Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Anxious Youth: Why freedom is the best answer to insecure jobs and low pay

This month thousands of young adults across the country received their hard earned A-level results, most of them going on to study at university. However, a recent survey showed that over 60% of young people about to enter the adult world are extremely anxious about being trapped in 'dead end jobs'- stuck with low wages and dim prospects. This anxiety has been met with dismissal by many ("well these kids have a lot more opportunity than I did at that age"!) but these students are right to be somewhat apprehensive about he stresses and strains of modern life, starting with their future job prospects. Following in the footsteps of the USA, Britain is becoming a more service based economy. Since the occupy movement materialised in America, there has been a spate of strikes by fast-food workers in several US cities. The same anger over low pay in New York and Seattle could well cross the Atlantic in the near future. 

If we look at the economics, youngsters should be very worried indeed, and as well as the rest of the country. Britain’s 'economic recovery' is being mostly driven by consumer spending and the expansion of the service sector. Britain already looks like it did in 2008 forcing even mainstream financial commentators to provide us with gloomy forecasts for the immediate future. Furthermore, the UK's manufacturing sector has seen only anaemic growth. This is mixed news for young people.

In 1897, the sociologist Emile Durkheim observed the important link between suicide and modern industrialised society. Although, I am certainly not predicting a spate of mass suicides by young people in the near future, the issues of anxiety, depression and instability are worth addressing in a 21st-century context. The astonishing popularity of Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn could well be understood as a misplaced cry for certainty and stability from his supporters, whether they are disgruntled tube workers or demoralised undergraduates.

What then, can we say to the new 2015 university intake? Do we celebrate instability, stressing the utilitarian importance of creative destruction? Modern capitalism is often accused of being horrendously inefficient; providing us with a bountiful supply of cheap clothes and stylish coffee shops, but not with adequate housing or stable jobs. This message ignores the decisive role governments and monetary authorities play in manipulating the economy. The voracious whirlwinds of globalisation and venture capitalism are only an issue because of diabolical government policies. The road to the dismal maquiladora economy and inevitable financial meltdown is mostly paved with the hands of policy makers, and those that share their bed.

Yet arguably our message should also be a philosophical one, namely that the political certainties people may decide to hang their hopes on don't exist; it's clear that the ethical implications of 'Corbynomics' would be far more ruinous than loathed zero-hours contracts. But we must also be mindful that UKIP and the Traditional Britain Society offer an equally miserable brand of archaic certainty.

The issue of insecurity and getting on in life can best be addressed by adopting an individualist outlook. It's long been established that GDP isn't a very good guide to the overall quality of life in any given country. As the economist Richard Easterlin detected, happiness doesn’t rise with income. Adam Smith famously observed that in most cases material wealth is just a corporeal substitute for respect, admiration and glory. The mild status anxieties that we may feel when one of our friends on Facebook gets a prestigious promotion or divulges a voluminous photographic account of their expensive holiday, are mostly a result of us being constantly referred to as a collective. We are always being compared to others and encouraged to feel jealous of other's success; 'If my fellow citizen can have X, then why can’t I?'  

It was revealed this month that certain employers will no longer be looking exclusively at A-level grades or which university the candidate attended, and instead placing more importance on interviews, showing that even large bureaucratic companies are losing trust in statistics and adopting a more individualistic approach to hiring. Furthermore, it was mentioned recently that private schools often owe the success of their alumni not to better grades but to 'soft skills'. This resulted in some rather comical suggestions that somehow, private schools should run ‘soft skill’ sessions (free of charge obviously) to give public school students the same abilities.

The ethos of voluntary interaction and freedom to pursue happiness (whatever the individual's concept of happiness may be) is one that is at ease with the modern world. First world problems are not something to be scoffed at; depression, stress and divorce are all very serious issues that deserve our attention. The size and scope of Britain's service economy is profound, and young adults are more likely to be in low-paid service work than other age groups (see figure 1). Truly, a great challenge for those who desire a minimal state is to deconstruct false certainties, whether utopian or traditional. The freedom to be, to exist as one desires is in itself a great virtue, yet very few people seem to be arguing this.

