The British political landscape is at a critical impasse. As far as the mainstream media and the three main political parties are concerned the economy is starting to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. In the next five years the UK will have had another general election, a referendum regarding whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union, two rounds of European elections and Scotland will decide if it wants to remain part of the the British Union. So far, Britain has an interesting few years to look forward to. There is also a new force shaping British politics,The United Kingdom Independence Party ( UKIP). In recent years UKIP has risen from something political commentators used to joke about, to being a serious force on the UK's political scene. This article will attempt to asses the nature of UKIP, particularly the claim that they are a 'Libertarian' party. With the very real changes that are shaping contemporary Britain; UKIP pose a very real (and welcome) challenge to the established order in Westminster. Although, it may take generations for UKIP to achieve an electoral victory and form a governing party. Yet it is difficult to imagine a scenario over the next five years whereby UKIP will obtain no formal high ranking position in British politics. Therefore if UKIP claim to be Libertarians, we must asses this claim. To fully understand whether Nigel Farage and his party qualify as Libertarian it is necessary to understand the history of free-market and Right Wing ideas in post-war Britain. Ultimately this historical criteria provides the only adequate lens through which to analyse the modern UKIP party. This article will conclude that for many reasons UKIP do not represent a British Libertarian party.
In light of recent technological innovations, namely the internet alongside other means of mass communication. It is highly tempting to describe current political movements as 'new' or even 'revolutionary'. The 'internet reformation' has done much to emphasise the idea that before its existence the forces shaping current politics were not possible. Arguably this applies to UKIP. Some herald Nigel Farage as providing a refreshing new energy into British politics. However the emergence of UKIP and its relationship with Libertarianism go back rather a long way.
Given the dilemmas facing modern politicians, it's really quite surprising we don't hear more about Enoch Powell. A giant of the conservative party in the 1950s and 60s. He was a staunch critic of the expansion of the British state and had a major influence the young Margaret Thatcher. In many ways Powell was a Thatcherite 20 years too early. However in 1968 he delivered a speech named “Rivers of Blood” that espoused strong anti- immigration sentiments. Ultimately this saw Powell dismissed from the party. According to the Roger Eatwell, an expert in Far-Right British politics 'Powell had previously been known as an apostle of liberal free-market views, and it is not clear why he now turned to racial disharmony. There seems little doubt that he was genuinely concerned by what he saw as the threat posed to British society posed by immigration'. Perhaps as Eatwell suggests, Powell was genuinely concerned about immigration. Or, arguably he was simply playing to xenophobic sympathies in an effort to try and win over voters.
Either way, his legacy is important when looking at Nigel Farage and UKIP. Arguably, one could conclude that Powell's stance on immigration and by extension his vision of British society ensure that his free-market ideas are essentially secondary. There can be no immigration control without an unacceptable crushing of the individual's rights.
'A fully free, capitalist system has not yet existed anywhere. But what is
enormously significant is the correlation of racism and political controls in
the semifree economies of the nineteenth century. Racial and/or religious
persecutions of minorities stood in inverse ratio to the degree of a country’s
freedom. Racism was strongest in the more controlled economies, such as
Russia and Germany—and weakest in England, the then freest country of
Europe' Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness
As the next section of this article will display. By simply having free- market economic sympathies, does not reward the title of Libertarian on a given individual. Many different ideologues espouse their definition of a 'free-market' with decidedly non- Libertarian results. Many coercive anti-freedom political traditions are sympathetic to what they define as a 'free market'.This consideration is arguably key to understanding the Libertarian credentials of UKIP.
The Far-Right In the UK has had a complex relationship with the economy. Therefore it is necessary to briefly trace the ideology that has shaped the right wing in the UK. From 1945 to 1980 British politics were defined by the 'the post -war consensus', a period in which Keynesian economics, the expansion of government institutions, namely the Welfare state and the NHS and a 'Mixed' economic model were defining features of the period. Fundamentally this period was hugely transformative for the conservative party. Consequently the Conservative party developed along a loosely fusionist formation during this period. Fusionism; an American idea that describes the formation of the republican party after 1945 coined by Frank Meyer, combines various groups on the political right. These groups are loosely defined as the religious right, foreign policy hawks, libertarians and elements of the xenophobic right. Despite not fully representing any of these groups, it gives the right wing political parties a chance to appeal to a broad spectrum of political affiliations. Arguably this fusionist approach has been adopted by the conservative party since the 1960s. It is this context in which UKIP must be assessed because they represent fusionism writ large. Whilst taking a more 'free-market' approach to the economy. UKIP Expounds a much harder line on immigration and social conservatism than the current Conservative party. For example the UKIP website advocates education policies that clearly demonstrate nationalist sympathies:
'Teach children positive messages and pride in their country. We want to unite through better Integration.'- UKIP website
This is in direct conflict with Libertarian ideas about using education policy as a means instilling national pride.
