Reaching 20,000

Given the upcoming snap election I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on the health of the Libertarian movement in the UK.

I am of the opinion that Libertarianism, in the long run, stands a good chance of being a dominant system of ethics and political operations if it exerts cultural pressure as opposed to being a purely political entity. In practice this would mean that Libertarianism would seep into the mainstream through films, artworks, books, presence in academia and through social media.

The problem is that this would be impossible for a small group of people to organise (no matter how talented they were) and require and an endless pit of resources in order to proceed.

In the short run then it would seem sensible to consider galvanising the British Libertarian movement around something more tangible. Perhaps a political party (just putting it out there), annual gathering or literature festival would be appropriate.

We will also need to devise a way of measuring our progress.

The historical benchmark for political significance in the modern world appears to be around the 20,000 mark.

After a long battle against insignificance and humiliation UKIP consolidated its party membership at around 20,000 before increasing rapidly in the mid-2010s. 20,000 seemed to be the point at which it became a credible party that could be a player of the political stage.

On a much grimmer note; at their strongest in 2014 the CIA put a conservative estimate on the number of fighters in ISIS at around 20,000.

If we go back slightly further. On the eve of Hitler’s march to power in 1923 the Nazi party had 20,000 members. The Paris Commune supposedly had about 20,000 active combatants and right before the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Bolshevik party had just over 20,000 members.

I apologise for my reference to all of the loathsome political organisations above who are all horrific in their own way. They were merely the figures that first sprang to mind when I decided to write this piece.

The figure of 20,000 is an arbitrary one. But it does appear to be the dividing line between something significant and relative obscurity.

Clearly, a case could be made that for the Libertarian movement to be an important force in Britain. 20,000 is a good target to aim for.

I do not know what exactly that figure should be comprised of. Party members, attendees at a conference, readers of a certain news periodical etc. But what harm is there in at least having some sort of goal to get us started?



Demonstrating in Defence of Capitalism

My family has been resident in the London borough of Haringey since the early 1970s. For those readers outside London, Haringey is a socially diverse area of north London, encompassing one of the wealthiest postcodes in London, N6 (Highgate is home to politicians and millionaire celebrities), as well as some of the most deprived neighbourhoods of the UK (most notably Tottenham, the location of much social unrest and rioting a few years ago). Last night I found myself in the unusual position of demonstrating alongside members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, Momentum and the Green Party. The reason? Haringey Council’s creation of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). You know something is amiss when the hard left and a solitary libertarian unite to protest against the same thing!

So what is this HDV? According to Haringey Council’s own website,

“….the HDV will be a 50:50 partnership between Haringey Council and a private partner, Lendlease, a leading property group which has been chosen following a lengthy selection process. [Italics mine – more about this selection process later…] The way the partnership will work is that Haringey provides some of its council land to be developed and Lendlease matches this with cash and its development expertise.”

So far, so cronyistic. Nothing new there, then. I think I’m preaching to the converted on this blog when it comes to advocating for free markets in all things. Unfortunately, the HDV is that ugliest of things: a “public-private partnership”. That such an enterprise continues to be regarded as a capitalist solution to the economic stagnation in Haringey points to gross misunderstanding on the part of the public about what capitalism and free markets actually are. I demonstrated against this partnership to make a stand for free market ideas. If the HDV comes into effect, it will be a £2 billion exercise in turning the public further against the principles of capitalism…because incompetence and financial mismanagement are the only outcomes that I foresee.

It’s no secret that local councils have had their budgets slashed – and I am all in favour of pruning back the excessive bureaucracy of underperforming state structures, especially in Haringey, which has some of the highest council tax rates of any London borough but some of the worst social outcomes for residents.

What’s specifically wrong with the HDV?

The HDV is meant to be a 50/50 partnership, but we as residents have not had access to any clear documentation on the duties and liabilities of each partner. Previous disasters with other PFI council schemes in London, such as the £15 million failure of the Paddington Health Campus, give taxpayers just cause to be wary of such opaque initiatives. When these things inevitably go wrong the council, and therefore the taxpayer, foot the bill. The army of consultants and executives from the private provider walk off with the funds. Oh, and that “lengthy selection process” that the council website told us about? Last summer, the council website published a shortlist of just three bidders for a whopping £2 billion contract: Lendlease; Morgan Sindall with Affinity Sutton and Circle; and Pinnacle with Starwood Capital and Catalyst.

Really? Only three tenders for one of the biggest building contracts in London? Haringey residents have not had access to documents detailing why, out of the three tenders,

Lendlease has now been picked for the contract.

According to Councillor Zena Brabazon,

“There are massive issues of risk, due diligence, democratic accountability, impact on people’s homes, tenants, leaseholders and 508 businesses renting from the Council whose leases/license/contracts will be transferred to the HDV private limited liability partnership.

Interestingly, Haringey has signed up to central government’s “Transparency Code” – and even Westminster has advised councils to eschew Commercial Confidentiality in public procurement processes. Why, then, have we not had access to documents detailing why the other two tenders were rejected? In the interests of competition, why has the sale of council assets not been thrown open to the market, rather than putting them all under Lendlease’s control?

This looks like it could be a protracted 20-year process of unaccountability and ultimate business failure. All because the basic principles of competition and due diligence are alien to our culture where government bails out its private partners. The HDV is not a minotaur, half government, half private enterprise. I fear it’ll be more like Medusa, with the taxpayer having to foot the bill to cut off all those snakes of unintended consequences.

Is the Libertarian Moment Finally Over?

The face of popular protest against dreary centre-ground politics has emerged. Just about everybody is in agreement that the face is nationalist and populist.

Donald Trumps’ inauguration speech and the executive actions he has taken since becoming president seem to confirm this. Disappointingly these headwinds of popular discontent have very little to do with libertarianism.

Since the 2008 financial disaster, the freedom movement has been growing. However, I can’t help wondering almost a decade later if the libertarian moment is finally over?

It would seem that in the wake of the great Credit Crunch libertarians have upped their profile. But have we reached our high water mark?

In the last ten years, there has been an outpouring of good quality Libertarian leaning literature (admittedly as well as a whole lot of awful stuff). People who represent freedom oriented positions have been heard in popular discussions and libertarianism has provided a popular non-Marxist outlet for discontent.

We have gone from being a microscopic section of popular opinion to being merely marginal. Not an easy transition to make. Certainly, Libertarians still have no influence in mainstream politics but that is hardly surprising.

However, the libertarian movement is not about to retreat because there is still a great need for libertarianism.

Governments are still ready to trample on the freedom of their people. Furthermore, the disastrous financial policies that triggered chaos in 2008 are still in place today and look set to implode again in the near future. In a world of closing borders we need voices of tolerance that are pragmatic rather than hysterical.

The libertarian moment is not over yet.

The Immigration Debate at CLDS

© Home Office

© Home Office

The Central London Debating Society are meeting this Wednesday to debate the motion:


This is a highly topical motion and one where libertarians have a distinctive view point. It would be nice to know that a few are going along.

Note: the Rose and Crown meetup is the next day. Speaker is Aiden Gregg  on the psychological aspects of political affiliation.