Figure 1: Age Group and Industry Sector by Wages
Source:  http://www.poverty.org.uk/

The social impact of capitalism is almost exclusively referred to negatively; as a destroyer and exploiter. The rhythms of industrialised life are supposed to be the ultimate cause of our anxieties. Durkheim noted that capitalism had ripped the communal heart out of traditional life and replaced it with nothing, except uncertainty and work. However, the idea that as the workplace becomes more insecure, millions of voters look to the state as a provider of well-being and happiness should be a terrifying prospect. It is troublesome that people will begin to mistake the state for society; efforts asking government to play a greater role in art, literature, music, fashion, sport, food etc.  should be rigorously rebuffed.

On the subject of happiness Mises wrote:

What makes a man feel uneasy and less uneasy is established by him from the standard lf his own will and judgement, from his personal and subjective valuation. Nobody is in a position to decree what should make a fellow man happier. Lugwig Von Mises, Human Action

This rather curt quotation is a fair representation of what this article has tried to convey, that an individual expressing their desires in a free market is a social circumstance as well as an economic one.  This is not the same as saying that the satisfaction of emotional needs and wants can only be achieved by the purchasing of material goods. If a Libertarian social system stands accused of being materialistic and hollow, this is indeed a false accusation. Britain’s young adults will enter an environment of contention and volatility. In this context people will understandably look for a comfort blanket, the best response could be that the finest blanket you can have is the one you stitch yourself with voluntary interactions. The modern world is complex and there is no universal equation we can utilise to lead comfortable lives. Yet as cultural trends and social patterns fluctuate, the best place to be is in a truly open society, a place that allows change to happen unhindered by coercion.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Can We Finally Be Realistic About Politicians?

'Oh, we could but do with some nice little young Asian lady I would've thought tonight but never mind. They sort of look innocent but you know they're whores.' LORD SEWEL

It’s been less than a week since Lord Sewel was publicly humiliated in The Sun. The famous video showing the now former chairman of committees unwinding with a load of cocaine and a prostitute has well and truly gone viral.

On the face of it, this is a good old-fashioned political scandal and there have been many over the past five years. The chances are that just like David Law’s ‘second home’, Liam Fox’s lobbyist friend Adam Werritty and ‘Plebgate’; it’s only a matter of time before we all forget about the cocaine snorting Lord Sewel and his delightfully debauched antics.  It should be obvious by now that taking an early slap on the wrist and returning after the water is clear is the de rigueur process for humiliated public figures. 

Just maybe, as a result of the seemingly endless conveyor belt of embarrassing political scandals we can start to be a bit more mature about how we view public figures. This isn’t of course, a plea for us to be nicer to our affectionately elected representatives in parliament (sarcasm by the way). But we really do need to start seeing politicians for what they are, people.

I refuse to believe that any adult is genuinely offended by Lord Sewel’s behaviour, with the exception perhaps of his family.  Even the Prime Minister couldn’t hide his tedium when asked to address the scandal whilst in Singapore earlier this week. 

The idea that public figures, especially politicians should be knights in shining armour and conveyors of the highest moral standards is ridiculous. There is a powerful dialogue in modern politics that suggests that MPs should be more like social workers than law-makers. People, who run charity events, make cups of tea for the elderly and spend 95% of their time working in their constituencies. This view is a utopian fantasy of the worst kind. If the public continues to demand glistening MPs we will be condemned to disappointment. Such an emphasis on having a spotless record may explain why so many high ranking members of the cabinet had shadowy careers in the civil service, and not on the back benches.

Perhaps there is a case for outrage if a councillor or politician receives a wildly excessive salary or reliably attends to their public duties under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But it must be one of the dreariest spectacles of modern politics, to listen to MPs gleefully explaining why they don’t deserve a pay rise.  Lord Sewel’s rise to viraldom is certainly embarrassing, but really not that surprising…or shocking. 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Is Auntie Really On Her Death Bed?

There are few institutions in British society so loved as the BBC. It is surprising then, that culture secretary John Whittingdale has had the audacity to present to parliament a green paper outlining potential changes in the future scale and scope of the BBC. The organisation is undoubtedly the relic of a bygone era, especially the archaic and arbitrary way that it is funded. Yet, having a debate about this large and successful media giant, presents a world of possibilities about the future relationship between Britain’s public institutions and an impatient  cash-strapped public.  

