“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”
On the 20th of September 1988, Margaret Thatcher addressed the College of Europe with a speech that is now commonly referred to as “The Bruges Speech”, and featured that clear phrase, “rolled back the frontiers of the state”, that alluded to libertarian ideals and the influence of Hayek on her economic policy. Therefore, this week, at the Conservative Party conference, as a Thatcherite, with strong support of dry and libertarian conservative values, I had very mixed feelings as I heard our Prime Minister, Theresa May’s, speeches, especially her closing remarks on Wednesday.
In her first address to the conference, she showed wonderful humility, setting a fine example to us all, as she, despite having been a Remain campaigner, gracefully accepted the voice of the people and stated that there would be a Great Repeal Bill and that article 50 would be invoked before March next year. The atmosphere was electric and very different to the rather audible groan when Heseltine walked onto the stage. There was loud applause and cheering, as the official television broadcast caught a Union Jack being waved by a Young Britons for Liberty member in the audience. For decades we as a nation had struggled to regain our voice, to have a government that was elected by and accountable to the people. This was a victory for liberty, a realisation of notion of the Bruges speech. Maggie’s influence was present and she had won. Thus, it was bizarre to hear later in the Think Tent the screeches of “Invoke Article 50” by campaigners outside; the focus now needs not be on which month the said article is invoked, but on that we get the deal the people voted for – that we leave the single market and we have a points-based immigration system that reflects meritocracy and doesn’t give preference to 27 predominantly white states.
May’s first speech was truly wonderful – the call for equal opportunity, the demand for meritocracy, and reasonable call to patriotism. Certainly a message that will appeal to people across the political spectrum, whether they be traditional Tory voters or not. I naturally found myself standing and clapping with a beaming smile. It was beautiful to hear the praise of grammar schools, the desire to proceed in ensuring social mobility, despite the hypocrisy of the left, who would send their children to grammar schools while withholding success from the working class. Was this the influence of May’s advisor, Nick Timothy, known for his deep admiration of Joseph Chamberlain? “Radical Joe” was known for his desire to help the working class, to achieve social reform, and the conference being held in the very city he was mayor of. Indeed, if someone has a talent, a skill, they certainly should be supported to achieve that, for at the very least, such is a very worthwhile investment for advancement of the nation as a whole. We should, as Thatcher dreamed of, have a nation where background is not a barrier, but where even a grocer’s daughter can be the head of government.
However, amongst all that excitement, there was a feel of unease during Theresa’s speech on Wednesday, because while the return of Chamberlain, or was it rather Disraeli, may have been welcomed in regards to social reform, there certainly was no joy when it came to the calls for state intervention to increase, rather than for a rejection of Cameron’s blasted fascination with ‘wet’ One-Nation Toryism. At the conference, there were some fascinating fringe events promoting free market economics, but as I walked past Anna Soubry and wished I’d brought an umbrella with me, I noticed, not for the first time, the awful growth of “wet” groups like Policy Exchange, Bright Blue and Tory Reform Group. Those who are by no means opposed to socialism, but wish to in some form embrace it, to combine it with free market libertarianism as some form of watered-down Thatcherism, and therefore, are all too similar to synthesis that was Blair’s “Third Way”. I found myself rewording that famous phrase from the Bruges Speech, so that it became, “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in the EU, only to see them re-imposed at a British level with a British centrist state exercising a new dominance from Westminster.”
This well reflected the position of the modern Tory party, perhaps not that dissimilar from Macmillan’s “Middle Way”. Walking passed a packed out Bright Blue event, and noticing one of their supporters was Ken Clarke, I could not help but notice how close these groups were to, only just slightly right of, New Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Thatcher rightly dismissed such a ‘wet’ approach as “No Nation Toryism”, rejecting the weak approach of the pathetic coward Ted, or I would prefer to say “Red Heath”, who was to the left of Tony Blair. While the Conservative Party is keen to avoid the wilderness years, when New Labour dominated, the reason for such unelectability is often incorrectly deemed to be dry conservatist ideology, when in reality it was simply a PR image; Blair was slick in front the camera – Cameron’s success was in part due to embracing of Blair’s ideology, in that he slipped so easily into the shoes of the fallen Labour leader, but often overlooked is the advantage of his younger image and media savvy; the Tory party had a fresher image, which helped displace the incorrect notion of being the home of “old white men”.
