The Libertarian Party UK is relatively new, having only been founded at the start of 2008. According to Wikipedia it has 500 members. In the context of New Zealand, which has been running far longer, and has more members, LPUK as it seeks to be known, is truly embryonic.
It has ran a couple of candidates in recent local elections and by-elections, and is solely represented by Gavin Webb, a councillor on the Stoke-On-Trent City Council. This is because Webb defected from the Liberal Democrats.
OK, so it's small.
How does it describe itself? "The Libertarian Party UK is a minarchist party utilising political philosophy based on support for individual liberty" is what was said on its press release announcing Webb has defected. Minarchist means "a political ideology which maintains that the state's only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression". All very well then.
However, do the policies match this?
Well um, only in part.
Monetary policy is more promising, supporting the Gold standard and free banking.
It is rather limp wristed on quangoes, seeking to make them into departments if they have statutory powers. A better approach would be to go through them and see if any are consistent with the core role of the state, if not then abolish.
However, LPUK would eliminate the statutory minimum wage, which was only introduced under Labour since 1997.
Health policy has low ambitions, seeking competition and a transition to an insurance based model, with no sale of state assets. Far better would be to allow people to opt out of the NHS, give them back their national insurance and then move the NHS to an insurance model that people can opt out of altogether.
Education policy looks like the Conservative one of moving to a voucher based system, but no notion of user pays for the tertiary sector. After all, if income tax is to be abolished then surely this offers greater opportunity for students to finance education from future earnings, and the voluntary sector.
Defence and energy policy is mixed too. Defence is all very well, except armed neutrality as well as remaining a member of NATO. Quite simply incompatible. Either you have allies or you don't. Armed neutrality would have meant the UK conceding continental Europe to the Nazis. By contrast, energy policy is to leave it all to the market, which is welcome.
Welfare policy appears to endorse retaining the welfare state, with most of the policies being about winding back dependency. Far simpler transitions would be to state that non-British citizens could no longer apply for welfare, abolish all welfare for those above the "poverty line" and declare a date after which new applications would welfare would no longer be accepted. Weaning people off of state pensions over time makes sense, but again this might need a little more to it.
Housing and planning policy is perhaps most disappointing. Reviewing planning laws rather than abolishing them. No mention of private property rights. Most disturbing is "ensuring local populations have a strong voice in planning decision making". Nothing libertarian about that at all!
Transport policy is about meddling, with detailed nonsense about seat-belt laws (leave that up to road owners), but OPPOSING "non-freight vehicles" being charged for road use. Taxpayer funded roads are not exactly libertarian either.
Law and order is more promising. Plenty about rolling back intrusions of the state into personal freedoms, legalisation of drugs for adult use and decriminalisation of adult prostitution. Significant steps to legalise ownership of weapons for self defensive purposes. Much detail about the role of the Police.
Finally, Constitutional Policy has some useful gems, such as abolishing the TV licence, Human Rights Act, withdrawal from the EU, and "regionalising" legislation so that MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could not vote on legislation that is about matters devolved to their local executives. There is a fair bit about transparent lobbying and only allowing individuals to donate to political parties, which seems almost irrelevant if you don't deal with the more serious issues like - abolishing or reforming the House of Lords and creating a written constitution. Supporting electoral reform is all very well, but unless the system is reformed to eliminate the elected dictatorships on individual rights, it will do little good.
SO all in all a bit of a mish mash. What is lacking is the selling of principles. Principles like private property rights and the individual freedom to act as you see fit, as long as you respect the rights of others. Such fundamental concepts that should be easy to sell to more than 500 people in the UK.
That was the view taken by myself and three of the most libertarian men in the UK (all kiwis) when we visited the South-East Branch of the Libertarian Party meeting the other evening. There was much nodding of heads in agreement, but maybe a classic English lack of passion and lack of willingness to be fired up and argumentative about individual liberty. I had to leave early, but the conclusion I got was there was some good intentions, just not the "fire in the belly" to argue convincingly with the "statist quo".
After all, it isn't about getting elected, especially in a First Past the Post system - it is about ideas, and about changing the terms of the debate. The other minor parties trying to do this are the Greens, which clearly proudly sit on principles (because they are often mainstream today), UKIP (which is anti-EU for reasons of nationalist state sovereignty not individual freedom) and the BNP (which is a bunch of inept racist state worshippers).
It should be about saying NO to those seeking to bribe voters by spending more of their own money or promising new laws for this or that. It should be about making your terms ones of individual rights and for politicians to argue why they should take those rights away or spend your money, rather than to argue about what rights to take away and how to spend it.
I doubt the Libertarian Party will have a candidate in my electorate, although if so, I would likely vote for him or her after asking a few basic questions. However, it is clear LPUK is far from being a compelling electoral grouping at present.
The leader, Chris Mounsey, has a blog called the Devil's Kitchen, which isn't half bad, though I hadn't notice it till today. So that will be worth watching.
The other major libertarian outlet in the UK is the non-political (as in not a party) Libertarian Alliance. It has a blog too, but its utterings are largely ignored as well (and LPUK members I spoke to had no time for the LA).
Dare I have the audacity to say that a bit of Ayn Rand might do them both some good?