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Cheers - AE

Friday, 20 May 2011

Where now for Britain's libertarians?

Well, with the events of the last few days that would appear to be that for the UK Libertarian Party. Fucking shame. I was never a member, though as I've blogged more than once I would have chucked my vote its way had they had a candidate standing for me to vote for, but still sad for those who paid for membership, donated money to the party or - ahem - loaned money to its leaders, all in the hope that it might be able to promote libertarianism in one of the industrialised world's most thoroughly statist countries, and maybe even one day win a seat or two.

So where now for libertarians in Britain and British libertarians? UKIP is of course getting a few mentions, and to its credit has become a bit less illiberal now that Lord Pearson is no longer leader and the idea of increasing liberty by banning certain items of clothing - a deal breaker for getting a vote from this libertarian - seems to have been dropped. So is it now a natural second home for those who'd once hoped to be able to vote LPUK? I don't want to go all "considerably more libertarian than yow" but looking at their two most recent two manifestos (for last year's general election (PDF) and this year's local elections) I would say that sadly it is not. While they've got quite a few things that are appealing to libertarians and classic liberals there are also a few significant omissions and some policies that are to say the least odd choices for a party with libertarian pretensions (or intentions as the case may be). Here are a few examples:

The five planned long-term programmes [include]:


4) A transport investment programme centred on high-speed rail lines, reopened railways, new bypasses, road improvements and port and airport links. The lion’s share of this investment would go to British-based firms

5) A prison building programme with a particular emphasis on modern off-site manufacture. This programme will be structured so that British manufacturing firms are well placed to win a substantial share of the systems and components work

From the 2010 UKIP National Manifesto
Section 2 The Economy: Jobs, Enterprise & Skills
Now maybe I'm reading more into that than is really there but that sounds awfully like protectionism to me. On top of that it's also got the usual worries about the ability of governments to pick winners to invest in, and indeed whether they should even be attempting to do so with taxpayers' money.
UKIP will:

- End mass, uncontrolled immigration. UKIP calls for an immediate five-year freeze on immigration for permanent settlement. We aspire to ensuring any future immigration does not exceed 50,000 people p.a.

From the 2010 UKIP National Manifesto
Section 3 Immigration & Asylum
I'd have thought that a libertarian party would aspire to free movement of goods, services, money and people rather than an arbitrarily arrived at cap. What if more people are leaving than entering? And what is Britain to say if migrant number 50,001 is gifted engineer or a brain surgeon or anyone with desirable skills - sorry, this year's quote has been used up, do you mind waiting six months and applying again? I'm denying Britain's got an immigration problem or understating its size, but aspiring to introduce an inflexible and arbitrary cap is not a solution and damages Britain's prospects of getting in the kind of migrants every country should be trying to attract. An immediate albeit temporary freeze is even worse because you can't get those desirable migrants in at all until it's over. You think talented people who want to live in Britain will wait five years? They'll have settled down in a country that's happy to have skilled migrants come and contribute to their economy, and the UK will have missed the boat as well as the boat people.

- Ensure sentences mean what they say: life must mean life

- Double prison places through better use of existing prisons and a substantial programme of new prison building. UKIP will also end the scandal of early releases and weak sentencing. This will cost approximately £2bn p.a. in contrast to the cost of crime, estimated by the Home Office at £45bn p.a.


- Introduce a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy to deal with persistent offenders and make our streets safer for the public


- Allow binding national referenda on contro- versial public law and order issues that are outside party politics. The public must have the final say

- Introduce ‘Boot Camps’ for young offenders to stop them spiralling into a life of crime

From the 2010 UKIP National Manifesto
Section 4 Law & Order/Crime
All of which I'd classify as populist rather than remotely libertarian. I'm not against the idea of a life sentence meaning life but - and again I may be reading more into it than I should - it sounds like they mean all life sentences. This not only dismisses any possibility of redemption, which I'd be the first to admit is pretty fucking thin in many cases, but ignores the fact that some murderers kill in circumstances which are highly unusual if not unique and are never really a danger to the public. They should certainly be imprisoned for punitive reasons but a life sentence for someone who doesn't really need to be there is a waste of a prison place that could be used to lock up a complete bastard. Three strikes and out has a similar problem, in addition to which it seems likely to increase the level of violence and the frequency of deadly force used against witnesses and police in order to escape arrest, especially if it would be number three. As for the doubling of prison places, that doesn't sound like UKIP have any plans to reduce Labour's vast number of new crimes and may even have a few of their own tucked up their sleeve. As for anything as libertarian as scrapping victimless crimes, simple drug possesion for instance, I'd say that sounds very unlikely if there are to be twice as many prison places.
UKIP believes strongly in the principles of the NHS, which should continue to deliver care free at the point of delivery on the basis of need, not ability to pay.