I have a confession to make,  I actually quite like the BBC. I don’t often watch much telly, but when I do it is usually a BBC programme. I think that some of the documentaries on BBC4 are great. Furthermore, my Thursday nights wouldn’t be the same without the ritual of sitting back and being reliably outraged about what various politicians are saying on Question Time. My morning drive to work is usually accompanied by the Today Show and my journey home allows me to catch up on the day’s news with PM. I must also admit that I often rely on the BBC NEWS app on my phone to deliver my ‘breaking news’ if not the analysis. I love the RADIO 1 Rock Show and the Punk Show and genuinely got very into the Bake-Off this year. If the license fee was abolished tomorrow, the chances are that I would be one of the millions of people subscribing to a newly privatised BBC. 

It already looks like the BBC approving public have taken up defensive positions. The Conservative’s insistence that the license fee be scrapped for over 75s has been a sudden and intrusive act of vandalism in the eyes of aunties’ most ardent supporters. On RADIO 4’s Moral Maze this week, Giles Fraser vociferously lamented the delinquency of ’conservatives who don’t want to conserve anything’, ripping the heart out the British community and accused the IEA’s Ryan Bourne of ‘free market fundamentalism’.

In the eyes of many free-market folk, the new challenge to the broadcasting behemoth is a welcome one. Yet, a closer look at the facts about Whittingdale’s green paper reveals that it is much less radical than many of us expected. It would appear the panel tasked with assessing the BBC is made up of representatives from private broadcasting organisations and industry experts, surely a clear statement of intent that the BBC is going to be carved up?  Not quite, what strikes me about the green paper is how cautious it is. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that in true Cameronesque style, the Tories are talking tough but won’t end up delivering anything remotely radical. I predict that as soon as Whittingdale’s pals in the broadcasting industry are appeased, he will renew the royal charter with little alteration. 

This is unfortunate, however with any luck this could be a much needed watershed moment. It is quite clear that the modern BBC goes well beyond the remit for a ‘public service’ broadcaster. Something about news readers having celebrity status and managers with sky-high salaries should make license fee payers wince as they cough up a mandatory £145 every year. It’s quite clear that the BBC wants to be a slick global broadcasting empire, like CNN or Al Jazeera, and  I am quite happy to let that happen…but not with taxpayers’ money. 

In fact, I would argue that the BBC could have the potential to be a commercialised miracle. Part of the reason why privatisation has such a bad name in Britain is because it has been done so badly. However, with a globally recognised and prestigious brand, a privatised BBC doesn’t have to be a ‘fire sale’; it could be a grand unleashing. Furthermore, as Allister Heath and Ryan Bourne have suggested, in the short term the government could easily provide funding for   ‘public service’ programming on a case by case basis. But a blanket license fee in the digital age is clearly unjust.

Another aspect of what will inevitably become a game of political football is the snobbery shown by some supporters of the BBC. I am referring to the idea that without public funding, programmes about philosophy, classical music or obscure melodramas simply couldn’t exist. I would ask people who hold such views to visit their nearest corner shop, and stare at the magazine rack. Despite printed media being one of the most competitive industries in the country, there is no shortage of highbrow reading. For every copy of Nuts, The Daily Star and Closer; there is National Geographic, The Guardian and Private Eye. I believe that this view held by many;  is snobbish nihilism of the worst kind, that the masses requires rivers of freely flowing taxpayers money to have enlightening material rammed down their throats, it is truly absurd. 

The real losers of the BBC’s review will be the people who want to see the organisation crushed and humiliated. The Murdoch press, Guido Fawkes fans and anyone who has ever said ‘The British Bolshevik Corporation’ will be disappointed by John Whittingdale’s assessment. I would also like to add here that we shouldn’t be overly enthusiastic about the Culture Secretary giving the BBC a bloody nose, reducing one part of government whilst expanding another couldn’t be described as much of a victory.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Incomprehensible Savagery

The murder of nine black church goers by Dylan Roof was an act of incomprehensible savagery. Since the event, there has been much discussion, the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina Statehouse and the President has broken out in song. I often feel averse to thinking about events such as these in any sort of context. Whether in Paris, Tunis or an American high-school; the blood-curdling insanity of those that murder innocent people warrants little explanation beyond the mental health of the perpetrator. Just as worrying, are the policy makers that would use such events to justify the introduction of a new legislation… as if murder wasn’t illegal in the first place. Politicians must learn that what transpired in Charleston June 19th doesn’t require an action of any kind, only sombre reflection alongside the swift incarceration of the culprit. 

