On Tuesday night, Conservatives for Liberty, which I co-founded in 2013, hosted our annual Freedom Fizz reception. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Toby Young joined us, along with 400 party delegates, most of whom identify as right-wing libertarians. So like a lot of Conservative Party Conference delegates, I woke up with a hangover on Wednesday morning, with the elation of the night before left somewhere in the bottom of one of several bottles of prosecco. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my day was about to get more painful.
Twelve hours after we packed up, the Prime Minister effectively declared the lot of us enemies of the party – and the people. The Prime Minister used her keynote speech to attack the ‘ideological templates of the socialist left and the libertarian right’ as enemies of a government which would ‘act on behalf of the people’. Mrs May seemed to be suggesting that people should be just as concerned about entryism from the libertarian right as from the far left.
It’s not a particularly nice feeling to be told you are unwelcome in a party which you’ve called your home for ten years, but we ought to have seen this coming. My colleagues and I have spent the last three years attacking in the strongest terms Mrs May’s appalling record on civil liberties as Home Secretary, as well as her enthusiasm for state intervention on the economy, but we were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt once in Number 10. It seemed like a wise decision. ‘Brexit means Brexit’, a lifting of the ban on new grammar schools, and a commitment to aspiration was exactly what many of us wanted to hear. How naive we were.
What the Prime Minister was attempting to do was cast libertarianism as an ideology alien to traditional ‘pragmatic’ Conservatism. But unlike far-left groups such as Momentum and Militant, which are – and were – always alien to a Labour Party more influenced by Methodism than Marx, what we now call ‘libertarianism’ is woven into the fabric of this nation and of the Conservative party. It is a philosophy whose core principles revolve around the liberties enshrined in the Magna Carta of 1215. It was men who believed those liberties to be sacrosanct who took up arms against the King in 1642, and who bound his successors by the Bill of Rights in 1689.
It was the free-market Liberals of the nineteenth century whose prudent stewardship of the economy made Britain the richest and most powerful country on Earth. It was right-wing libertarians who provided the intellectual foundations for Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of Britain from ‘the sick man of Europe’ to the fifth largest economy in the world (even if the great lady herself would never be known as anything other than a Conservative). And it was in large part right-wing libertarians like our President, Daniel Hannan, who were behind the Brexit Mrs May so wants to make a success of.
But more importantly for the PM, research shows most young people are right-wing libertarians without even knowing it. Decades of polling by Ipsos MORI has shown ‘Generation Y’ – those born between 1980 and 2000 – are far more likely than their parents or grandparents to be critical of high taxation and the welfare state, as well as to be more liberal on social issues such as gay marriage and gender equality. A growing number of young people within the Conservative Party do know it, however, and will be a key part of any election campaign. They will not appreciate being cast as black sheep within their own party any more than we do. But, particularly since the dissolution of the party’s official youth organisation after the Mark Clarke scandal, we are more than happy to take them under our wing if the PM does not want them.