UK is wrong to have turned its back on individual freedom

Allister Heath
LIBERTY. Freedom. When did you last hear these two words in the UK political debate? Well, I certainly can’t remember. Our country is dominated by busybodies and collectivists who believe that they and the state have the right and duty to tell us all what to do, to spend our money for us and to control what we can eat, drink, trade or say. It’s all gone too far. Individual freedom and its twin sister personal responsibility are the cornerstones of successful Western, liberal capitalist societies; yet these are being relentlessly undermined. Ultimately, there is no difference between economic and social freedoms. Attacking one endangers the other.

So this is my plea: let’s put the emphasis back on the individual. Let’s stop trying to ban everything. Let’s stop describing a tax cut as a “cost” to the government or – even worse – as morally identical to public spending. Let’s stop assuming adults should no longer have the right to eat fast food, or smoke, or drink, or paint their walls bright green, or build a conservatory in their back garden, or whatever it is they wish to do with their own bodies and with their own private property. Let’s once again speak up for the rights of consenting adults to choose how to live their own lives, even if we disapprove. Let’s allow people to hold, discuss or display their beliefs freely, especially if we disagree.

Let’s recall what Robert Nozick, the great twentieth century libertarian philosopher once said: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them without violating their rights.” Nozick wasn’t just talking about the big human rights everybody still pays lip service to – he was also arguing against all the other, supposedly low-level, reductions in individual freedom. We have turned our backs on the ideas that made the West great and prosperous.

The problem is that if one treats adults like children they eventually behave as such. The result is a culture of irresponsibility, of entitlement and of buck-passing. Freedom is tough. It’s not easy to take responsibility for one’s actions. It’s easier to hide behind the nanny state and to demand protection from oneself. It’s simpler to live in a stagnant, boring, ultra-regulated society than in a dynamic, creative and slightly risky world. But it’s high time we tried freedom again. It’s more fun, it’s more exciting, it’s more entrepreneurial – and ultimately, believe it or not, it actually works pretty well.

THERE were two fascinating opinion polls yesterday, both from YouGov. The first confirmed that Boris Johnson remains six points ahead of Ken Livingstone in the race to become mayor of London, as discussed in more detail on page 24. The second is that the coalition is in real crisis: the Tories are down to just 32 per cent of voting intentions, with Labour 11 points ahead at 43 per cent; and equally remarkably Ukip is ahead of the Lib Dems by nine per cent to eight per cent.

What is most astonishing is that Boris Johnson is bucking the national trend: he is ahead in a Labour dominated city at a time of deep problems for the government. But Ukip’s surge is equally striking. It is especially pronounced among pensioners, who are of course most likely to vote.

Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, or if his electorate becomes complacent, Boris is likely to be reelected next month. But this should not come as any consolation to David Cameron: his government is in disarray. It has made a series of uncalled for mistakes. It is running out of time to gets its act together.