Activist Bree Newsome removes the confederate flag from South Carolina Statehouse

Many will assume that Dylan Roof’s actions are representative of a broad recent trend in American politics, that of a ‘race crisis’; linking Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Sanford and now Charleston. In a sense these events are connected, race in the USA is in many ways like class here in the UK; always pervasive, and at times palpable. For better or worse, rightly or wrongly the narrative of racial conflict is a powerful force in American society. 

Dylan Roof’s ideology, outlined in his manifesto is identity politics pushed to its fullest  most aggressive and dogmatic extent. A criticism of white supremacist thinking isn’t necessary here, the concept that we are in the midst of a ‘race war’ is ridiculous enough. Roof’s supposed obsession with the Japanese film Himzu, and the need for the violent purification of society reeks of Julius Evola. Furthermore, his infamous manifesto reads like a desperate plea for help, a painful and frustrated incomprehension of the modern world. I find it hard to believe that the man who wrote it had ever discussed his ideas openly; the short document presented me with one of the bleakest understandings of society I have ever seen.  Existing far-right groups online and the KKK have been keen to distance themselves from the murders in Charleston. Although I find it hard to believe that the members of such organisations universally condemn Roof’s actions.

The outrageous assault reminds us in Europe of the Anders Behring Breivik shootings in Norway 2011. Again, a deranged right-wing madman killed scores of innocent people, in the name of a sickening Fascist ideology. Yet, in light of these events I think it is appropriate to make a point about the nature of politics in our modern and complex societies. Arguably once political discourse becomes about identity and not ideas, we head down a dangerous path. Some may find that statement hard to stomach. There are those for whom, ethnicity, class, place of birth or skin colour is the foundation of their ideology. ‘Identity Politics’ has been with us for centuries; it is what happens when genuine politics and social philosophies have failed.

When I heard about the news and the controversy surrounding the confederate flag, my partner (not a Libertarian) exclaimed: “I don’t understand how people can think that the confederate flag isn’t offensive to black people!” She then turned to me and said “I bet you don’t think it should be banned”, to which I replied “No I don’t… but I still think its offensive. I certainly wouldn’t hang the confederate flag outside my own  house.” However, there are undoubtedly many people in the USA who don’t think that the famous ‘Stars & Bars’ is a symbol of racial oppression, merely an obstinate allusion to the cultural, linguistic and culinary tradition of the American Deep South. Yet I think we can all agree that the confederate flag has become a divisive issue and a powerful symbol, as to what it represents, I will leave you to decide. 

It goes without saying that my deepest sympathies go to the families of those killed in Charleston. I also feel obliged to add here that at times I have been made to feel dreadfully uncomfortable when I read things some ‘Libertarians’ have said about race and ethnicity. Unfortunately, there can’t be any inspirational message behind this article, but as I alluded to earlier, in the wake of the events in South Carolina, a moment of reflection might be appropriate.

A copy of Dylan Roof’s manifesto can be found here: http://lastrhodesian.com/data/documents/rtf88.txt

Monday, 25 May 2015

Viva Liberland?

Early last month, Vit Jedlicka became the president of the new micronation of Liberland on a small disputed area of forest in between Croatia and Serbia. Here I will discuss the idea of independent communities in Libertarian theory and their practical implications. The notion that smaller, more independent nations can be the first major step on the road to a free society has considerable traction in the USA. It has become a significant concept of the circle of academics associated with the Mises Institute. The enthusiastic emphasis on secession by some American Libertarians ensures that it is worthy of commentary. But is it true? Is the best path to Liberty paved with cobbles of smaller, more independent nations?

