UKIP is not a libertarian party - Spectator Blogs

27 November 2012

I’m sure, as James says, that the idea of some kind of Tory-UKIP non-aggression pact will not go away. But that’s because many Tory backbenchers are remarkably stupid. Proponents of a Tory-UKIP alliance ignore the stubborn fact that many voters – voters the Tories need if they are to win a majority – aren’t too keen on UKIP. There is no point adding one vote from the right if it costs you two from the middle, mainstream ground of British politics. Besides, the Tories are not every UKIP voter’s second-choice and, anyway, the real battle is for the Liberal Democrat vote.

Be that as it may, it is UKIP’s insistence that it is a libertarian party that annoys me. Granted, there are many brands of libertarian and UKIP can describe itself as it wants. However that also means there’s no need for libertarian-minded voters to accept UKIP’s own definition of the tendency.

That’s not to say that UKIP’s views are uniformly hostile to liberty. The party – or, at any rate, Nigel Farage – has a saner attitude to our drug laws than some might expect or than anything offered by the present government. I also approve of its opposition to anti-tobacco legislation and, though it is hardly a matter of the most pressing concern, its support for local people to decide whether fox-hunting should be permitted in their county.


I find it hard to read the What We Stand For page on UKIP’s website and conclude that UKIP is a liberal party. And since, in my experience, libertarians tend to be liberals I find myself wondering if UKIP’s self-defined libertarianism is actually all that libertarian.

And that’s before you even ponder nonsense such as the assertions that 75 per cent of all British law is ‘dictated’ by ‘Commissioners in Brussels’, that the ‘EU controls Immigration, Business and Employment, Financial Services, Fishing, Farming, Law and Order, Energy and Trade’ and that other European countries ‘depend on us for their markets’.

Well, it’s a point of view.

UKIP’s euro-mania may be its unique selling point, but it’s actually perhaps the least troubling element of the party’s platform. Much of the rest of it, at least as itemised on its website, appears to advocate massively reducing government revenues and simultaneously increasing expenditure on items UKIP deems vital. That’s politics, of course, but it’s politics as written on the back of a beer mat, not the kind of stuff that makes any real sense.

So, sure, merging national insurance and income tax is intuitively sensible and a single 31 per cent rate of tax at least has the advantage of being easy to understand. But actually implementing this is a different matter. Moreover and even though I rather approve of UKIP’s desire to increase the tax-free personal allowance it does not take a bear of any great brain to appreciate that the already-wealthy will be the biggest beneficiaries of UKIP’s tax policies.

Since the party also proposes to eliminate employer’s national insurance and VAT (replacing it with a local sales tax) one does wonder where the money will come from to pay for the services UKIP pledges to protect.

Because despite all the talk of cutting government down to size, UKIP’s ‘mission statement’ is awkwardly silent on what parts of the government – other than contributions to the EU! – might be axed. I mean, there’s a pledge to ‘bring Quangos under Parliament’s control and cut the cost substantially’ and that’s about it. Really, there’s not much more than that. Who knew John Bull rode a unicorn?


Take energy, for example. UKIP wish to eliminate subsidies for renewable energy and, er, replace them with subsidies for nuclear power. That’s a policy for sure but it’s not necessarily a cheaper one. And since UKIP also want – not altogether unreasonably – to ‘give the public power to require binding local and national referenda on major issue’ it’s not certain they would even be able to build their new nuclear power stations either. What if the people say No?

Global warming, of course, ‘is not proven’ (actually it is; the question is what is the most effective and efficient way of dealing with it) and we need to free ourselves from ‘dependence’ on ‘foreign oil and gas’. Why? Because it is oil and gas or because it is foreign? It’s not clear. (The mainstream libertarian view is that it doesn’t much matter where we source these commodities.)

Indeed, the only government department whose budget UKIP promises to slash is, naturally, International Development. I suspect much of that budget is spent with dubious efficiency and all the rest of it but the idea cutting foreign aid will pay for everything else is populist wankery of the most deceitful kind.

This should not surprise. UKIP is a right-wing populist – even Poujadist – party. And that’s fine! But labeling themselves such is at least more accurate than the pretense they are really libertarians.

It’s a queer sort of libertarian that wants to double the number of Britons incarcerated at Her Majesty’s pleasure. But that’s UKIP’s policy. A crowd-pleasing policy perhaps but not necessarily a libertarian one. And while it is true that many libertarians see a useful role for referendums and direct democracy, I think it is also true that many libertarians are quite rightly sensible to the fact that many of our fellow-citizens are not at all liberal and that, this being regrettably so, the tyranny of the majority is much to be feared.

