Sarah Ludford is right to question Ukip's libertarianism, but she raises a wider point. Libertarian ideas are growing in popularity in Britain as more and more people see the inherent flaws of big government. Which party, then, really does deserve the libertarian vote?
Ukip are the only party to explicitly describe themselves as libertarian. And indeed the party does have some policies that are attractive to libertarians. Or had, in any case, before its policy review began. Raising the personal allowance, abolishing inheritance tax, shrinking the public sector. All good stuff. But there are problems. The party's opposition to same-sex marriage, for example, bizarrely justified by supposed libertarianism, is troubling to many. The strident anti-immigration agenda, too, is decidedly unlibertarian, as is the strange obsession with increasing defence spending.
But for most freedom-minded people wariness about Ukip is less about policies and more about attitude. Ukip's activists tend to be angry and negative - just watch the comments under this piece if you don't believe me - whereas most libertarians are optimists, enthusiastic about human ingenuity and the future. It's a difficult mix and one which will grow more uncomfortable as Ukip struggles to find its place in British politics. Ukip must choose whether to be a principled party, or whether to chase easy votes. Unfortunately, they appear to be taking the latter path.
The Liberal Democrats, like Ukip, have a superficially libertarian air to some of their policies, with a whole section of their 'What We Stand For' web page entitled 'Freedom'. And there are some excellent policies there about ID cards and pre-charge detention. But skip across to the 'Environment' page and you find typical big government approaches such as 'green jobs' and a 'green investment bank'. The fact is the Liberal Democrats suffer from a split personality, having never reconciled the Liberal Party's classical liberalism with the SDP's social democracy. And as the party descends into open civil war over a string of sex scandals, it's questionable whether the Liberal Democrats are a viable option for anyone, libertarian or not.
While Ukip and the Liberal Democrats have valid claim to some libertarian credentials, Labour are not so blessed. Economically illiterate leadership combined with an eagerness to use state power to ram through a programme of social engineering makes for a freedom-free zone. Labour's political and intellectual leadership appear to believe that because they deem something desirable it must be mandated, subsidised and zealously promoted, whilst that which they dislike must be regulated, ostracised or just outright banned.
Scratch almost any Labour politician and you'll find a weapons-grade nanny, prepared to use the full weight of law to tell us what to eat or how much to drink. Beholden to unreconstructed socialist trades union leadership, always searching for an opportunity to take offence on behalf of others, trapping millions in benefits dependency... The list goes on, but the most objective reading of Labour's policies and political agenda makes it very clear that there is very little for libertarians in this frankly authoritarian socialist party.
Finally, then, the Conservatives. I must admit to some bias here. I am a Conservative councillor and local activist. However, my loyalties are to the residents I represent and to my conscience, not to some party affiliation. The Conservative Party is by no means a libertarian paradise. I have deep problems with some of the government's policies, such as the porn filter and raising the minimum wage, and I disagree most strongly with some of the more traditionalist Conservatives. But I know few Conservatives under the age of fifty who are not broadly libertarian. Economically, the government has focused on reducing the deficit and has made some steps - small steps, to be sure - towards reducing the tax burden. This is encouraging and is far more than any other party could do.
The country is ready for an economically responsible, socially liberal party. Whether we call this libertarianism or not, this balance makes most sense for 21st Century Britain. I have found my home in the Conservatives. Other libertarians will make their choices. All parties should note this, though; our numbers are growing and we should not be ignored.Suggest a correction