U.K. Election: Whoever Wins, Freedom Loses
Pity us Brits-our only choice in today's election is between different shades of paternalism.
Today, Brits are heading to the ballot box, following the most boring election campaign in history. Even the BBC, whose job is to enthuse the plebs about public life, has described it as "duller than usual."
There's unlikely to be an outright winner. To form a government in Britain, a party needs to win more than half the seats (326) in the House of Commons. And no party is predicted to do that. So we'll probably end up with another coalition, like the one we've been ruled over for the past five years, which comprised David Cameron's Tories (which won 306 seats in 2010) and Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats (which won 57 seats in 2010).
Who will make up the next coalition? There's no telling. Could be Cam and Clegg again. Or maybe Labour and the Scottish National Party (SNP) with some help from the Greens. But even amidst all this uncertainty about the result, and the yawn-inducing dullness of the campaign, there's one thing we can be sure of: whoever wins, freedom loses. None of the main parties takes liberty remotely seriously. Just look at some of the autonomy-strangling stuff they're proposing.
Labour, led by Ed Miliband, is the most illiberal party. The last time it was in power, from 1997 to 2010, it invented the "politics of behaviour"—its actual words!—openly devoting itself to nannying the fat, feckless populace towards a slimmer, more enlightened existence. It banned stuff left, right and center, including any words that "glorify terrorism" and expressions of hatred for religion. It banned smoking in public, introduced "Drinking Control Zones" in which police can instruct you to dispose of your alcoholic beverage (and arrest you if you refuse), and dreamt up Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: local-council diktats which, without so much as a court case, can forbid individuals from doing certain things. Everything from dressing up as a werewolf and howling in a garden to having sex too loudly was banned by a Labour ASBO.
It completely banned handguns; introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, granting the state the authority to spy on our letters and emails long before America's NSA scandal exploded; and forced the estimated nine million adults who work with children to undergo criminal-records checks, to make sure they aren't evil paedophiles. In the space of 13 years, Labour created an eye-watering 4,300 new criminal offences: nearly one offence for every day it was in power.
Not content with doing more than any other party of the postwar period to turn Britain into a curtain-twitching, behaviour-policing Orwellian entity, now Labour wants to go further. Miliband, if he wins, will ban Islamophobia. Yes, that most amorphous form of behaviour, covering everything from actual harassment of Muslims to legitimate mickey-taking out of Islamist beliefs, would be illegal under Miliband. Charlie Hebdo wouldn't survive a second in his Brave New World of blasphemy-laws-in-all-but-name.
Miliband will also push through Lord Leveson's post-phone hacking proposals for cleaning up the raucous press, which would include having a press regulator underpinned by a Royal Charter: the first time the state will have intervened directly in the press in Britain since 1695. And, bizarrely, but tellingly, he'll force food producers to cut the sugar, salt and fat content of grub marketed to children. So, to add to the vast system of Byzantine bossiness introduced by his party last time it ruled, Miliband will silence the ridicule of religion, police the press, and play in loco parentis to our kids, because of course we can't be trusted to feed or raise them properly.
Not only did Cameron fail to overturn the nagging state set up by the Labour government that preceded his—he actually brought that state right into Downing Street. One of the first things he did in 2010 was set up a Nudge Unit in Downing Street, the aim of which was, in the terrifying, Orwellian words of a Cabinet Office document, to be the "surrogate willpower" of the populace—seriously—and change Britain's "choice architecture" in order to cajole the public into making the "right decisions" about health, exercise, and so on. Once, governments were meant to reflect what the public thought; in contrast, nudging Cameron was all about, as one news report put it, "changing the way citizens think."
Now, if he gets back in, Cameron has promised to introduce a Communications Data Bill, which will boost the British state's already considerable powers to access "communications data": the citizenry's emailing and phone-calling habits. And he'll bring in Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs), which will allow the authorities to ban even non-violent extremism—that is, speech—and forbid extremists from using the internet or making public speeches. EDOs will silence those who show a lack of "respect for the rule of law" or "respect for minorities," making them a tyrants' charter, giving a Cameron-led government the power to shut down everyone from hotheaded Islamists to Commie rabble-rousers to stinging critics of marriage equality.
