- Owen Thomas Webb
The Conservative Party is a Libertarian Party
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
What is a conservative? We use such a great deal of terminology in British politics that one doesn’t think to ask themselves what the language they are using really means, and what the consequences are of mislabelling themselves politically. Conservative, Tory, right-winger —these are all turns of phrase that one applies to apparently centre-right social policy and the lack of concern for class oppression which that policy definitionally represents. However, these are all different things, and as strange as it may sound, in other countries most people know that. What does British conservatism really represent, and what will the British public really be voting for when given the chance?
Electoral politics is dominated by public perception of a candidate’s image, their fitting within the party they represent, and the integrity of the government itself. People in this country perceive politics as a dramatic personal affair; they could not possibly comprehend a politics that did not rely so heavily on identity, stated, perceived, or otherwise, nor could they imagine just how oversimplified these affiliations are compared with the reality of the identities within parliament. The Conservative Party is understood to be just what it says on the tin, but after three whole decades of conservative administration in this country since the election of Thatcher, interrupted briefly by New Labour, what real conservatism has come out of their leadership? With a dwindling armed forces budget, cuts to the police force, the obliteration of mining as an industry in the country which won the race to industrialize first, and an almost entirely new-money middle class membership, what is conservative about the Conservative party if it has such obvious disregard for national institutions? What is in all cases their first concern? What is their ideology? The answer lies within the nominal conservative’s worldview: when a given institution is far too expensive for the state to effectively manage, it must be either reduced in scale or, if no private investment can be found, closed entirely. This Conservative party’s first ideology is the ideology of money, not of upholding British institutions, therefore they cannot possibly be called conservative.
The overwhelming public support for nominal conservatism is no longer coming from landed aristocracy, and of course most of it does not come from their membership. It is coming from aggrieved, working-class members of the public who are seeking nationalist government and stern authority over the important institutions impacting their lives, and conversely from wealthier members seeking what can be charitably called ‘less intrusive’ financial policies, such as those the new chancellor is imposing. The Conservatives can rely on these demographics, no doubt, but there is a clear contradiction in the voting base of the party, which may prove fatal to the chances of winning on coherent policy in future elections. The contradiction here is between one base of conservative voters, who are less wealthy people with nationalistic and economically protectionist motives; and much more wealthy people, with more individualistic financial policies, such as low taxes, being the motives. This fundamental contradiction is not one that can be overcome with intelligent policy, because the conservative party has two voting blocks, unrelated to one another in their interests. The party’s policy can only follow one of them, so as its policy follows the lead of one, it must use its identity — its promise to be ‘conservative’ —to guarantee the votes of the other.
This is where an understanding of the term ‘Libertarianism’ comes in useful for unmasking the so-called conservative politics of the United Kingdom. With the recent pay out to profiteering energy companies in mind, the British Conservative and Unionist Party is proven to be a party of private profit, and with the reductions in tax coming alongside this giant direct debit, we can infer that its ideology shows a decisive preference for the privileged few over its less privileged voters. It is thus a party of private financial profit through public expense. Libertarianism defines itself, certainly in the United States, as referring to the furthest right-wing possible economic system, where the state is minimized to providing law enforcement at the absolute most — at least in the mind of Ayn Rand, who propagated and, some would say, even sexualized libertarianism as a fantasy ideal. Either way, Rand is fetishized for her unrelenting assertion of the economic freedom of the individual and the irrelevance of the norms and interests of the public of nation states.
In this world of undiluted free market capitalism — which even Rand tacitly admits becomes indistinguishable from anarchy and societal collapse in her final novel — public spending is erased, guarded protections for child labour laws and other guarantees of safety at work or ethically appropriate systems of production are obliterated, and central government exists only as a sentinel to enforce the law which the captains of industry and capitalism make for themselves and others. This in its purest form is libertarianism, through the eyes of one of its greatest proponents. What can we infer then, with this context in mind, about the British Conservative party?
The New Money conservatism of politics in this country is not a new phenomenon. It dates to Thatcher at the latest, with her policy that decisively brought private-sector motives of financial profitability and self-interest into the very much public-sector matters of state. This line of thinking, with successive technocratic small governments since Blair’s seeming to keep the country in a permanent state of austerity and upward flow of wealth, is proven to be a failure if the interests of the public and the nation state are the concern. It is time to acknowledge that party politics in this country is not what it says on the tin. It is time to acknowledge that the Conservative party is a libertarian party, and your concern is no concern of theirs.