  7. I voted UKIP in the EU election a few years back. I would describe myself roughly as a libertarian however I consider myself first and foremost a voluntarist. Indeed I find myself shying away from the Libertarian description as it has been hijacked by the young tory types that consider Thatcher a libertarian.

    Firstly lets be clear: UKIP is a single issue party. (Also worth pointing out the “no true scotsman” which has be considered when discussing this stuff.) I don’t think it is a libertarian one. As has been mentioned it attracts predominantly social conservatives who have a free market bent – but many of whom would wish to leave the EU not out of a sense of the illegitmacy of government, but rather, IMO because they do not like immigration. Concepts such as freedom of movement appear to have escaped them. Likewise UKIP has a more sensible drugs policy then most, but little is made of it.

    UKIP has postioned itself (in terms of getting votes, quite wisely) as being a “proper” conservative party and has captured the votes of those that I would say dislike the current tory party because of:

    1) the EU

    2) Gay marriage

    In doing this however it has lost any chance it may of had as proper third way in opposition to state-capitalism. This is a shame IMO.

    On the subject of gay marriage the obvious posistion for a libertarian is to say that marraige should have the same legal standing as the phrase “soulmate”. read: none.

    Opposition to gay marriage in its current form however is fundamentally un libertarian. Firstly, if the law is to be defined on any religious model this violates freedom from religion. Secondly, if the state is to say that a homosexual couple cannot be married this violates freedom of religion.

    my 2p

    • forgot to add this but should anybody care: Not only is UKIP not a libertarian party but it is also an utterly toxic brand. A shame

    • UKIP may have been a single issue party, but much of the analysis I have seen suggests that that issue is not what attracts the majority of their support. So I think that criticism is now somewhat redundant, except where one might outline the shakiness of some of their other general policies.

      “Concepts such as freedom of movement ” there are plenty of libertarian arguments that I have encountered that oppose open borders. And given a more libertarian territory, it is hard to see how the migrant would manage to support themselves.

      UKIP does need to try to attract those traditional Labour supporters (the C’s through D’s) if it wants to succeed any further, which is why it really needs to do some serious brainstorming over its policies. A libertarian response to depressed northern economies is not going to be sufficient, even considering the potential benefits of lower taxation on the economy.

  8. Good article. As soon as they started polling well they dropped any pretense of being “Libertarian” and ran ham fisted for the closet racist retirees. Generation Y may be the most Libertarian yet, but they shan’t find a home for their views in UKIP as it stands.

    • David as you seem to self-identify with libertarianism, please answer my questions below:

      Ask a libertarian : should we remove all anti-discrimination legislation, all speech restrictions etc and the answer you get is:


        • Small mercies, but TBH David, that has not been my experience among libertarians. The POA restrictions is one small element in a vast panoply of legislation. The Equality Acts, the Race Relations Acts and so on form an imposing restriction on personal choice.

          • I agree, there are many who masquerade under the guise of Libertarianism when they patently, are not. And they do a disservice to those who truly are.

            You’re right, personal choice routinely gets shafted when Governments intervene with quasi-fairness legislation. My personal bug bear is the Minimum Wage Act.

  9. I afforded myself a little chortle at that one. First the author utterly fails to show that UKIP is a full-blown libertarian party. Mentioning it in your constitution and having policies that then muddy the water does not resolve the issue.

    Secondly, as her experience with the public shows and is further outlined by the Lord Ashcroft public survey on the same subject, UKIP’s votes come from the socially conservative. The bedrock of their support is from that quarter.

    Thirdly, there is no widely shared libertarian instinct in the UK populace. Tell them that ‘taxation is theft’:oh wonderful. Tell them that as the government will receive no income then government support in times of hardship or illness will not be available: oh lordy. On this subject, check out the money supply think-tank

    Fourthly, self-declared libertarians are usually not full blown libertarians themselves, like ‘vegetarians’ who eat fish. Ask a libertarian : should we remove all discrimination legislation, all speech restrictions etc and the answer you get is generally: umm, er..That’s because they are almost to a woman a branch of let-it-all-hang-out progressives.