Whether it’s the Free State Project, Galt’s Gulch, Liberland or the Condominium of Neutral Moresnet. Small separatist idealists clearly have a place in the complex milieu of ideas that make up modern Libertarianism. However, I will suggest here that for several reasons, the idea of ‘mass secession’ in itself can only ever be a limited solution for engineering freedom en masse, but micronations like Liberland have much potential.
It is obvious that Murray Rothbard has had an instrumental role in shaping modern Libertarianism, he was an animated writer, imaginative political thinker and respected economist. However, Rothbard wasn't much of a historian. The historical question of secession seems to have led the otherwise insightful thinker to some strange conclusions. His take on the American civil war is part of a long and petulant tradition of Civil War revisionism amongst American academics. The folks at the Mises Institute unfortunately adopt the same pro-confederate cause. If you are at all interested in sadomasochism, you might try reading Tom Wood's politically incorrect guide to American history. My point here isn't to discredit Rothbard or the Mises Institute out of hand. My goal is to draw attention to a particular strain of reasoning; concerning secession, that sees Libertarians at their least academically credible.

When discussing micronations and independent polities, it's usually not long before someone mentions Switzerland. I will leave a thorough description of Switzerland to one side at this time. For now let's just accept that it is small, relatively prosperous and has a renowned federal style of government. Much vaunted by right-wingers, if only Britain could be more like Switzerland! As an Anarchist, I find it strange to think that somehow being part of a smaller country means democracy will be more intense. Surely in a tiny nation of only 1 million, a lone voice is effectively just as meaningless as in a big nation of 100 million? If the answer is no, then how many people specifically represent the right size of country for democracy to function? Surely the cultural norms, history and democratic structures matter more than population size. It stands to reason then that a big nation can potentially respect individual rights more than a much smaller country.

So what's the point of secession? Is Mr Jedlicka wrong to walk onto a volatile border and declare a new nation? History shows quite clearly that Serbian nationalists are not a group of people you would want to upset. Yet, there is something extremely alluring about breaking off from society, with its injustices and frustrations, and being part of a new polity of like-minded compatriots. Nor are Libertarians unique in wanting to put their ideas into practice.  Independent communities are a long established part of the communist tradition, from the Paris Commune in 1871 to contemporary Anarcho-Syndicalist squats in London. 

Ultimately, unlike the times of the Paris commune just about every square mile of land on this planet belongs to one country or another. Furthermore, a hope of mass abandonment of entire nations doesn’t seem to be a realistic prospect anytime soon. Most separatist movements in Europe whether in Catalonia, Scotland, Northern Italy or Transnistria hardly demonstrate a triumph of Liberalism. However, I will argue that micro-nations and secession movements can and will succeed. As long as these places represent an idea they stand a good chance of flourishing. What separates a successful project like Freetown Christiania from a disaster like Fordlandia, is that they stand for something, they show that a certain vision of society can indeed prosper. It also helps a lot if these movements don't antagonise any of their larger neighbours. As is becoming the case with Liberland. 

The most widely known examples of micro- nations are undoubtedly the cities of Hong Kong and Singapore. I will resist the temptation to state that they are examples of ‘pure free market' economies because their histories are much more nuanced than that. However, they have been governed much more on capitalist lines than their neighbours, which is why they stand out. Importantly, Hong Kong and Singapore show that with the right policies in place, a tiny patch of land can become a prosperous metropolis. On a positive note the future looks bright for micronations. Sea Steads are already a distinct possibility and the government of Honduras is thinking about establishing ZEDEs (Zones for Employment and Economic Development). If the ZEDE system works well, some cities in Honduras will be effectively independent and free to govern themselves. Of course, there is the prospect that these schemes won’t happen or will go horribly wrong but they are promising nonetheless. If run properly, the ZEDE could provide a useful model for the developing world.

Fundamentally, Liberland can work. In a recent interview on Anarchast Jedlicka outlined that both the Croatian and Serbian police have made it difficult to enter the area. But despite resistance Liberland has garnered a huge amount of media interest as well as thousands of applications for citizenship. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will see more Libertarians putting their ideas effectively into practice; illuminating the way for larger nations in the process.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Libertarian Vote

There has been much talk about the upcoming election, it's supposed to be 'the most interesting' in a very long time indeed. In light of all this excitement, it's perhaps fitting that we in the Libertarian movement indulge in some psephological acrobatics ourselves, and thanks to polling organisations this is possible. I have attempted to assess what may be described as the potential 'Libertarian vote'.  If there were to be a Libertarian party, how much support might it perhaps receive, and from where? Here are my observations. 