Don't be fooled by the L-word in the Lib Dems, the party that governed alongside Cameron for the past five years—they're anything but liberal. They went wholeheartedly along with Cameron's building of a Nudge Unit and his plans to spy on people's data. And if they creep back into power, they'll give Labour a run for its money in the lifestyle-authoritarianism stakes.
They will ban TV adverts for junk food before 9pm. They will legislate to ensure that all cigarette packets are plain—no flashy colours or logos that might tempt the moronic public to take up the nasty habit. They will clamp down on e-cigarette advertising, which is bizarre: if you're anti-smoking then you should be pro-vaping, a no-brainer. They will set a minimum price on alcohol, instituting what John Stuart Mill called a "sin tax": Prohibition for the poor. And, like Labour, they will institute Leveson, warning the press that if it doesn't clean up its act then "Parliament will need to act" and take "legislative steps" to ensure that newspapers become more ethical. The state openly threatening the press: Britain does the timewarp to the 17th century.
Scottish National Party
It's predicted the SNP will win every seat in Scotland, giving them serious clout in the Westminster Parliament after today. Which would be terrible because the SNP is allergic to liberty. This is a party which, in Scotland, where it's been dominant for a while, has banned offensive singing at football matches, leading to the actual imprisonment of people for songcrimes; worked to make all of Scotland smokefree (that wonderfully Orwellian word that says "free" but means the opposite) by 2034; and introduced a Bill that would attach a state-approved Named Person to every child born north of Hadrian's Wall, to keep an eye out for said child's moral and physical wellbeing. In short, a state spy in every family. Ladies and gents, welcome to Scotland, where free speech no longer exists, and family privacy— springing from that great radical 17th-century rallying cry: "The house of every one is to him as his Castle"—is being thrown on the rubbish dump of history. And after today, this party is likely to have a big say across all the U.K.
The UK Independence Party, the quirky anti-EU outfit led by the colourful Nigel Farage, is the wild card of the election. Pollsters can't decide if it will win a handful of seats or none. On paper, UKIP looks good liberty-wise. It promises to unban smoking in public and describes the nanny state as "modern puritanism." Yet it has a puritanical streak of its own. It would ban halal and kosher meat. It has floated the idea of banning climate-change lessons in schools. It promises to expel from Britain radical Islamic clerics who promote extremism (that is, ideas). And it's flat-out opposed to freedom of movement, promising to restrict severely how many Johnny Foreigners can come to live here; it wants to cap immigration at 50,000 folks per year. Currently around 300,000 migrants arrive annually. What a cutback. You can imagine the levels of authoritarianism it would require to set up UKIP's miserabilist migrant-deflecting forcefield.
Where to start? Mercifully, the Green Party has only one MP, but the closed-doors coalition-building that will take place after today means it could wield influence. And this is a party that wants to ban the sale of "sexist" lads' mags in supermarkets; ban the topless women on Page 3 of the Sun; ban the use of animals in circuses; ban drinking on flights (because of air rage); ban the Grand National, an annual rollicking horse race that Brits love; and abolish zoos. Zoos! And Greens have the gall to bristle if you call them miserabilists.
What all these party promises add up to is not simply an ever-more authoritarian Britain, but a wholesale reworking of the relationship between the state and the individual. Government itself is being redefined, to mean, not the will of the people, but the determination of small elites to use censorship and laws to remake the people, to turn us into better, fitter, less offensive creatures.
This is the great tragedy of today's vote: we aren't really expressing our political will and shaping the destiny of the nation. No, we're choosing between different gangs of authoritarians who want to shape us; who want to change the people's will, not reflect it; who want to act as our "surrogate willpower" and decide how we should live our lives. We're voting for the negation of our own moral autonomy.