Dry conservative and libertarian ideas are not rejected by the modern voter. Ipsos MORI polls on ‘Generation Y’ (1980 to 2000) show that there is strong opposition to high levels of taxation and a large welfare state. There is always a call for more young people to join the Conservative Party, something not helped by the antics of the careerist Mark Clarke. What needs to be remembered is that an increasing number of young voters are socially-libertarian, but most significantly, fiscally-conservative, yes we believe the government should keep a distance from economics. We have a Labour Party that demands a far larger state, while Liberal Democrats insist on greater spending, but if the Conservative Party also backs increased state intervention, where is the young free market libertarian to go? Young Britons for Liberty is a fast growing non-partisan movement, that aims become a young free market movement like Young America’s Foundation or Turning Point USA. We welcome all dry conservatives and libertarians who share our desire for a free market economy. Just the day before, a room above a pub in Birmingham had been packed out by Young Britons for Liberty, eager to hear Daniel Hannan MEP, a right-wing libertarian and the genius behind the Brexit movement, speak on the need to struggle for liberty today.
Hannan’s words seemed so poignant as we heard our Prime Minister utter the following: “Time to reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and to embrace a new centre ground in which government steps up – and not back – to act on behalf of us all.” We, the dry conservatives, were being described as if the equivalent of Corbynista entryists to the Labour party. However, Birmingham was an economic powerhouse, not built on state intervention, but the hard work and ingenuity of some of the finest minds in engineering. The speeches by Theresa, perhaps very understandably, it so is seemed, were designed to appeal to the whole party, wet or dry, and beyond. The aim being to draw in both people from UKIP, with excellent comments on Brexit and immigration, and New Labour, with comments on appealing to the centre, but I fear this may be too difficult an approach, being impossible to unite such a broad range of so many groups behind common policies that are not actually present.
It must not be forgotten, that for centuries, especially since the days of Thatcher, Conservatives have strongly believed that the role of the state is to ensure people have access to the means to help themselves, and not to patronise them by treating us as victims who need to be molly-cuddled by some nanny-state. Tories are supposed to be the voice, the home, of the free market libertarian, having in the 70s and 80s, implemented economic libertarian reform, under the influence of the likes of Friedrich Hayek, whose book “Constitution of Liberty” Thatcher is said to have boldly brought down against a table declaring “This is what we believe”. This is the kind of ideology the non-partisan Young Britons for Liberty movement was formed to promote amongst young people, and therefore we felt a little uneasy as we heard a call for state intervention into free markets so as to improve them. We passionately believe that reducing the scale and cost of the state is the best way to spread prosperity, and not some patrician attitude. Mark Littlewood, Director General at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Focusing on the centre-ground might seem to be electorally sensible, but is economically undesirable. This was an alarming attack on free markets and the Prime Minister’s pledge for more state intervention in business completely disregards the evidence that competition, deregulation and a light-touch approach breeds the best results.”
While promoting social libertarianism is a little challenging, there is certainly a lot of fondness for economic libertarianism; in fact, Keynesian ideas are weak, even rejected by the Labour Party, and I see no reason for us to dare go near them. While there is indeed a need to accept the reality of the Overton window, I really don’t think Tories are under any pressure to lean to the centre with Labour not being even a credible opposition or threat – even if the Tories moved further to the right, and be rather Thatcherite, the next election would be a landslide victory. It would be a shame for the Conservative Party to have won a number of elections, to have a majority in the House, but to do nothing with that when it comes to implementing the principles the Party is said to stand for, but rather flirt with the centre-left. No, this is the time we must invoke not just article 50, but the spirit of Thatcher, rather than Disraeli, when we at YBL must find the courage and determination to stand, when we must build a powerful youth movement to call for the free market principles that made our nation great. To quote Michael Portillo’s recent words on BBC Daily Politics, the former potential Tory leader who delivered his now famous “SAS speech” at a past Tory conference, “After 23 years of careful thought about what [the Tories] would like to do in power, and the answer is nothing.”