The policy free party

James Rigby shares an interesting strategic idea with upstart blogger The Libertarian:

there should be no party policies or manifesto. I’ll say that again. There should be no party policies or manifesto. There can be principles – libertarian principles such as non-aggression, individual liberty and property rights, but that’s it. My view is that only candidates should have policies and manifestos. I would not expect a candidate to stand on a platform, let alone vote in an assembly, for anything that is contrary to their personal beliefs. The only requirement is that personal policies and manifestos should be approved by the party leadership team before the candidate is approved to stand using the Pro Liberty name. Provided the policies are within the broad realm of those considered libertarian, then the candidacy should be approved.

In my industry this is called turning a bug into a feature.

9 Comments

  1. “The only requirement is that personal policies and manifestos should be approved by the party leadership team before the candidate is approved to stand using the Pro Liberty name.”

    In what way, then, do you distinguish yourselves from the Independent Libertarian Network, which is proposing much the same thing?

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    1. There’s no particular desire to distinguish ourselves from the Independent Libertarian Network, and certainly not in this particular matter. The differences between the two parties are about how they are organised, and how they wish to proceed, with ILN, I believe, wishing to remain very low key, as it’s name suggests. The two parties are very unlikely to find themselves in direct competition. The presumption is that where a candidate from one is standing, they would be supported by libertarians from both parties and none.

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  2. On having a policy of not having a policy…

    The idea of not having party policies is not a bad idea in terms of running the party. Members can still be individuals. Should remove lots of conflicts. Big plus.

    However, when campaigning this will be a major disadvantage when people vote for a party first and then a candidate second. They will understand what the Conservatives and Labour are probably going to implement (the devil they know) but not know what a libertarian party will give them.
    Following on from that, practically if ever getting in power the party may fail to get a majority as there is no consistency in policy. No-one would trust the party enough to make a coalition either – how would it be negotiated.
    Essentially what we are talking about here is a party of independents, loosely grouped by philosophy

    Is there no middle ground where we could have 2 or 3 of the most important/popular policy’s as a lightening rod for people? Is just having principles too abstract for the public? Even UKIP have at least one policy, that’s a minimum right?
    Or perhaps its ok to start the party with no policies but once it reaches a critical point institute some.

    In other fields such as business libertarians have leaders, rules, and policy’s. Its not un-libertarian to have them, its just un-libertarian to force them on others without prior agreement.
    Nobody is forced to join the party.

    Most people expect leaders and policies, its already a challenge to sell libertarian ideas without having to explain how the party works. It will just sound too foreign.

    That’s the downsides as I see it.

    By the way, what is happening with the party? Have not seen any updates on the party website for quite some time.

    Thx.
    -Paul-

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    1. I think James has overstated the case somewhat. If anyone is seeking election, then they will have to set forth what it is they stand for and will attempt to achieve. I expect that there will be a broad degree of uniformity between such statements from various people, and all such statements will need to agree with party principles.

      As for the website, there’s been a bit of a problem with it, which is why it hasn’t been updated. Hopefully this will be sorted soon.

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    2. “Most people expect leaders and policies, its already a challenge to sell libertarian ideas without having to explain how the party works. It will just sound too foreign.”

      I’m not sure this justifies a rejection of James’ idea. People might have those expectations but they also expect candidates to differ and can be more willing to vote for a candidate who’s opinion they know and like than they might be to vote for any other member of the party. For example, I’m a lot more likely to vote for socially liberal Kate Hoey than I am to vote Labour. Also, if this is not true then you have to explain why the Tories put up a euroskeptic in Eastleigh.

      I think it’s already well-recognised that candidates differ, and James’ approach is much more honest and respectful of the public’s ability and knowledge.

      Also, if a Party spokeperson is asked “what are your policies?” on live radio then he could probably just reply with the broad statement of principles and get away with it 70% of the time. The rest of the time, there will probably be one or at most two factions with widespread support with the membership/public and giving those as examples of popular Pro Liberty policies would do the job. Actually stopping to explain that there is no manifesto is just a bad use of media time and I suspect that beyond some initial curiosity only troublemakers would want to raise it.

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  3. Until we have a raft of candidates standing, I do not see it as a problem having individual policies, as opposed to centrally “dictated” policies. If we ever get to the stage where an electorate will be confused by having multiple candidates in different constituencies having slightly different policies, I think we’ll be able to chalk that up as a success and then work out what the solution to that “problem” would be.

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  4. You could do worse than ape the Americans. They have great slogans and until recently a simple statement of principles on the national site. Even now they are talking more in general principles than costed short-term policies. One advantage of the principles approach is that there’s no risk of appearing delusional, IE: presenting things as though you expect to actually get into power. There’s no harm in thrashing out some principles first, even if you decide on full policies later, and they help to explain the philosophy. It’s the consistent principles that distance libertarians from the rest: the big parties are just about throwing cash at their supporters.

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  5. In some ways, it’s an excellent idea.

    I have had a quick google, and can’t see any reference to political parties having election manifestos before 1900. But even if they did, manifestos don’t go much further back than that. In other words, manifestos are an innovation that came in some time around the beginning of the 20th century.

    By odd co-incidence, that was a time when classical liberalism was rapidly falling from favour. Belief that freedom the most important political value rose in the 18th century, peaked in the 19th century, and has been in decline ever since.

    So the absence of party manifestos has a good pedigree. In may not be politically wise, it may not be ideologically necessary, but it is certainly not unreasonable.

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  6. As far as national politics goes, I agree that a short statement of principles would be enough – it’s not like either the Independent Libertarian Network or the Pro-Liberty Party has any chance at all of getting an MP elected this side of 2030. In my opinion it would be wrong to even try to put up Parliamentary candidates in the foreseeable future.

    Where I would advocate agreed formal manifestos would be when fighting local elections, which seems to me to be the area that libertarian parties should obvously be focussed on. The scenario I’ve got in mind would be if you’ve got two or more people standing for election to the same council – they’d work out a manifesto among themselves consisting of maybe three to five policies that address local issues in ways consistent with libertarian philosophy – eg freezing/cutting Council Tax, opposing some expensive white elephant project that the ruling party has just announced, turning control of council estates over to local housing cooperatives, cutting councillors’ allowances, innovative traffic schemes like the one in Poynton etc. The point is that a small number of candidates standing in the same local government area should be able to agree a local manifesto, and it would make campaigning easier for them if they’ve got some shared policies.

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