'One of the most common uses of compulsory public schooling has been to oppress and cripple national ethnic and linguistic minorities or colonised peoples- To force them to abandon their own language and culture on behalf of the language and culture of the ruling groups'- Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty
Yet confusingly, there has been a noticeable outpouring of support for UKIP within Libertarian circles. Just last week on Question Time (a highly popular UK political talk show) a UKIP member Janice Atkinson describes herself as a 'Libertarian' (despite the fact that she was in favour of giving government the power to ban smoking in the privacy of your own car). Yet this warm welcome is into the Libertarian community is unwarranted. Fundamentally, like the Conservative party since the 1960s, UKIPS fusionist nature ensures that it cannot be described as Libertarian. Like Enoch Powell fifty years ago, the social conservatism of UKIP is ultimately its defining feature...not Nigel Frages economic policies. Friedrich Von Hayek, arguably one of the defining ideologues associated with the Libertarian economic model remained opposed to the fundamental allying of the far- right with Libertarianism.
'True Liberalism is still distinct from conservatism, and there is a danger of the two being confused. Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social programme; in its paternalistic, nationalistic and power-adoring tendencies it is often closer to
socialism than true liberalism'. - F. A. Hayek
Therefore whilst there may be some elements of free-market ideology within UKIP. Ultimately they are a social-conservative party who expound strong nationalist principles and campaign on a strong patriotic platform. Which in the view of most Libertarian thinkers, is incompatible with free-society ideology.
Despite this ideological mismatch, which arguably is the most significant reason why UKIP shouldn't be considered Libertarian. There are undoubtedly those who will still see UKIP as a Libertarian party. However even if this is true there is little to suggest that once in power, it would remain that way for very long.
Rodger Eatwell describes that electorally, UKIP are a far-right phenomenon. In his 2003 book Fascism a History Eatwell claims that 'A more legitimate nationalist party, resulting from a split in the conservatives, could have significant potential'. This reads less like a prediction and more like a prophecy in relation to UKIP. Eatwell goes even further in Western Democracies and the Extreme Right Challenge stating how the British Nationalist Party (BNP) had ' An agreement with the UKIP, which includes some former extremists, not to contest the same regions would notably increase the BNP's chances of winning a seat'. Therefore Nigel Farage may have done much to reach out to a wider audience on the 2010s there is no denying UKIP's historic nationalist heritage.
The evidence clearly shows that rather than appeal to a previously unheard voice in British Politics, UKIP have simply syphoned off hard-line members from the conservative party's right flank. The attempts to 'detoxify' the Tory brand over the course of the 2000s in a large way explains the rise to prominence of UKIP. 'The Conservatives have unquestionably pandered to a racist constituency on occasion, but their basic role has been to manage racism rather than cause it'. Since xenophobia is not longer a vote-winner for the Conservatives, UKIP has appeared to fill the void. It is in this context that we should view UKIP. As part of a long populist, racist tradition in British politics. Not as Libertarians.
Furthermore according to the yougov profile on UKIP (see link at the end of this article) the issues UKIP voters feel most strongly about are (in descending order): The European Union- Immigration- Multiculturalism- The Benefits system- Drugs and The British Monarchy. The only vaguely Libertarian issue on this list is the benefits system, but even though it came fourth on the survey, it pales in comparison to the EU and Immigration as an issue of concern. Therefore even if people associate UKIP with Libertarianism, their core vote suggests that Libertarian policies would be very far down their 'to do list'. Ultimately this is because a party that takes a 'tough' stand on immigration is in contrast with Libertarian ideology:
'A major problem is that the the world's total land area is fixed, and that governments have universally pre-empted all the land and thus universally burden consumers'- Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy and State
'What the libertarian claims is that respect for human nature- the freedom of men and women to govern themselves unmolested, with their individual sovereignty intact- is the best policy to foster in human communities'- Tibor Machan, Libertarianism Defended
'Immigrants soon find their place in urban life, they soon adopt, externally, town manners and opinions, but for a long time they remain foreign to civic thought. One cannot make a social philosophy one's own as easily as a new costume'- Ludwig Von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
Fundamentally UKIP do not represent a Libertarian Party in the UK. This article barley even touches on how UKIP's hard line approach to crime goes against a rich history of Libertarian thought, Fundamentally their nationalist appeal is profoundly anti-free society. However hopefully this article demonstrates that UKIP should be viewed in the contest of a long history of xenophobic thought in the UK and how given the opportunity to shape policy, how UKIP almost certainly wouldn't implement Libertarian policies. Although they may represent an anti-big government and a quite refreshing new energy into the British campaign trail (which at the moment is non existent). This does not constitute a truly Libertarian Party.
Yougov Profile: UKIP- https://yougov.co.uk/opi/search/?q=UKIP