Sunday, 17 April 2011

Should UKIP be a Libertarian Party?

Harry Aldridge of UKIP has a post on Independence Home (a more up-market version of Conservative Home!) and one which I feel deserves airing outside the readership of that website.
"This is a copy of an article I wrote for the Freedom Association’s Freedom Today magazine in 2009, but which was published only recently.
Harry Aldridge argues that UKIP has the potential to be a force for classical liberalism

It is perhaps a unique feature of the UK Independence Party that it has traditionally been ideologically “adrift”. Having been founded on the single issue of precipitating Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, it has attracted supporters from right across the political spectrum.

The incognisant media and political commentariat like to cast UKIP as a refuge for traditional Tories who are right of the Conservative party (but then now who isn’t?), but this is a fallacy, evidence by the UKIP membership comprising ex Labour members, trade unionists, and even a few Liberal Democrats and Greens.

It is perhaps strange that the party found its members shared more in common than simple agreement on the EU. UKIP members generally share a common strand of philosophy, namely a strong belief in democracy and liberty, which appears to stem from general anti-government, anti politician, and anti-bureaucracy, sentiment. Maybe this underlying belief is what makes us anti-EU, and the reason why we were all attracted to UKIP in the first place?

Under the leadership of Nigel Farage, the party undertook a minor transformation, and embraced its underlying libertarianism. It is fair to say that UKIP members' libertarianism is less a coherent foundation of principle, and is more a reaction against the present over-bearing state, but there are a large portion of truly libertarian members and Farage personally is more sound, often referencing Milton Friedman. Indeed it was no coincidence that the party’s 2008 conference strapline was “Freedom to Choose”, a concomitant tribute to Milton Friedman.

I believe UKIP has an enormous opportunity ahead of it. The British political spectrum has evolved remarkably over the past century. The formation and rise of the Labour party broke apart Liberalism in Britain. The Liberal party of Gladstone, a governmental force, was marginalised by the socialist ideals of Labour and eventually surrendered its belief in small government and individual liberty for ‘modern liberalism’.

Ever since, throughout the 20th century, a prevailing social democratic consensus has emerged. The absence of a truly liberal voice has led to a re-drawing of the political spectrum. While in many people’s eyes the Conservative party remained the party of vested interest, the establishment, and the rich upper classes – the party of “unfairness”, by contrast the Labour and feeble Liberal parties were seen to represent the “fair”, the caring, the champions of the people.

However, in many ways UKIP has historical forbears in the form of the “Levellers”, the true progressives in the civil wars. They believed in popular sovereignty – the notion that executive and legislative authority derived from the continual will of the people. They believed in equality before the law for all people – nobody should be exempted by status or position. They believed in the concept of natural rights – that liberty is a birthright – and they espoused religious tolerance, honest democracy, localism and extension of suffrage.

In this sense UKIP has its roots in the true liberal tradition. The anti-establishment, pro-democracy, pro-liberty, and pro-people, credentials of the party actually reflect a coherent narrative. Maybe, therefore, it is not so strange that UKIP supporters should hail from across the ‘political spectrum’; indeed I believe it is the ‘political spectrum’ which is flawed.

UKIP members are actually from a similar part of the ‘real’ political spectrum, but it is a spectrum which has not existed in modern politics for some time. While UKIP may appear at first glance to be an amalgamation of strange bedfellows through the prism of the modern political landscape, in reality it is the modern political landscape which is bizarrely constructed and which is now beginning to fall apart.

There is an opportunity for UKIP to reclaim the true, classical liberal territory on the reshaping political map. A party passionately advocating personal liberty, direct democracy, localism, popular sovereignty – and through these the empowerment of the people against the over-grown oppressive state – I believe can emerge as a significant force in the emergent politics of the 21st century.

I believe we will look back on the European Union as another failed attempt to unite the free people of Europe, just as the unification of Ireland and Great Britain was a temporary aberration which ultimately failed due to the strength of popular will. UKIP’s role must be to hasten the demise of the EU by constructing a compelling and reasoned argument in favour of an alternative model for European and international cooperation, centred around sovereign peoples.

Restoring self-governance, though, is but a means to an end, and without any party championing a liberal, libertarian, vision for free people and small government, then we risk prolonging the demise of freedom by the hands of our own elected government.

This is the prize for UKIP if it can capitalise on the realignment of the British political landscape. In my view UKIP not only should be a libertarian party, but is a libertarian party; the rapidly growing young membership of the party, almost universally liberal/libertarian in outlook, is testament to this.

UKIP has a long way to go to become a credible mainstream political force capable of disrupting the established order, but if it develops a strong narrative, and channels the liberal sentiment of its members, it has the potential to re-draw the political landscape in the 21st century just as the Labour party did in the 20th.
One point to make initially and that is to acknowledge that there will be those, for instance supporters of the Libertarian Party UK (LPUK), who will disagree totally with what Harry Aldridge writes with regard to UKIP and its libertarian views.

On a personal level; yes, I also believe UKIP has an enormous opportunity ahead of itself, but only if the party can learn - and learn quickly - how better to present itself and its policies. Reading comments on other blogs it seems that those commenters express aspirations and ideals that are in effect those UKIP represent and propose in their policies. Yet those commenters appear unaware of that fact - a discrepancy for which UKIP are entirely responsible and must rectify.


Quiet_Man said...

I think UKIP has the potential to become somewhat libertarian (small l) in preaching small state and greater personal freedom. I doubt however they could become truly Libertarian if only because of their conservative roots. Aiming for classic liberalism though would be no bad thing for them.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

QM: Agree with all you say however it will only be as far as what I would term libertarian/conservatism, which is what we both appear to be ie right wing libertarian.