    Finally, as so often in these discussions the threat is that should UKIP not succumb to their siren song ‘all the young talent’ will decamp elsewhere. One might ask, to where exactly? Perhaps young Alexandra might like to hit the street with her Democratic Libertarian Party and then she wouldn’t have to bite her lip, but she would be in the wilderness for the next twenty years.

  10. To Ambriorix – this was exactly the point of my article. If Ukip want a future they must stick to the principles that engaged many you get people rather than sell out to win votes; otherwise even more will leave, myself included

    • Alexandra, with respect, what does your second sentence actually mean?

      I agree that UKIP policy is something of a fudge. I am a traditionalist / socially conservative. I feel that principles should generally be the bedrock of a party and inform policy. But are you arguing that UKIP should make a strong libertarian case? If so you are asking the party to commit political hara-kiri.

    • Why not simply face reality?

      UKIP have sold the libertarians out. They don’t care about them, say they’re libertarian simply to sound different, and then spew out social-conservative nonsense.

      UKIP will likely run a populist/so-con mish-mash of policies in 2015. They’ll likely lose, will probably fall short even of playing kingmaker, and will then have to regroup by 2020, by which time heaven only knows what condition Britain will be in.

      They’re a mess. And a disingenuous one at that.

      Their Policy Unit faces the mother of all challenges: put together a manifesto that won’t underwhelm the Party’s feverish base (good luck, modern Britain’s here to stay, don’t ya know?), and which will keep both so-cons and libertarians happy. GOOD LUCK.

    • Alexandra, politics is about coalition building. UKIP will never go anywhere with an ideologically pure libertarian stance. The Libertarian Party do that, and they get less than 2% of the vote everywhere they stand. Are you saying UKIP should emulate this?

      • UKIP’s coalition is UNSUSTAINABLE. That’s the bloody point. They are virtually certain to implode.

        At present they seem to consist of: libertarians, social conservatives, protectionists, free-marketeers, conservationists, non-conservationists, secular radicals, Christian conservatives, institutional reformers, traditionalists, ex-BNP, ex-Tory, ex-Labour…

        All of whom believe UKIP is the Party for them because of conflicting signals the party has given out. The only question that needs answering is this: will they implode BEFORE 2015 or AFTER?

        As soon as their manifesto comes out, a great many of their supporters are surely going to run a mile, assuming of course that they bother to read it, which UKIP should sorely hope they don’t.

        They’re trading on a brand (Brand Farage), they’re relying on a pantomime villain (“Cameron! He’s behind you!”), and they’re putting forward some very dodgy candidates (Winston McKenzie, he of gay parenting fame)…

        Can these people GENUINELY survive? Do they deserve to? And are we in the public letting ourselves down by not exposing these people to more scrutiny?

  11. The problem with this is: how do you define “libertarian” or disquality someone from being one? Is support for same-sex marriage libertarian? I rather doubt it. But I know from my experience as a former member that there are a lot of very odd and very socially conservative attitudes at the grass roots that would frighten off a lot of voters even more than libertarian positions might.

  12. If the reaction you were getting on the doorstep was overhwelmingly in favour of social conservative policies, doesn’t that tell you appealing to that instinct is the best political strategy?

      • I wasn’t advocating that. I was/am advocating pushing social conservatism as its clearly a vote winner.

        • Oh of COURSE it’s a vote winner! Silly me, and there was me thinking that three Labour victories on the trot had happened, the Tories failed to win an overall majority because more socially liberal parties had prevented them from doing so and that UKIP, the most socially conservative of the four parties, is trapped in the teens in the polls (also, check the latest political monitor from Ipsos-Mori: Farage and UKIP as a combination are less liked THAN ANY OTHER MAIN PARTY).

          Wake up.

          Social conservatism in the commonly understood sense of the term is DYING. It hasn’t been a vote winner for years. The meaning of it will change (or to be more precise, its application to our modern society will manifest itself differently), but it’s not the golden bullet to win an election.

          • Actually far from true: and the wider polling results also make you post even further off-base.

