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A British Victory for Liberty

David Cameron’s unexpected victory in the British elections Thursday is also an important victory for liberty. Rather than increasing spending after the financial crisis, he pursued what the left terms “austerity” policies. An austerity program is better described as a liberty program because it curbs the reach of the state by shrinking it. By contrast, government stimulus programs, like those supported by most of the intelligentsia in the UK and elsewhere, make the state more powerful by allowing politicians to direct a firehose of money where it will do them the most good.

Cameron’s constitutional thinking is sound as well. He wants to reform Britain’s relationship with the EU to make the latter more a free trade zone than a super state. Subsidiarity within a free trade zone can foster freedom while preserving accountable government. Within the UK, Cameron is also for the devolution of powers, not only in Scotland, but also in England, which should further align government with the people. Local jurisdictions could be more responsive to their citizens, and those who do not agree with the local politics may be able to move to another jurisdiction within the United Kingdom with policies they prefer.

Cameron’s differences with Ed Miliband’s Labor Party were huge. Miliband wanted to interfere with market contracts, by prohibiting flexible working hours and limiting the rent landlords could charge. These are not only foolish economic policies but deeply damaging to human freedom. Miliband also wanted to end market reforms to public services and to bring some markets, such as energy, under public control. Cameron, in contrast, will extend the reach of free markets not contract them.

A historical perspective also confirms the importance of Cameron’s victory. Margaret Thatcher transformed Britain, fundamentally moving the society toward freedom. Blair could prevail only by accepting most of Thatcher’s new political settlement–monetarism, circumscribed unions, the abandonment of nationalization, and her recognition that markets promote prosperity and help the least well off in the long run. The greatest success of a democratic leader is not to change her own party, but to transform the opposition.  Gordon Brown was defeated, in part because he was not as sympathetic to the Thatcher’s new settlement.  And Miliband attempted to swerve even further left and lost badly. In blocking Labour’s left turn, Cameron’s victory further secures Thatcher’s achievements.

I thus disagree with Theodore Dalrymple whose work I much admire. He sees David Cameron and Ed Miliband as Tweedledum and Tweedledee largely because both adopted the posture of being shepherds of their flocks rather than leaders of free citizens of a proud nation. He preferred one (almost certainly Cameron) to the other, but without any enthusiasm.

Like Dalrymple, I find much of Cameron’s shepherd rhetoric tiresome, but I see it more as a convention of modern democratic society. Underneath Cameron’s sometimes gauzy words is a vision of a society that scales back the state and rewards hard work. I would like to move faster and further than Cameron, but in the absence of the kind of crisis that Thatcher faced, the best hope for democracies is incremental reduction of the state and  steady expansion of the market. Cameron is delivering those policies.

Reader Discussion

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on May 12, 2015 at 11:41:47 am

Milibrand appeared to be fixated on the centralized and gross mega-State, surely a grasp for power but as well a grasp it seems without limits. Good for Cameron who realizes the implications of the election and the impetus it provides. Now if only we had such a change..

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john trainor
on May 12, 2015 at 19:15:49 pm

"Subsidiarity within a free trade zone can foster freedom while preserving accountable government. Within the UK, Cameron is also for the devolution of powers, not only in Scotland, but also in England, which should further align government with the people."

This is a nice *hope* but also an absolutely essential one.

While subsidiarity, or its loss is lamented by many and deemed to be a marked perceptual / philosophical change in governmental practice from the past, let us remember that subsidiarity existed solely be default. Government in olden times simply did not have the *capacity* to enforce its edicts down to the local township / shire or local roadside attraction. Communication, transportation and surveillance technology simply did not permit the government to a) know what the populace was doing or if it was fully compliant with state edicts and b) could not muster sufficient expertise / manpower or bureaucratic mechanisms to assure compliance. Thus, local civic units were left to their own devices in many areas (yes, even taxes) and the state had to rely, in large measure upon voluntary compliance.

Now comes the modern *scientifically managed* state and the creation, enhancement and rapid empowerment of the modern bureaucracy buttressed by modern communications, transportation and surveillance technology. Is there not a connection between available technology and the enhanced reach of the state. Further compounding this is the creation of *Supra*- states such as the EU with a perverse internal incentive to "penetrate" to the very core / locality of each of its subdivisions; does one imagine that subsidiarity has any realistic chance of surviving in such an age / dynamic?

The UK MUST leave the EU.
And the US must counter the EU's never ending money grubbing efforts to effect change in American corporate governance, marketing and dominance. It should be reduced to a simple "free trade zone" and nothing more; nor should it dictate immigration and open borders policies to its members.

McGinnis loves technology - how does he feel about the effect of technology upon subsidiarity?
Just askin', mind ya?

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gabe
on May 17, 2015 at 15:53:41 pm

Miliband didn't lose badly because he veered left. In fact, Labour's share of the vote increased by 1.4% points since 2010. The Tories, by contrast, only increased their share of the vote by 0.8% points. He lost badly because an even more statist party, the Scottish National Party, virtually wiped Labour out in Scotland and because Labour took a lot of Lib Dem votes in England, which threw a lot of formerly Lib Dem seats to the Conservatives.

It wasn't the message that lost Labour the election, but a combination of a weird messenger and a historically safe electoral region turning on them for reasons that had nothing to do with Labour's message on liberty.

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Brett Champion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.