From the 2010 UKIP National Manifesto
Section 6 Healthcare & the NHS
Translation: despite recognising that the NHS is an overly bureaucratic mess in need of reform UKIP has also fallen into the trap of thinking of the NHS as a sacred cow for which some reforms are simply beyond consideration. Oh, sure there's a lot of good talk about reducing waste, making it democratically accountable at local level, reintroducing matrons and so on, some of which we hear every party say every time the subject comes up. If it was as easy as simply saying it even Labour could have fucking done it by now. But the main thing is that the foundation of the NHS, i.e. free at the point of delivery paying over the odds in advance regardless of whether you actually need it, will not be altered under UKIP.
- Restore free eye tests and dental check-ups for all UK citizens
If anything the reverse.
- Introduce binding local referenda for major local schemes such as the building of new su- permarkets or the Chelsea Barracks regeneration. Remote planning appeals will not be able to override the local vote

- Return to county and district plans, and encourage major public participation

From the 2010 UKIP National Manifesto
Section 13 Housing & Planning
So a bunch of NIMBYs may get to decide what is done with land that someone has bought and paid for. And this is better than the local planning officers taking a huge dysenteric shit over people's property rights exactly how? It doesn't even sound like the planners will be shown the fucking door so much as you'll have to please both them and everyone who lives nearby before you can build something that might provide some fucking local jobs to the area. Or possibly even extend over your garage to make another bedroom. For this libertarian a healthy respect for property rights is pretty important in a party, and it doesn't sound like UKIP qualifies.
- Safeguard British weights and measures (the pint, the mile, etc) which have been under- mined by the EU. UKIP will also provide proper support to the Royal Mail and the Post Office as a key British institution

From the 2010 UKIP National Manifesto
Section 15 Culture & Restoring Britishness
From a libertarian point of view a law mandating imperial weights and measures is no better than one insisting that metric is used instead. Let people use whatever they want, Smoots, FFF, whatever. What works and remains convenient and popular will be in common use anyway - it's worth remembering the official system of the US is metric despite pounds, miles feet, gallons and inches being used far more often than their metric equivalents. As for the Royal Mail, it seems to me that the NHS isn't the only sacred cow that UKIP just can't bear to think of as maybe being past its sell by date. I'm not saying it is or it isn't, I'm just saying UKIP have apparently already decided to prop it up regardless.
- Tackle extremist Islam by banning the burqa or veiled niqab in public buildings and certain private buildings.
Banned by UKIP?
I dealt with this here last year and coupled with the lack of a libertarian candidate it's the principle reason I spoiled my ballot in the election. In short you cannot increase liberty by the state coming over all Trinny and Susannah and telling people What Not To Wear. Liberty comes from more choice and more freedom, not less. It's hard to see how it would make any positive difference to Islamic extremism either. They hate us anyway - they're hardly going to feel the love all of a sudden if we start telling them they can't dress as they please. To put it another way, if the EU suggested that high heels be banned on safety grounds I'd expect UKIP to go apeshit, and quite rightly so. But a head bag with a single eye hole, that's fair game according to UKIP. Or at least it was - I accept that this may have changed with Lord Pearson being replaced by Nigel Farage.
- Introduce labels that differentiate between ethically-produced and non ethically-produced food products, backed by significant consumer advertising. This will empower the consumer and demonstrate the high quality of British produce and UK animal welfare standards

- Change legislation to allow the formation of a greater number of producer co-operatives, putting food producers on a more equal footing with supermarket buyers

- Support the new Supermarket Ombudsman to ensure producers receive a fair share of retail prices

From the 2010 UKIP National Manifesto
Section 16 Food, Farming & the Countryside
Ah, more legislation and red tape, not less. Labels which require a government decision on what is or is not ethical, which might suit UKIP (and maybe me as well) while UKIP get to make the decision, but imagine what it'd be like if that was something Blair's or Brown's or Cameron's government was deciding. Best we don't give them any more illiberal fucking ideas, eh, UKIP? How about just getting out the bloody way and letting people sort this out for themselves rather than acting the junior paternalist partner to the big parties?