Before I begin, I should probably say a few words about my methodology. I have relied on a sample of around 100 constituencies across England because I couldn't possibly assess all them  on my own, this would have been prohibitively time-consuming. To calculate a constituency's receptiveness to Libertarian values, I have mostly relied on YouGov's 'election centre'. I have taken into account the 'role of the state' ( the less the better) and measured it against the 'Libertarianness' (the more the better) of the area. It is important to mention here that YouGov almost certainly uses the term Libertarian in a social context, and not an economic or political sense. That much was obvious from trawling through the large number of constituencies I analysed to create this article. There will inevitably be those who disagree with the methods I have used to calculate the 'Libertarianness' of certain areas, and I fully welcome these criticisms. Any steps to improve my calculations can only benefit the movement as a whole. 

Selected Constituencies: 
  • Putney
  • Hammersmith
  • Wimbledon
  • Bristol West
  • Surrey Heath
  • Warwick and Leamington
  • Northampton North
  • Worcester
  • Guildford
  • Canterbury
  • North Cornwall
  • Kingston and Surbiton

So what do these areas have in common? The first thing I will say is that none of these areas are solidly Labour territory, no surprise there then. Even in areas where a Labour victory is likely in Hammersmith and Bristol West, it is set to be a tight race. However, apart from Surrey Heath, Canterbury and Guildford none of these constituencies are particularly safe seats for any party. 

Taken at face value they don't have much in common. Bristol West is quite far to the left  on all issues and Surrey Heath is firmly cemented on the right. However, Bristol West is more liberal regarding the 'size of the state' than other issues such as nationalism and education as well as having a very strong social Libertarian impulse. For this reason, I have decided to include it in my shortlist. In stark contrast, Surrey Heath is very supportive of a smaller state, much more so than other areas in the UK, and has only a 'small' authoritarian streak. So for different reasons, I have decided to include them in my analysis. 

In general, these constituents tend to be young, southern and living in rented accommodation. Only in Surrey Heath and North Cornwall are the majority older homeowners, and this was a small majority. It may also be useful to point out that these are all 'middle England' areas. None are particularly poor or overly affluent. Perhaps putting to bed the idea that Libertarianism is an ideology exclusively for rich bankers and CEO's. Areas where the very wealthy live like Chelsea and Fulham, seem to have more authoritarian impulses. Money woes are a big issue for these potentially Libertarian seats, fitting then, that Libertarian Home held a 'cost of living crisis' seminar last year. 

Another myth we can dispel by looking at polling data is that Libertarians are at home deep in the countryside, far away from civilisation. The constituencies I have selected are either urban areas or, quite densely populated suburbs. The obvious exception being North Cornwall, set to be an ultra-tight Conservative/ Lib Dem contest. Rural areas are likely to be more authoritarian and nationalistic than their urban counterparts. Additionally, the constituencies in the shortlist are generally reliant on online media for the majority of their news, even when TV is the dominant source of news, it is only by a small margin, as is the case in Warwick and Leamington. The reliance on  online news, over television is generally an urban phenomenon for obvious reasons.

However, there are some foreboding signs that emerge from the polling data. For someone that has been brought up in Hull, it is disappointing to note that the Yorkshire cities seem to be particularly hostile to Libertarian values. Places like Leeds, Doncaster, Hull & Rotherham are all solid Labour territory that have quite strong authoritarian leanings. Much more so that other 'working class' cities. Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham are more generically 'left'. Desiring a bigger state, but have a more socially liberal outlook. Surprisingly for some (and perhaps not for others), areas where UKIP are predicted to do well, are the least socially liberal and are right-wing on all issues including crime and nationalism. If the Libertarian movement wants to gain momentum, it will serve us well to realise that UKIP are not our political allies. UKIP voters also tend to be older and get the majority of their news from the TV. Bucking the trend of my younger, tech-savvy constituents. 

