Written by Christopher J. Wilkinson
As domestic political attention turns to the local elections on May 5, the scene could hardly be more bitter what with the deteriorating Ukraine situation abroad and the worsening economic situation at home. While we delight at once again being permitted to carry out our civic duty as responsible citizens of a notional democracy, thoughts turn to the freedom-loving options on offer to the electorate and why libertarianism in Britain leaves much to be desired.
Traditionally, the British incarnations of pro-liberty political parties have been broadly underwhelming and, in some cases, deleterious to the cause of libertarianism. As an example, take the Libertarian Party in the United Kingdom – often referred to as LPUK. LibertariDan has recently written an article on the scandal that that tore at least ten representatives, including the leader, out of the party in the space of forty-eight hours back in August 2020; some in the National Coordinating Committee attempted to remove a sitting member from the party on the basis of spurious allegations and in the style of a kangaroo court where the accusers simultaneously donned the personas of judge, jury and hangman. The aftermath of misconduct follows a remarkably consistent pattern; the effect is in the breakdown of professional and personal relationships while discourse becomes, at the very least, muddy. Finch-gate, much like Raccoon-gate, was subject to an attempted cover-up. As though history were repeating itself, the false depiction of events is still the depiction on display to the public. This compromise of honesty prompted a joint statement from the former members of LPUK’s National Coordinating Committee to set the record straight. One should hardly be surprised. LPUK has a particularly rotten history. At various times in the first half of the last decade, the party has found itself caught up in financial scandals. Perhaps the most notable moment occurred when it was alleged that over £4,000 of party funds had gone unaccounted for. Contemporaneous suggestions were mounted that the Libertarian Party had adopted the status of a cult. As if by macabre coincidence – or maybe singing from the same unholy hymn sheet – just this week a member of the Scottish Libertarian Party’s Constitutional Committee was unceremoniously expelled in a shock announcement delivered on a Sunday evening without apparent cause or reason stated. In the days since, observers on the Scottish Libertarians Facebook page have witnessed deflection and damage limitation by party spokespeople. There is little wonder why disillusionment among British libertarian voters is so rife. If only someone had an answer to the paradox that unfolds before our eyes – how can libertarian causes so often magnetise such authoritarian tendencies?
The main encumbrance for all pro-liberty political parties, aside from their innate hierarchical structure itself a result of state laws and regulations since each must possess at least a Party Leader and Nominating Officer with one adopting Treasurer responsibilities, is that they each offer only a slightly nuanced variation on the same general theme. Arguably for England, this stems from the time the United Kingdom Independence Party was thrust into public prominence from 2012 onward; its decline, culminating in the successful 2016 EU Referendum result prompting Britain’s exit, fractured the country’s libertarian political base. Nigel Farage hardly helped matters when, in the 2019 General Election campaign, an order was given to stand-down Brexit Party candidates in Conservative seats and thus give the same old mainstream politics a free ride. One wonders how different the outcome would have been had Farage held his nerve instead of cutting off his nose to spite his face. Farage himself is indicative of the post-Brexit libertarian trend towards adopting “celebrity” figureheads as a party’s raison d’etre; in particular, one considers Laurence Fox of the Reclaim Party as a case in point. This has added nothing to credibility and unsurprisingly very little to spectacle.
However, each interpretation of the oft-recited lines of liberty does nothing to galvanise or enfranchise the vote of the same one per cent who would find themselves voting for such parties when it comes to the polls. As recent by-election results have demonstrated, several pro-liberty parties standing for the same constituency end up shattering the vote further. Inspiration should perhaps be drawn from left-wing minor parties; recently, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Breakthrough, the Northern Independence Party, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and Left Unity earlier this year to reduce the potential for vote splitting. Often minor parties lack representation, operational capability and – most crucially – differentiation, such that pro-liberty individuals willing and able to record their vote for likeminded local candidates are not able to do so.
Furthermore, by virtue of their collective nature, they do nothing to add to the stock of the waning libertarian cause. Rallies of tens of thousands of people in major cities across the country voicing opposition to mandatory vaccination among other issues has failed to coagulate into what could have been a powerful formal political movement which could have produced the ultimate goal of freedom-loving “bums on seats”. New ideas are called for. Independents for Liberty is a prime example of the differentiation that is required; operating on a basis of voluntaryism with a nationwide network of experienced activists to call upon, the association stands well placed to challenge the authoritarian structure inherent in party politics. For reasons of transparency, it is an association this author declares an interest in as a former Steward and continuing associate. What does the future hold for libertarian politics in the United Kingdom? That is a question that remains to be answered. In the face of the biggest crisis of freedom witnessed in our lives, the creep of corporate statism in the guise of a global pandemic, the liberty movement may just have won the battle. The war is yet to be won. If your ballot paper is without an option you deem to be acceptable or even palatable when you cast your vote on May 5, ask what more you can do to ensure that option becomes viable the next time round. Could you stand as a candidate? Can you spare some time to drop leaflets from door to door for someone who is standing? Is there a local issue in dire need of a liberty-orientated solution that you’re able to speak passionately about? There is hope that the UK ‘Bill of Rights’ designed to replace the Human Rights Act will include a legally recognisable defence of free speech; the time for a renaissance of libertarian values is now. With the World Economic Forum embarking on a crusade to a cashless society where social credit comes at the whim of an interdependent globalised government, you should value your vote now more than ever. There may come a time sometime soon when your ability to vote is taken from you.