Now I know that manifesto is more than a year old now and some of these policies, hopefully the most paternalist ones, may have been changed but I do feel that at it's heart UKIP is still more populist than libertarian. This years manifesto for the local elections bears this out:
We will -
• Let you, the people, decide major planning schemes like supermarkets by referendum
• Grant no right of appeal from the people's decisions on planning schemes
Property rights? Bah, "the people" will again decide what you may do with land you have paid for.
To maintain and improve front-line council services, we will -
• Keep police on the beat to protect the people from anti-social behaviour
• Preserve our public libraries
To keep the people and the streets safe, we will -
• Refuse to tolerate any antisocial behaviour or petty crime
• Build more prisons
• Make sentences mean what they say
• Crack down on nuisance neighbours
Echos of the 2010 manifesto with the addition of some stuff about antisocial behaviour and the bit about libraries. The problem with former is again that of who decides what's antisocial. It is of course the government, and that might be something we're okay with as long as we and the government agree. But since governments these days seem to take a dim view of all sorts of behaviour - smoking, drinking, driving the wrong kind of car, having loud sex, you name it - I'm far from convinced they should have any fucking say at all over behaviour which is "antisocial". Bad enough that the last lot invented a new crime nearly every fucking day and invented the whole "antisocial behaviour" game so they could still nick people who had miraculously managed to avoid actually committing an offence without UKIP wanting a fucking turn at it too. As for promising to keep public libraries open, is that at any cost? What if ebook readers and the internet render them obsolete? What if some people could make a cheap library a going concern in certain places but are effectively prevented from doing so by the presence of a free library propped up with taxpayers' money?
To cut immigration and the heavy cost of immigration, we will -
• End Labour's immigration free-for-all, which let in 3 million in 13 years
• Withhold all State benefits from immigrants for five years
• Introduce proper border controls
• Increase UK Border Agency staff as needed
• Freeze permanent immigration for five years until we sort out the system
• Deport all illegal immigrants
• Target working visas only on those with the skills we need
If you just did the second and second-to-last ones you'd render most of the rest largely unnecessary. When the money taps stop the freeloaders will rapidly lose interest in coming to Britain and many of the ones already there will be tempted to leave, which means there's no need to introduce caps or freezes on migration numbers. Nor would it be necessary to target working visas only on needed skills - and again I must ask who decides what's needed - because only those with a market for their skills will get any work anyway. And if they end up picking fruit does it really matter as long as they're getting on by themselves? I certainly don't think more UKBA staff is a good idea. By the sounds of things they're more interested in relieving British tourists of their booze and tobacco than anything else.
To put the people in charge of the decisions that affect our countryside, we will -
• Put people's wishes above central government and big business with planning referenda
To keep Britain moving, we will -
• Let the people decide on local transport infrastructure by calling binding referenda
"The people" again, not "the owners". Of course UKIP don't mean the proletariat but all the same the implication is that under UKIP property rights are not really any more important than they are to the bastards who spent 13 years reducing liberty in the UK or the bastards who are now working like hell to avoid having to rectify that rather sorry situation.

So where now for Britain's libertarians? Well, it wouldn't be very libertarian of me to say that it mustn't be UKIP - we all get to make our own minds up. But with everything I've said in mind I can't honestly see UKIP as being a realistic alternative for me personally. I have a lot of common ground with UKIP and I applaud many of their aims, but unfortunately they're at least as often populists as they are libertarian, and some of their policies remain deal breakers as far as getting me to vote for them (other than in European parliament elections), much less join them. Are UKIP the most libertarian option left? Yes, they probably are, but that's not exactly a big achievement given the state of the competition. The reality is that they are only the least illiberal alternative, and before I even took up this blogging lark, before I came across the term "libertarian" and realised that that was what I was and why I'd never been happy with the main parties, I swore never again to vote holding my nose while I put a cross next to the least unpalatable option.

Absent a more libertarian move within UKIP or the creation of another Libertarian Party, for this libertarian the death of LPUK means disenfranchisement. Hopefully it won't be forever, though of course as an overseas voter my right to vote is good only for another two elections at best. In the meantime it's back to what I did last May and ask my proxy to spoil the paper in the most creative and abusive way the pair of us could come up with.
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