Again, increasing the police budget and spending more on national defence (another thing for which UKIP stands) are perfectly respectable views. Even so, a libertarian-minded fiscal hawk might wonder where the money will come to pay for all this. He – it is usually a he – might also wonder if UKIP’s support for eliminating university tuition fees and boosting the ‘Citizen’s Pension’ to a ‘substantial’ level is really compatible with reducing public debt. He only asks, you know.

But he might also wonder if UKIP’s enthusiasm for increasing the state’s power is really all that compatible with libertarianism as the term is at least sometimes (and in my mind, properly) understood. UKIP wishes to ‘Free the police force from the straitjacket of political correctness’ and it wants to repeal the Human Rights Act because this is necessary to ‘end abuses by convicted criminals and illegal immigrants’. Perhaps. There is, mind you, at least a credible libertarian argument for supposing that placing limits on the police’s powers is one way to protect individuals from the state. Equally, it must be possible that the protections afforded by the Human Rights Act are not exclusively enjoyed by ‘criminals’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ and might also be something to be cherished by clean-living, stout-hearted Britons.

Then there’s the dog-whistling. ‘Permanent’ immigration should be frozen for five years (why only five?) and thereafter only open to those who are well-educated, wealthy and ‘fluent in English’. In other words: Australians and some South Africans are fine, Poles and Nigerians may be less welcome.

Again, I am sure this is a view that would poll rather well. I’m also sure it’s not the traditional libertarian view. UKIP profess a belief in free trade but they’re also happy to restrict freedom of movement. I think this economically suspect but, in some respects, that’s less important than the substance of the dog-whistle which is, in the end, unfortunately xenophobic.And since libertarianism is, at its best, an internationalist creed this seems antithetical to libertarianism in the terms I understand it.

UKIP make this pretty clear in the final section of What We Stand For. They say: ‘Our traditional values have been undermined’. But what are those traditional values? A whites-only immigration policy? Women in the kitchen? The working-classes knowing their place? Gays denied the right to marry one another? UKIP doesn’t say.

It gets worse. ‘Children are taught to be ashamed of our past.’ Really? It is not so long since I was at school myself but I do not recall – outside of divinity lessons – any great instruction on how to feel properly ashamed. Must I now presume that my friends and relatives who are teachers are actually indoctrinating their pupils in a massive programme of national self-abasement?

Then there’s this. ‘Multiculturalism has split our society’. Well, define your terms please. If by multiculturalism you mean those people who are stupidly tolerant of forced marriages, honour killing and the general thwarting of women’s rights to self-expression and fulfillment, then you have a point. But those people are in a minority. There are some obvious – and serious – problems with integration but there is nothing wrong with multiculturalism provided those myriad cultures operate within the norms of British standards of behaviour. Below that common denominator there is ample room for difference and individual preference.

But if you fail to define what you mean by multiculturalism you should not be surprised – or act offended – if some people wonder if your use of the loaded, imprecise word ‘multiculturalism’ is actually code for something else.

UKIP conclude that ‘Political correctness is stifling free speech’. Actually, it is Britain’s parliamentarians, cloth-brained prosecutors and fatheaded police officers who are doing that. Can’t blame Europe for this. And yet these are the people and authorities whom UKIP argue should be given more power, not less. It’s a rum old world right enough. But should we be surprised by any of this? Probably not. After all, senior UKIP figures want to pass laws telling British citizens what clothes they may  – or rather, may not – wear. Live and let live? Up to a point, mate.

I don’t think UKIP do themselves any real favours with any of this. The UKIP supporters I know (small sample-size alert!) are not, really, on board with this kind of tripe. There’s a whole heap of stupidity out there – as Rotherham social services have recently demonstrated – without there being any need to add to it. Nevertheless, what’s deemed political correctness these days used to have a different name: good manners. It’s not ‘politically incorrect’ to tell a Paki joke, it’s just usually stupid, boorish and rude. And while we can all agree that ‘PC culture’ has occasionally plumbed extraordinary depths of witlessness it is – or, rather, should be – at its best a reminder to treat people as individuals not citizens defined by their ethnicity, religion, class, gender or sexual orientation. Bureaucracy struggles with this; libertarians need not.

Most of all, however, I think the libertarian tendency is a matter of temperament. At its best I believe that libertarianism is relaxed, open-minded, forward-facing and optimistic. It is a tendency that believes, occasionally naively, in humanity. There is a cussed don’t-tread-on-me streak to it too for sure, but fundamentally libertarians believe the best is yet to come. They embrace the future. (It’s not, I think, a coincidence that many libertarians are sci-fi geeks.)

This necessarily means there’s a tension between libertarians, Tories and Conservatives (the latter two being overlapping but still distinct groups). That can be a good thing, not least since – again at their best – each group should usefully challenge the others’ prejudices, assumptions and preferences.

