As a free market liberal, I’m becoming more cynical by the day.
After all, there seems to be something close to universal agreement across the major political parties for state interference (i.e. energy price caps), the nanny state (i.e. the sugar tax), and increasing the tax burden (admittedly by varying degrees), which is already at an almost 50-year high.
Is the emergence of the Independent Group – which at the time of writing has 11 MPs, with more rumoured to be “on watch” – something to give us hope?
Will it bring fresh approaches that embrace economic and social liberalism? Or will it simply recycle the ever-intrusive ideas already embedded in the two largest political parties today?
The cynic in me says don’t get your hopes up. There is one issue that brings these MPs together, and that is a strong commitment to remaining in the EU, or if that proves impossible, remaining closely aligned with EU rules and institutions.
Naturally there has been backlash, as some MPs who stood on party platforms in 2017 to deliver the result of the referendum are now whistling a different tune.
There are also practical questions about how popular this anti-Brexit sentiment will be – the Liberal Democrats already ran on the pro-EU platform in a General Election, and saw their vote share decline (although the number of their seats rose).
But – if we dare – let’s look beyond Brexit, and past our cynicism.
The Independents have come together at a critical time for the UK’s exit from the EU, but – in theory – that is only a topic for six more weeks.
Perhaps thwarting Brexit is their only goal and the alliance will dissipate on 30 March 30. But if it doesn’t – if these MPs remain committed to their independence – the group is going to have to come up with much more than a stance on the EU.
We know that they fully reject the rise of antisemitism on the political left, and will bravely highlight the failure of those in charge to address it. On that alone, they have earned my respect.
But we have also had glimpses of what their domestic policy proposals could be, if they decided to form an established political party.
And while Chris Leslie’s interview with the New Statesman was by no means a rallying cry for free market purism, it was full of economic reasoning and a clear understanding of the benefits of private enterprise.
He did not rule out tax hikes, as some have implied, but he was cautious of them and what they might do to the economy.
On rail privatisation, he spoke convincingly on the folly of “Marxist ideology”, which wrongly assumes “this omniscience on behalf of the central controller”.
While I remain unconvinced that such sense will prevail, if and when a manifesto appears, I’ll happily admit to liking how it sounds so far.
As the right continues to challenge the left to spending competitions around the NHS and the living wage (a game that they will never win), any band of MPs willing to address economic reality and responsible governing is one worth listening to.
Perhaps this is all a last-ditch attempt to stop Brexit – but it could be something more. The cynic in me says forget it. The optimist in me wrote this column.