I've written before about City AM, a free newspaper that is avowedly pro-capitalist. It has a circulation of over 100,000 in London, and is distributed across metropolitan London every morning (although to be honest just because I've always lived somewhere where it is distributed doesn't mean it is everywhere!).
Its editor Alistair Heath is a bright young finance and business journalist who shows he thinks well outside that world in his regular pithy commentary about public affairs, politics and economics. He has successfully managed to become a regular commentator on BBC and Sky TV news programmes, and on a range of radio stations, so his influence is growing. A breath of fresh air when the UK political discourse is dominated by so many arguing about what government should do, rather than whether government should do anything at all.
His latest editorial demonstrates he isn't just a man for the economy, but a man for freedom. He writes:
LIBERTY. Freedom. When did you last hear these two words in the UK political debate? Well, I certainly can’t remember. Our country is dominated by busybodies and collectivists who believe that they and the state have the right and duty to tell us all what to do, to spend our money for us and to control what we can eat, drink, trade or say. It’s all gone too far. Individual freedom and its twin sister personal responsibility are the cornerstones of successful Western, liberal capitalist societies; yet these are being relentlessly undermined. Ultimately, there is no difference between economic and social freedoms. Attacking one endangers the other.
So this is my plea: let’s put the emphasis back on the individual. Let’s stop trying to ban everything. Let’s stop describing a tax cut as a “cost” to the government or – even worse – as morally identical to public spending. Let’s stop assuming adults should no longer have the right to eat fast food, or smoke, or drink, or paint their walls bright green, or build a conservatory in their back garden, or whatever it is they wish to do with their own bodies and with their own private property. Let’s once again speak up for the rights of consenting adults to choose how to live their own lives, even if we disapprove. Let’s allow people to hold, discuss or display their beliefs freely, especially if we disagree.
I could easily just copy the whole lot, but it is worth a read in its own right. Why should it come to this?
The examples of government seeking to boss people around and demonstrate the attitude of "we know best" towards citizens have continued to grow under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government. Despite early claims of a "bonfire of regulation" touted by the Liberal Democrats, it is clear that any pretensions towards individual freedom from that party have gone up in the smoke of pragmatism. Politicians so easily outwitted by Oxbridge educated bureaucrats find it difficult to fight on principle, and as Conservatives who have had at best a checkered history of defending individual freedom, especially since David Cameron started the "transformation" of the party into an bullwark of environmentalism and activism, treat freedom as something you declare when the other lot are in power.
Examples in recent months of clampdowns on freedom include:
- Proposals for new powers to require all telecommunications companies and internet service providers to retain records and make them freely available to the security services of all phone calls, all emails and all internet website visits for all users for the past year. The Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg glibly reassures people that it doesn't include the contents of such communications, but the government will be able to access, as of right, records of everyone you every called, emailed and indeed everything you looked up online. Of course you are meant to trust the Police, security agencies and indeed the whole apparatus of government not to abuse this to snoop on people's private affairs, inquire why people might search all sorts of words or visit certain websites.
- Proposals to force property owners to install energy efficiency measures if they build an extension or replace their boilers.
- A new law to prohibit the sale of tobacco in anything other than plain packs or to display tobacco in shops. Already health authoritarians are demanding alcohol and fatty foods be treated the same way, or that there be a new fat, sugar and salt tax on"unhealthy food".
- Grasping measures to claim more tax from the wealthy by capping tax allowances for charitable donations, capping income tax free allowances for pensioners, imposing extortionate taxes on the sale of homes worth more than £2 million.
- Prosecutions for men who have made offensive and racist comments on twitter about footballers.
- Proposals for the state to recruit (as private contractors) tens of thousands of nannies to provide parenting support for those on low incomes.
- Fiddling with the planning laws which do little to change the need for the consent of ones neighbours, council and various interest groups to make changes to your own property that don't infringe upon the property of others.
The antipathy of politicians towards freedom does reflect a disturbing streak among some in the UK. It was most visible when comedian Alan Davies said it was wrong for Liverpool Football Club to boycott playing on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster because similar events don't provoke similar abandonment of activity. In response he received death threats and what would have been called (had it raised his race, gender or sexuality) hate speech. People so angry they would threaten to kill a man because he expressed a different opinion. A cultural attitude of absolute intolerance of those who offend you. This is the sort of attitude seen all too often in public places when drunken ferile (typically young) men or women "take people on" because they think someone said something or look at them the wrong way, or they were "disrespec'ed". A sense that one's view of the world, even the way people react around you, is a right that you can defend with force.
What does this mean? It means that there is an underbelly of grotesque intolerance about other views, an intolerance rooted in the justified fights against the state backed racism, sexism, censorship, sectarianism and bigotry of the past, but which now embraces an attitude not only of what is called "political correctness" (which the left deny even exists), but of generalised intolerance about those who offend others. Some Muslims demand it, Christians are rightfully demanding they be treated with the same kid gloves as Muslims are, now it's people from regions and even the smug Scottish First Minister, Nationalist Socialist Alex Salmond has said the Economist magazine will "rue the day" it made fun of Scotland with a cover page depicting an independent Scotland as Skintland. This is the language of Islamists upset about Danish cartoons, now being assumed by a leading politician.
Is it any wonder that people across the country think it is ok to get angry and threaten violence if someone offends or upsets them?
Is it any wonder that politicians think it is ok to regulate, tax and control activities, language and monitor communications that is contrary to the goals they want to achieve?
Allister Heath's editorial is welcome. It should be replicated in the Daily Telegraph, which once ran a campaign about individual liberty - when Labour was in power of course.
Labour presided over a 13 year period of ever encroaching state control and new laws, the Conservatives have shown they have been dazzled by bureaucratic promises that everything will be "ok" and threats that without new powers, people might die. After all, every extension of the Police state would, of course, reduce crime (and who can argue against that?). The Liberal Democrats meanwhile are no longer liberal in any sense of the word, and just a different sectarian part of the socialist brand unaffiliated with the unions.
It is time for Britons who do believe in freedom to stand up, to say no and to demand the end to the ever increasing calls to regulate, tax and monitor people's lives for their own good. You wouldn't expect bureaucrats and politicians to tell you what to eat, what to wear, what to watch, what to say, where to go and who to associate with normally. Yet that is exactly what they all do, to a certain extent, right now.
Politicians in the UK respond to one overwhelming trend - public opinion. Only when the people who demand freedom shout loudest and demand to be part of the political discourse, will that opinion move and the erosion of freedom be stopped because voters don't want any more of it.
In the UK, the Adam Smith Institute, the Taxpayers' Alliance, the Libertarian Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs are all at the forefront of taking on the statists. It is time that more stood up for simple right to live one's own life as you see fit, as long as you do not interfere with the right of others do the same.