Return of the freedom fighter: Boris will put real liberalism back into national politics

Alex Deane is head of public affairs at Weber Shandwick, and a former aide to David Cameron.

THE PROSPECT of Boris Johnson’s return to national politics will cause much discussion about Europe, given his attractively pugnacious and positive approach to possible withdrawal from the EU (which sounds good to me). But there’s a further impact which should not go unmentioned: having Boris sitting in the House of Commons once again could see a reinjection of real liberalism, of a renewed commitment to freedom, into the Conservative Party and into our national debate about policy.

At present, sadly, the coalition has followed its Labour predecessor down the authoritarian rabbit hole – waving through the awful Data Retention snooping programme on a single day during the reshuffle, giving our securocrats more capacity than ever to monitor our emails, phone calls, and web browsing.

Of course, one can never be sure that a position held outside government will be the position held once anywhere near it – the civil service has executed a remarkable level of bureaucratic capture with two parties which were both supposedly committed to freedom when entering coalition. But I delight in the notion of a parliamentary comeback for Boris, the man who said during the ID cards debate that “I will in no circumstances carry one and even were I compelled to do so, I would take it out and destroy it on the spot were I ever asked to produce it. It is a plastic poll tax that will do nothing to assist the struggle against terrorists and will hugely expand the powers of the state over the individual”.

Freedom has been well-served in Parliament by David Davis and his allies, but overall I’m afraid there’s no doubt that our side is losing. Reinforcement in the form of someone as high profile as Boris is devoutly to be wished for.

Boris’s commitment to freedom is matched by its logical partner, a belief in personal responsibility. When MPs under the Labour government were aflutter with our “obesity epidemic”, Boris wrote that this phenomenon is “entirely caused by personal volition… if individuals cannot solve the problem, then no one can solve the problem; because there is absolutely no one, apart from yourself, who can prevent you, in the middle of the night, from sneaking down to tidy up the edges of that hunk of cheese at the back of the fridge.”

This is vintage Boris. First, he is right: in an educated society the number of adults who are fat very closely correlates with the number of adults who choose to be fat; it’s down to us and not others to fix; and it’s neither government’s role to address it, nor really even any of its business. But secondly and moreover, he lands his message in a brilliant way. Look at the little image he conjures up of the cheese filcher.

Few politicos can speak with such clarity and aplomb on any topic, let alone one so important and sadly neglected as individual freedom and personal responsibility. This commitment, and this powerful advocacy, is why we should regard his possible return to Westminster as very positive news.

City A.M.'s Opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking opinions and views. These are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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