UKIP, on the other hand, strikes me as being a party for reactionaries and monomaniacal euro-obsessives. Their vision of Britain is, I can’t help but feel, a Britain besieged and on the point of collapse. Despite Mr Farage’s cheeky-squirrel countenance and pawky, two-gins-before-lunch demeanor, they seem a party of terrible pessimists, convinced the world has gone to the dogs. They are an angry party for angry people, and while libertarians are often and rightly dismayed by politics (and would like to be left unbothered by politics) I like to think that an essential part of libertarianism is its faintly touching belief that many things are getting better.

Not least because they are. Britain, like other developed countries, is in many – and  many significant – ways a better, freer, more tolerant, liberal, happy, relaxed place than it was back in the day. There are serious difficulties that must be overcome but the trend toward human freedom – in Britain and, in fact, across the world – has been moving in the right direction. This is a good time to be alive and, recent economic setbacks notwithstanding, most of our people have never had it so good. If that is true here it is even truer in other, less ostensibly fortunate, parts of the world.

Libertarianism is a broad church but, in the end, if I’m a libertarian then UKIP can’t be very libertarian. And, of course, vice versa.

PS: UKIP’s website also offers you the chance to enter a draw for a whole, shiny, real Gold Sovereign. Because, as you know, gold is ‘a safe haven in troubled times’. Perhaps it is. But appealing to goldbugs is a sure sign of crankery.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Andy Brice

    I just can’t see much of a consistent worldview behind their politics. They only seem to believe in individual liberty when it’s their own.

  • Salmondnet

    ” but there is nothing wrong with multiculturalism provided those myriad cultures operate within the norms of British standards of behaviour. Below that common denominator there is ample room for difference and individual preference.”
    But they clearly don’t all operate within those standards, even though the norms of British standards of behaviour have changed massively (mostly for the worse) to accommodate them. The term multiculturalism is itself a reflection of these changes. Any half-way sensible nation wants to maintain its own culture on its home territory That is what makes a nation a nation and gives it resilience.
    The reference to individual preference is a canard. Individual preference operates (or not) within cultures, not between them. The host culture in the UK accepts notably more individualism than many of the new arrivals.

  • Dawn Richardson

    The problem is that Aliens are not embracing our British culture the are dividing it..

  • Tracey Low

    many of us do not really understand what Libertarianism is -so check out what the USA has to say about Libertarians and their understanding of small government and privatising healthcare – loss of billions in tax money, and increased costs of medicine just one of many pitfalls to choosing Libertarian –

  • Guest
  • Dennis Moore – here’s a bit of British libertarianism for you.

  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice blog.

  • Dissenter

    What a load of absolute tripe. Straw man arguments, begging the question and ad hominum attacks. Seems you are getting desperate because of UKIP’s increasing popularity!
    They don’t like it up em!

    • lukeuser

      So you’re saying they *are* libertarian? Social conservatist, anti-immigration, anti-science, isolationist…

  • Josee van Iersel

    UKIP is the only party pounding away at the dangers of the EU and the loss of our self-reliance. Anyone who agrees that we need strong, independent, diverse and sovereign nations in the world as it is today will save philosophizing over libertarianism and give UKIP his vote. First things should be first.

    • lukeuser

      You make an unusually good argument for a UKIP supporter from my experience! Whether ‘strong, independent, diverse and sovereign nations’ are necessarily what we need is debatable, but it has it’s merits.

  • dodgy

    ..Global warming, of course, ‘is not proven’ (actually it is; the question is what is the most effective and efficient way of dealing with it)

    Umm? Surely EVEN Alex Massie must have heard of the acceptance by everybody that the official (that means ‘as fiddled as possible’) figure have been unable to show any warming for the past 16 years! Where has he been as a journalist?

    May I suggest that the obvious way to deal with heating that does not seem to be happening is to ignore it and stop spending any money on it? That policy alone should win UKIP the election, regardless of any EU attitudes…

  • ben corde

    Thank God for that. The last thing this country needs is more so called libertarian ideals, which when you actually look at them invariably mean more interference, more control, more repression.

  • John Mackie

    “Global Warming is not proven’

    (actually it is).”

    Sez who? Massie?

    ACTUALLY IT ISN’T sunshine.

    Talk about sloppy journalism and ‘definitions’.

    AGW skeptics like me acknowledge there is some relatively inconsequential warming going on, but are do not believe the case has been proven that it is attributable to man made causes.

    And calling me a denier to my face will earn you a man made punch on the nose.

  • emiller7

    How about a ‘mind your own damn buisness’ party! I pay my taxes, feed my family and pay my bills. Don’t keep robbing me, telling me what is bad for me and billing me for people from overseas who I’ve not invited. Run the country efficiently and stop preaching! Mind your own buisness!

