Today The Economist’s Bagehot’s Notebook blog features a column entitled, ‘The UKIP Insurgency’ that outlines the UK Independence Party’s rise and its potential role in future elections. The eurozone crisis has prompted something of a right-wing resurgence in Europe, and parties like UKIP may soon take up the role of kingmaker in countries like Greece. While much of the support many European protectionist and quasi-nationalist parties are enjoying comes from predictable groups, some are gathering support from an unlikely source, libertarians.
UKIP is one of the most notable instances of this phenomenon. Composed mostly of ex-Tories, UKIP campaigns on an anti-E.U. platform (euroscepticism is so dominant in the party that its logo is the sterling symbol). Anti-E.U. sentiments are conducive to free market sympathies, and many free marketers in the UK find the Conservative Party too hostile to markets, especially given their current partnership with the Liberal Democrats.
While UKIP might advocate for leaving the E.U. it is not a libertarian party. UKIP is against economic and personal freedom, and British libertarians should not be supporting them.
Libertarians in the UK have an unimpressive political record. Margaret Thatcher might be viewed as a great advocate for economic freedom, but her social policies were anything but tolerant. The Liberal Democrats do have a classical liberal wing, but it is in the minority and openly scorned by other party members. There was a short-lived Libertarian Party (LPUK) but it was led by some embarrassing and incompetent people. After the collapse of LPUK its members were welcomed by UKIP.
UKIP’s anti-libertarianism is most clearly seen in its immigration policy, under which a ban on permanent immigration to the UK for five years would be enforced. How such a policy comes close to resembling something a libertarian would advocate is beyond me. The UKIP manifesto also includes a 40 percent increase in defense spending and the injection of three billion more pounds into ‘transport infrastructure’. Such policies hardly exhibit limited government and fiscal restraint.
On social issues UKIP are not any better. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, posted a video complaining that it was not possible to ban mephedrone because of European legislation. Party members have campaigned for a French style ban on the burqa and niqab. The UKIP manifesto includes the doubling of prison spaces and the introduction of an American “three strikes” style policy for certain offenses. Most libertarians believe in locking less people up and being tolerant of personal choices.
Libertarians all over the world have to deal with the temptations of politics, but surely some principles have to be non-negotiable.