Monday 12 November 2012

Where is this anti-state rhetoric that Tim Montgomerie fears so much? I don't hear it.


Tim Montgomerie from his Conservative Home pulpit lays into the 'libertarians'. Not on the basis of a considered, reasoned set of arguments but on the basis of an opinion poll. Dear old Tim shows that most folk prefer this 'vision of society':

"A society where government plays a limited role in society, providing services and a safety net in hard times but where we largely rely on families, education and job creators to create a good society".

I would like to point out to Tim that this 'vision' is wholly compatible with a minarchist libertarian viewpoint. Indeed, it is a pretty good description of what most thoughtful libertarians think. So why does Tim say this?

Conservatives need to drop the anti-State rhetoric. Ensuring comfortable retirements for pensioners, benefits for the sick and assistance for genuine jobseekers shouldn’t be afterthoughts for Conservatives but central to their electoral pitch. Conservatives shouldn’t see these things as a necessary evil but as a privilege for a decent society to provide and for a decent party to enhance. When Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic are as serious about blue-collar wages as the deficit and as serious about cutting taxes on the low-paid as on the propertied class, they will start winning elections again. But not until then.

I just don't get it. The debate isn't about whether we should go for some sort of Randian anarcho-capitalism - or whatever it is that Tim thinks is libertarianism. The debate is about whether the we emphasise "where government plays a limited role in society" or creating "a good society". Since I've been a member of the Conservative Party for almost as long as Tim Montgomerie has been alive, I guess I'm just about qualified to say that this debate - between small government and the desire to advance Disraeli's mission of improving the condition of the people - has always been at the heart of the Party. Once it was 'wets' versus 'dries', now it's a conversation between the standard bearers of the Thatcherite gospel, assorted sorts of libertarians and a  Macmillan (or maybe Heseltine) style activist, interventionist party.

In the end we are - and always will be - a coalition. Today the balance of that coalition has shifted. Where once the party was filled with broad-bottomed, patricians who knew better the needs and cares of the workers, today it is increasingly a place for people who reject 'know better', who dislike government by opinon poll and who believe that wanting a small state is a moral imperative. The same moral imperative that led us to vote Tory in 1979, the same moral imperative that supported council house sales and privatised utlities. The same imperative that cries out for lower taxes.

Tim talks of 'demand for government' without fully explaining what he means. Is there a demand for floors filled with policy officers? Do the public cry out for teams of equalities officers and diversity co-ordinators? Has the mob taken to the street calling for an endless production line of similar - and similarly dumb - special advisors to ministers? Has the angry man of Tunbridge Wells written to complain of how the limited supply of climate change advisors is destroying England?

We didn't demand these things. What Tim Montgomerie has done is to build a lovely libertarian straw man - based on a pretty lousy opinion poll - to enable him to argue for some sort of Tory paternalism. Or worse a version of Blairite government by opinion poll and focus group.

Every single obstacle laid by Tim before us liberals can be pushed aside by reasoned argument, by creative and different approaches to meeting needs. In the end government is the guarantor of freedom - that's what we believe in. And yes, government must concern itself with security but as was famously said many years ago:

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

I'm not a libertarian, Tim. I'm a Tory. And that means freedom - free speech, free enterprise, free trade, free choice and above all the chance to live free.


1 comment:

Curmudgeon said...

The choices Tim offered were extremely loaded and, as you say, surely his "Option 2" was the preferred vision of the small-state Conservative and something very different from the current situation.