  • Sarnia

    The fact that you Alex is convinced about AGW does not mean it is true!

  • terence patrick hewett

    Excellent election results Nigel: keep it up, you’ve really got them rattled.

  • Bishop Whiteadder

    “Because despite all the talk of cutting government down to size, UKIP’s ‘mission statement’ is awkwardly silent on what parts of the government – other than contributions to the EU! – might be axed. I mean, there’s a pledge to ‘bring Quangos under Parliament’s control and cut the cost substantially’ and that’s about it.”
    Seems to be all the rage these days for political parties to have vague statements of intention and not completely spell out the policy. It is after all, to borrow from the Labour party hierarchy and it’s supporters, two and a half years until the next general election, it would be silly to have fully fledged, costed plans at this stage in the election cycle.

  • DGStuart

    Ed West on Twitter agrees with me on Massie:

    Ed West ‏@edwestonline

    @TimMontgomerie I agree. but Massie (and lots of people on twitter) seem to call themselves libertarian when more left-liberal

    Go and write for the Independent Massie – it’s your natural home.

  • Gabriel Martindale

    Essentially, UKIP aren’t real libertarians because

    a) they oppose mass immigration

    b) they don’t share the mores and mindset of metropolitan liberals

    c) they are pessimistic about the future.

    So, in order

    a) Free movement of peoples is, in principle, libertarian but
    (i) it makes a society less libertarian in the medium to long term by creating a permanent voting block for Left wing parties

    (ii) immigration is currently encouraged by the welfare state which, first, provides a direct incentive for a significant minorityof immigrants and, secondly, because it creates a permament, artificial, shortage of labour. There is a case for government intervention to cancel out the effects of other government interventions

    (iii) some people would prefer to live in a country that is freer in general, but less culturally diverse. It may not be entirely consistent, but nor is the libertarianism of other people.

    b) So what? Most metropolitan liberals aren’t libertarians and most libertarians aren’t metropolitan liberals.

    c) Most serious libertarians think the state is on the brink of fiscal collapse and the economy, as predicted by Austrian Business Cycle Theory, is on the edge of a precipice. (I suspect Alex Massie does not even know what ABCT is).

    Alex Massie is they type of “libertarian” who doesn’t oppose fiat money, doesn’t oppose central banking, doesn’t oppose progressive income taxes, doesn’t support the right to keep and bear arms, doesn’t support the right to free association or to decide who enters your private property (c.f. discrimination laws), doesn’t oppose the welfare state etc., but feels qualified to decide who is and isn’t a “real” libertarian based on his personal, unrepresentative ticklist, apparently completely uniformed by study of the important Libertarian theorists of the 20th century like Murray Rothbard, Ludwig Von Mises, Henry Hazlitt and the like. His comments about goldbuggery are typical of those who have no clue whatsoever about the economic consequences of an elastic money supply, central planning of interest rates and state-subsidised fractional reserve banking, but just picked up that gold was something nasty right wing people talked about. Have you ever done so much as google the words “Ron Paul”?

    Personally, I won’t be voting UKIP not because they aren’t libertarian enough, but because their economic policy is dominated by the batty “market monetarism” of TIm Congdon (more or less the opposite of ‘goldbuggery’), but that’s another story.

    • Chris

      Excellent reply, I have to say….I thought I was reading something I had wrote:) Exactly, the point is that, these people who claim to be Libertarians or claim to understand what it is, actually mis-represent it (deliberately or through ignorance I’m not sure). None of them appear to have any knowledge of Austrian business cycle theory, no working and practical knowledge of inflation, credit and debt dynamics.

      The main stream media love to appeal to the liberals and left using popularism using terms such as “racism” and “inequality” to describe an immigration policy that is against mass immigration. All “isms”, racism, communism, even religious faiths, Buddhism, Judaism etc are all collectives…”ism” is always collective. A Libertarian (if true to it) focuses on their own individual self action…racism by its nature is a collective hate. I judge people as individuals independent of caste, colour, gender, faith, creed, sexuality, nationality. However, I can also decide not to like someone of another race if I care,as long as I bring no harm to that person… I m not violating my Libertarian principle. I don’t as it is dislike any race. I m responsible for my own self, I have no allegiance to any flag, faith, so I judge others by the same metric. Do you see another human to interact with when you travel, or do you see a collection of Flags, a colour, a religion etc. So yes I m Libertarian and not racist Mr Massie. Immigration is not compatible with welfare, its unfair on the existing tax base. I do not go to other countries expecting hand outs. I expect other potential citizens should approach it the same. I m all for people coming,ease of movement, but it has to be based on their own self effort.

    • McQueue

      Phew, saved me the bother of replying. Thanks.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here