The United States of America is going through a huge change at the moment. The Republican presidential primaries are in full swing, displaying a growing rift in the GOP. One side is supporting the status quo of growing government and military bullying overseas, while spouting meaningless rhetoric on spending cuts. The other side is lead by Ron Paul, the true revolutionary in the party expressing views that would have traditionally sit well with the Republicans, but draw nothing but loathing from the establishment. It is unlikely that he will win the GOP nomination, but the longer his campaign lasts, the louder the voices of his cause for liberty will become. I keep making comparisons to Ron Paul because he is the only symbol of libertarian thinking in the political mainstream, and I sense that Paul’s campaign will leave a lasting effect, not only on the United States, but on the wider world. There are others in the UK mainstream who purport to be libertarian, such as a large portion of UKIP members, but their libertarian message is lost in the campaign against Europe. I have been considering recently whether or not liberty, on the scale of what Ron Paul is campaigning for in the states, is even possible in the UK. The history of the United States is very different to our own, and from a philosophical standpoint, are more inclined to be accepting of libertarian ideas than the UK. In my view, we are a country that is more divided than we would like to admit, so it is certainly difficult to identify very clear changes that could be made to increase individual liberty and reduce the scope of government personally.
There are a number of different laws in the UK which infringe upon our individual freedoms, (the smoking ban being a personal hatred of mine, and I don’t even smoke) yet these are just accepted by the population as the norm. It is not to say that some of these laws are ill-intended, as some are enacted sincerely with our own personal safety in mind, yet it is such laws that waste time and money in the police service and in government bureaucracy by the government simply saying “you’re not capable of looking after yourself”. In order to achieve true liberty, a massive cultural shift needs to take place where individual responsibility becomes the norm. There are a few fundamental changes to the system which can set us on the right track. These aren’t new ideas by any account, but they provide the basis on which liberty can be achieved in a practical sense, and the rest would be up to the people.
- We need a constitution: Although it’s widely accepted that the UK has a constitution of sorts, uncodified and drawn from such ancient documents as the Magna Carta and the British Bill of Rights, but it is clearly the case that such laws hold no real weight on the UK parliament, so it is time that we had a real constitution. Although some will say the flexibility allowed to the UK Parliament through the absence of a constitution is its virtue, and it is the reason why our parliamentary system is copied all over the world, I would disagree. Yes, our system works insofar as it gets things done, and most mechanisms to the operation of Parliament would remain, but a constitution is a necessity in order to say to Parliament (this is where your power ends). It is something that I have written about before, so feel no real need to go into it here, but it must be acknowledged that if we were to adopt a constitution in the form of one similar to the United States, we must be aware of the problems their constitution has encountered, and address them when creating our own. Lessons can be learned from the mistakes of the United States, yet the fundamental principles of their constitution are sound. In the context of the UK, our central government should be concerned primarily with issues of national defence, whereas everything else would be devolved to local authorities to manage. Democracy is best when decisions are taken as close to the individual as possible, so it is about time we had a total rethink of how our government, and our nation operates.
- Voting Reform: We had a referendum to change the voting system earlier last year, the vote was lost, but this should not be the end of the discussion. I am a strong supporter of Proportional Representation, as this grants every voter with a voice in Parliament, yet I am also persuaded by arguments in favour of party primaries which would encourage party candidates to engage with their constituents. Some MPs simply see meeting with their constituents and actually doing their job as a hassle and a nuisance to their real personal goals, whatever they may be. One simply has to look at the case of Middlesborough MP Stuart Bell, a man who has not only failed his constituents, but he has failed his party and his country, by achieving the proud tag of “Britain’s Laziest MP”. Perhaps a hybrid of sorts would be possible – and necessary – to encourage greater voter engagement, and fairer representation of all voices in the commons.
- Citizens Initiative: This is a subject talked about in a book called “The Plan: Twelve Months To Renew Britain” and proposes the idea that the citizen should be given greater legislative clout. Currently, it is only MPs that make the law, but there are elements of what goes on in this country which are of great national concern – such as Europe. But the citizen is powerless to the whims of the Prime Minister and his cabinet on issues of such importance, and there is a significant disconnect between the ordinary voter, and the men and women in Whitehall. We have already made moves to such an initiative with the epetition, under which if any petition gets 100,000 signatures at least, then this will force a debate in Parliament. The downside to this is, Parliament are in no way bound to do anything other than debate it. Of course, the epetition has lead to a widely publicised debate in Parliament on an EU referendum, and the success in Parliament in agreeing to release secret government papers on Hillsborough, so it is not a total failure, yet greater power to the people would be important. With the introduction of a written constitution, local authorities could easily introduce such citizen initiatives in the form of regular local referendums, but it would be essential to enshrine a principle with a constitution that even local authorities must not legislate in such a way that infringes the liberties of those who live within its boundaries.
There are many other areas on which the present and future governments should focus in order to improve individual liberty. It is not impossible, yet it will be an uphill struggle. We are a nation that is so familiar, so used to having the government tell us what to do and how to do it, that we have lost any ability to use our common-sense. From health and safety laws to driving laws, we have become a nation that’s gone from “well I’ll just use my brain” to “well if the government doesn’t tell me not to, then that must mean I should”. This mentality is not reason for more government ownership and intervention, rather it is a clarion call to roll back the state. People should go back to using their brains when making certain decisions, rather than considering whether something is or is not illegal, we should be looking into ourselves and asking “what are the potential consequences of my actions?”
The mentality of reliance on government intervention is not something that can be broken overnight. We are a nation that has always seen our government as having a purpose to intervene into every aspect, and this has made us incapable of making our own rational decisions. Look at it from the metaphor of a parent and child. If a parent mollycoddles their child too much and for too long, that child will grow up to become helpless, when that support is taken away. Liberty in the UK is possible, but it can only be achieved over time. The USA will accept such libertarian principles more readily, as they are principles and ideas which form the bedrock of the founding of that nation. We are different. It is our history that has condemned us to tyranny, but it is our future that allows us to move toward the light of liberty.