Yet this doesn't mean it will be  easy for a potential Libertarian candidate to win in these areas. Constituencies that are socially liberal as well as wanting to reduce the size of the state are few and far between. The most recent data from IPSOS MORI shows that only 5% of those surveyed, strongly supported the privatisation of public services, compared to 50% who wanted those services to remain in government hands. Not that earning votes is easy for any party, but identifying potential supporters for the Libertarian cause will be of great benefit for the burgeoning movement. I write this as a self-professed Voluntaryist. Someone that doesn't have much faith in state-sanctioned democracy. But engaging with the democratic process, and potentially getting politicians in Westminster that actually care about freedom is in everybody's interest.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

TV Election Misery

Last night, the British public was treated to an amazing spectacle! This was a chance for the leaders of all of the parties to have a vigorous debate about their policies and engage with the Great British electorate. Well, kind of…or not at all. In reality, the ‘debate’ didn’t include much arguing over policy. By the time most of you have read this article there will inevitably be a whole range of opinion polls and surveys revealing who ‘won’ this debate but for now I will have to rely on my own judgement. In reality this was simply a platform for a handful of politicians to spell out their policies on various issues, apart from a rogue heckler towards the end, the whole thing looked extremely contrived, But I must admit that I wasn’t expecting anything else.

So far, the election campaign has been dismal. There has been much talk in the build up to GE2015 of how new forces in politics are going to really shake up the British political system. Yet so far the campaigns have been woefully predictable, both the Conservatives and Labour are championing the same issues they were in 2010. But surely a debate that includes the other parties will be more interesting? Sadly this isn’t the case. Arguably the thing that stood out most from last night’s debate was that each politician was clearly trying to appeal their own crowd and little beyond that. Seemingly there will be no one to mercifully break through Britain’s election dullness.

The first question was somewhat predictably about the economy. The striking thing about the first section of this discussion was how close to the Tories Ed Miliband looked. There was a pretty clear split between the parties that accepted austerity and those that didn’t; with Plaid Cymru, The Greens and the SNP backing the latter. It was noticeable how Ed Miliband spent the rest of this section desperately trying to join the other side to get away from David Cameron. Speaking of David Cameron, it has been noted by others that Cameron’s reason for agreeing to this discussion was that he stood a better chance of doing reasonably well in a room full of people as opposed to a one on one debate. Clearly there had been some strong words with the Conservative leader after his grilling by Jeremy Paxman; Dave seemed to be more comfortable than he did last week.

Next the panel was asked a question about the NHS. On this issue, there was a miserable consensus. From this point onwards it was clear that Nicola Sturgeon was going to be the most charismatic person on the panel and Natalie Bennett has so far avoided a meltdown so at least the discussion was bearable to watch. It was fitting that The SNP’s leader led the charge condemning the ‘privatisation’ of the NHS, the other parties followed suit. Essentially the leaders all took turns to accuse the panellists of not being committed enough to the health service. Despite there being an uncomfortable moment when Nigel Farage said that a foreign family that got HIV here in the UK would be simple ‘unfortunate;’ this section was relatively dull.

I will address the last two questions at the same time because they were essentially a continuation of the same discussion, more so that the first half of the debate.  The third question was about immigration and the last was about young people. Really these were just chances for the leaders to address their core vote, no one would be surprised that Nick Clegg sprung into life when tuition fees were brought up and immigration saw Nigel’s most animated moments. I would argue there David Cameron saw his worst instance here when he claimed that by voting for UKIP, people were electing ‘Labour by the backdoor’. I could feel the whole country groaning with me. It was also noticeable that Ed Miliband’s most reliable tactic is his ability to distance himself from New-Labour, I imagine he will continue to deploy this through the election campaign.

To conclude, it was clear by the end of the ‘Leaders Debate’ that Libertarian values will play no part in the upcoming election campaign. Throughout the discussion, there were no references to greater freedom and genuine prosperity at all. But on this issue, I am hardly surprised. I believe that David Cameron’s plan to participate in a little debate as possible during the race to Downing Street has worked remarkably well; I don’t think that his opinion ratings will have been damaged or radically boosted by this debate. As for the minor parties, I don’t think that they will have radically changed their electoral prospects. At the time of writing this article it looks like David Cameron and Ed Miliband have done equally well in Salford. The monotony of the upcoming electoral wrangling hasn’t been made any more thrilling.