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May’s Ministry Is Another Sign of Trouble for Liberty

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher together moved the world decisively back toward classical liberal principles in the 1980s. Thatcher was elected earlier than Reagan, and she was a harbinger of what was to come in America and the world. Thus, it is significant today that new Prime Minister of Britain, Theresa May, is moving the Conservative Party decisively in the opposite direction—toward more statism and less liberty.  It is not only in the United States that the party of the right seems to have lost its classical liberal bearings.

May supported remaining in the EU but now relishes the opportunity for mercantilism rather than free trade. She hopes that local governments in Britain can now buy British. She also wants the British central government to prevent some British companies from being bought out by foreign companies.

She is also intent on regulating the affairs of corporations.  For instance, she will propose laws to limit executive compensation. She is also interested in requiring that workers be put on corporate boards. This policy moves away from making corporations accountable to their owners toward making them instruments of whatever stakeholders that the government deems important. It is is the opposite of what Thatcher did in freeing corporations from the grip of unions.

And not only is she moving to regulate markets, she is also signaling a slowdown in reforming public services. She sacked Michael Gove, the leading reformer in David Cameron’s government, as Justice Secretary and his protégé, Nicky Morgan, as Education Secretary, although the law and education continue to need substantial reform.

I was skeptical of Brexit, although the question seemed close. But May’s ministry provides yet more evidence that Brexit is not helping organize British life around classical liberal principles.

It is not substantial political pressure from the left that is prompting May’s leftward turn. The Labor Party is in complete disarray with a far left leader facing a challenge from a soft left leader. Hers is a choice not dictated by short term tactics but no doubt by a sense, prized of almost all politicians, that she is moving with the current of the times.  The May ministry may be a more troubling sign for classical liberalism than the rise of Donald Trump, precisely because she is a politician rather than a showman posing as one.

Reader Discussion

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on July 25, 2016 at 09:53:18 am

"But May’s ministry provides yet more evidence that Brexit is not helping organize British life around classical liberal principles."

Clearly, as you say, you were against Brexit; but why conjure up a justification for your position by imagining that Brexit was *supposed* to reinvigorate classic liberal principles - or at least those economic ones that you (and I) value.

This is unfair to those who simply wanted to stop interference from the EU. Was not Brussels the bigger threat to liberty? Is not "government by consent" also a classic liberal principle?
Unfortunately, if the BRITISH people see fit to elect those who favor protectionism, then they are *entitled* to the results, are they not? Ultimately, it is their decision NOT Brussels.

BTW: May does appear to be on the right track in one area: she announced that she will discontinue the UK's "global warming" programs - so there is that.

And as another British icon once proclaimed: "You can't always get what you want" (especially if it ain't ours (the USA) to get - apologies to Mick Jagger!

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gabe
on July 25, 2016 at 19:02:57 pm

You say that Brexit "is not helping organize British life around classical liberal principles." Are you saying that those principles have been advanced by the corrupt, autocratic, hyper-regulatory, crony-capitalist-friendly, anti-self-government, anti-free-speech EU? Or are you using "classical liberal principles" as code for "international trade and open borders uber alles"?

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djf
on July 26, 2016 at 11:47:09 am

"Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher together moved the world decisively back toward classical liberal principles in the 1980s."

That may be your concept or perception; but, at best, it is an over-simplification in describing the actual political actions.

Both executives, within their limitations, moved to reduce or ameliorate the uses of the mechanisms of governments that constrain the operation of "classical liberal principles."

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R Richard Schweitzer

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.

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