According to the Conservative manifesto, launched yesterday, to be a Conservative means to believe in the “good that government can do”, “national institutions” and “strong leadership”. If the omission of classically liberal principles isn’t bad enough, it’s made significantly worse by the the bashing of free markets and individualism.
While many of us were interested to discover what defines Mayism, I, for one, am struggling. She has defined individualism as inherently “selfish”, while turning the the free market into something to fear – something that will run amok if not kept firmly in her grasp.
There is no room for ideology or dogma, the Tories claim, in the same breath as re-committing themselves to their arbitrary immigration cap of “tens of thousands”; a policy that will likely cause damage to the UK economy, based more on ideological leanings than any concrete evidence.
Indeed, all of the major parties seem to have been struck by a dogmatic lightening rod. Labour has swung to the left, trying to re-nationalise anything it can get its hands on and demonising the wealthy – who, instead of being viewed as the main benefactors of public services, are now a target to tax out of existence.
The Lib Dems seem less liberal by the day, as they work to implement an additional burden on every taxpayer through their “1p on the pound” tax, while trying to thwart the democratic mandate of the referendum to leave the EU.
While it would be unfair to lump the Tory stance on tax policy in with the others (they are clearly cautious of raising tax, while the other parties are actively pursuing such raises), policy areas such as employment regulation, industrial strategy, the energy sector and childcare are becoming less distinguishable.
“Great to see everyone “fitting in”, but as the party manifestos morph into each other, the only deals on offer are the same big-government interventions that have been tried and tested (and failed). The lack of a credible, liberal voice in UK politics is becoming even more acute.
Why is such a voice absent? The blame, I suspect, lies in two places. First – if you believe that politicians are just as capable of reading graphs as anyone else – it is the hubris of our leaders who, after enough time in Westminster, come to think themselves gods among men.
The liberalisation of the energy market in the 1990s and early 2000s saw prices go down for consumers in England and Wales by 26 per cent; yet politicians advocate energy caps as if it’s a benevolent act to curb day-to-day costs for people. It’s not rocket science that universal school meals or childcare benefits end up subsidising the well-off at the expense of the poor, yet such policies are peddled as if only elected leaders can offer such services.
But more importantly, it is the fault of us – the free marketeers – who have not successfully reminded the public that the biggest poverty-eliminator on record is capitalism. That the market is responsible for higher living standards, lower flight fares, on-demand services – and has lifted over 1bn people out of extreme poverty since as recently as 1990.
Last week in the Telegraph, Allister Heath called for a “new campaign to sell capitalism”. After the manifestos launched this week, his call to action couldn’t be more timely. No party in Westminster is standing up for freedom – which makes it even more imperative that we do.