Liberal has become a dirty word in recent years. It has become synonymous with metropolitan elites, or is seen as an out-of-touch set of values that are to the detriment of the majority. At worse Liberals are seen as the useful idiots or willing apologists for multinational crony cartel capitalism. Liberals have become connected to increasingly divisive identity politics. To be liberal is also commonly regarded as being soft on law and order.
Yet few will argue against holding a set of values with a sensible disposition towards freedom and liberty. So why is there so much antipathy towards liberals today? Much of the problem comes through the rigid and so often illiberal agendas that have flowed from those in power who claim to be liberals.
The ‘everyone for themselves’ economics of the classical liberals put the freedoms of big business before that of the individual citizen. It’s hard to claim to believe in freedom if you don’t believe in the right of every citizen to be able to get a job, access housing and basic services, or even put bread on the table. You can’t protect freedom whilst turning a blind eye to cronyism, corruption, cartels and exploitation.
The social liberals of the left and their ever more divisive identity politics have also badly damaged the liberal brand. It’s hard to claim to champion freedom when you spend your time criminalising free speech and the right to worship freely. Aggressive Orwellian micro-management of the thoughts, speech and beliefs of individuals is not liberal; it’s pure authoritarianism.
Centrist liberals such as Blair and Cameron were obsessed with spreading liberty and freedom across the Middle East at the end of a gun barrel or the tip of a cruise missile. It’s also hard to protect freedom and liberty when you’re turning a blind eye to torture and rendition, dismantling habeas corpus (the right to a fair trial), and imposing mass surveillance of communications.
Our increasingly inappropriately named Liberal Democrats claim to value freedom and liberty whilst being committed to a long term process of handing our democracy and freedoms over to corrupt and unaccountable supranational bodies like the European Union. The Liberal Democrats will apparently defend freedom of movement no matter how much damage it does to the working rights and conditions of the poorest in our society.
Indeed one would be forgiven for believing that any notion of liberty has been abandoned by all the mainstream political parties in the UK. The Conservatives, Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats all seek to impose their increasingly authoritarian and ideological agendas upon us. They seek to use fiscal and legal means to force us to think, act, and live in a certain way. They criminalise, tax and incentivise to force us to change our behaviour to fit their dogma and ideology.
However, today I find myself in a party which itself has become increasingly authoritarian. A party whose rejection of liberty makes it almost unrecognisable to the party I joined. If we don’t turn back from this path, then we, like those other parties, will be nothing more than yet another dogmatic, inward looking authoritarian movement. A movement that seeks to force the narrow and limited view of its leaders and members upon people, rather than meeting the needs of those who we are supposed to be serving. UKIP must listen and be willing to learn from the electorate. We must design dogma free ‘what works’ policies aimed at meeting the needs of all citizens whilst protecting their liberty and freedom.
I’m an unashamedly proud liberal. I reject any narrow cultural and ideological vision which is to the detriment of the freedom and liberty of individuals who do not share such a vision. If UKIP is to thrive, it must be a party for the many. A party which people of all backgrounds can believe in to protect their freedoms and liberty to live, work, play, dress, love, worship etc. however they choose so long as it does not infringe on the freedom and liberty of others.
It’s time for UKIP to offer a truly positive vision prioritising and promoting aspirations of something better rather than simply avoiding fears of something worse. Brexit gives us the political freedom and liberty to promote and implement a unifying vision of a hopeful, positive future for this country. Let’s not waste this once in a generation opportunity.