            Additionally to try to extrapolate from the fact that a minority party in our largely two-party system is polling less well than the leading two parties, therefore it is (QED) their policies which are at fault is a breathtaking misunderstanding of how our political system functions.

            It also depends on what you include within the social conservative bracket. The ne plus ultra of social conservative belief is the opposition to immigration, which is also one of the key desires of the British population. If you also asked the British public their views on government policies towards the family as an institution such as tax policies to protect it then there would be a strong majority in favour. Additionally crime: the demand that punishment reflect the severity of the crime (retributive) is a core belief of the general public as opposed to political elites. All solid socially conservative policy. What you probably mean is that the public are not particularly opposed to things like fake marriage for homosexuals. Which is true. But then they have not been provided with arguments against such things in defence of the family.

          • Actually you are wrong. People don’t vote labour because they are so down with their social liberalism. There are three groups of labour voters 1) elderly voters who vote for them out of historical class loyalty reasons 2) people who work for the public sector 3) people on benefits. None of those three core constituencies are voting due to social liberalism – the first vote out of habit, the latter two out of pure economic self interest

          • Your post above misses the point, and it undermines the entirety of it. Those groups may still vote Labour regardless of their social liberalism (and don’t think that some of the liberal middle classes in London, for example, don’t vote Labour – they do). In other words, social liberalism doesn’t turn them off. If social conservatism were such a vibrant force, those groups might perhaps be tempted to rush toward more socially conservative parties? But no, they don’t.

            Like it or not, socially liberal parties still more often than not carry majority support in this country. Their voters clearly do not object to their social liberalism.

    • Of course it is ALB. But there is a fight for the heart of the party at the moment and the more vocal self-identified bright young things (those types who have recently insisted on things like ‘inclusivity’) are making their play for the party. Where they succeed (because traditionalists do not go into battle over ideology) then the party will falter and the small political blip that they made last year will be another addition to the history books alongside the Green Party’s similar blip a decade ago.

  13. My two cents on Mr Nevil is that it was not his position on gay marriage but his comments about pedophilia, incest and bestiality that got him sacked. His twitter tantrum was widely viewed and then he dressed it up as the gay marriage issue. Gay marrage may have been the straw that broke the camels back but his tweets were truly worrying.

    • Andrew… Olly had made comments on bestiality and incest long prior to the election being given the go-ahead. If UKIP truly had a problem with them, why allow him to stand?

      • That’s my point, he was (though his own admission) told on a number of occasions to tone it down or action would be taken. He did not, got fired, it was/is his own fault.

          • You are missing the point. He was already on a warning about his behavior/inappropriate comments. His actions and the actions of UKIP were as a result of his continued trouble making. Again, it goes back to the straw that broke the camels back.

          • I have never made any statement about paedophilia. If you look at the firing email equal marriage is the only thing stated. Pretty damning that a party lets you back incest (and MEPs will debate it with you, and semi agree) but not gay marriage

          • It has recently been suggested that now the legislation has been passed UKIP will not repeal it or wish to repeal it should they ever be in a position to do so. From my position this looks like a clear lack of principle and from your opposing end, it must too.

          • Olly, I’ve discussed this with you in the past. You are correct, the letter only mentions gay marriage. Does that mean that you were not warned prior?

  14. Erm… Aker and Heaver aren’t libertarians…

    On the entire list of 60, there are 2-3 who are vaguely libertarian, but none who will voice it, or push it as policy.

      • Farage & Woolfe have libertarian tendencies. In the NW at least, most are socially conservative, although I’d say Louise Bours was neither.

        • For a supposed one-man band, Farage is surprisingly incapable of getting his libertarian tendencies converted into party policy.

          He admitted earlier this year that he couldn’t push for drug decriminalisation to be adopted as UKIP policy owing to his party members.

          Yes, of course, people on here will cry “but that’s only democratic!” etc, but it misses the point: UKIP’s members are pulling it away from libertarianism.

          There are still libertarians – both moderate and radical – within the Party. How long they feel they can remain there without abandoning or ignoring their own principles is a matter for them.

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