Mark Littlewood resigns Lib Dem membership for IEA Director job

Mark Littlewood, the party’s former Head of Media and director the libertarian Liberal Vision group, has been appointed Director General of the “free-market think tank” IEA (Institute for Economic Affairs). The press release relating his appointment states that Mark has resigned from the Liberal Democrats in order to maintain the IEA’s non-partisan stance.

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  • Of course it could be a handy excuse…

  • Ding dong the witch is dead.

  • ridiculous that people have to resign from a party for a job.

  • “Congratulations to Mark. He never let on yesterday whilst giving a talk to the Libertarian Alliance with me and Shane Frith about how to promote classical liberalism through the Lib Dems and Tories!”

    Well he will no doubt carry on promting the same line. No wonder he was such an ineffective head of communications for the Lib Dems.

    Jock, why don’t you resign too. Then you could spend your time promoting Libertarianism via the Liberatarian Alliance and leave the Liberal Democrats to the Liberals.

  • I was going to say something like “damned good riddance” (oh sorry, I just did).

    I don’t see what the guy possesses other than brass neck and an astronomically high opinion of himself. Obviously, he has a practiced ability to persuade rich people of his worth.

    Whatever Mr Littlewood is (and we can debate that subject endlessly), he is not a Liberal (at least in the sense that I understand the word). He appears to me to be a free-market fundamentalist of the most crashingly boring kind, and a champion of the tobacco industry into the bargain (a morally odious cause). Not exactly the kind of bloke we want batting for the Lib Dem cause.

    If he sends the Party a bill for his endless presentational and campaigning “advice”, I suggest Nick frames it (having wiped the nicotine stains).

  • Hear, hear Sesenco – let’s hope the rest of the ‘Vision’ crowd do the same and resign!

  • It’s not because I disagree with him – but because everytime I see him in press or media its as an ex LIb Dem head of communications setting up to diss the party. (contrast with, for example Olly Grender)

    There is a difference between demanding resignations and not regretting them when they happen.

  • This isn’t Danemark; under first past the post we can only afford one liberal party and as such we have to put up with a diverse membership in order to get anywhere; so we should’nt celabrate when we lose people like Mark.

  • Following Stephen, “There is nothing more pathetic – or depressing – than Lib Dems demanding the resignation of other Lib Dems from the party because they disagree with them.” I have known Mark for 20 years, and he has been a consistent liberal for those twenty years. Are his interpretations of liberalism the same as mine in all cases? No, of course not. Are his strategic and tactical ideas the same as mine in all cases? No, of course not.

    But this I will say this of Mark: he has a hunger for power, and a desire to get liberal ideas on the statute book that all of us could learn from. My sadness at losing him from our party is matched only by my excitement at what he can do at the IEA. The more well-funded think tanks that are run by liberals the better, in my book. As the Fabian blog says (and thanks for the link, Sunder), let battle commence! Good luck Mark, you will need it, and you deserve it.

  • Herbert Brown 26th Oct '09 - 11:59pm

    “I’m sorry, have we suddenly abandoned all the policies around environmentalism, putting green taxes at the heart of our budget plan, proposing a green way out of the recession or something?”

    Certainly the proposed green taxes have shrunk to the level of insignificance – admittedly not suddenly, but over the lifetime of a parliament. Apparently the actions of the present government have pretty much satisfied the Lib Dems’ green ambitions.

  • Herbert Brown 27th Oct '09 - 12:00am

    “Ding dong the witch is dead.”

    Surely that particular threnody has to be reserved for one British politician, and one alone?

  • Simon Titley 27th Oct '09 - 12:29am

    Stephen Tall says, “There is nothing more pathetic – or depressing – than Lib Dems demanding the resignation of other Lib Dems from the party because they disagree with them.” This view is echoed by Tim Leunig.

    But that is a travesty of what is being argued. The view that I and many others in the party have argued is that right-wing libertarianism is outside the scope of the preamble to the Liberal Democrats’ party constitution. (The constitution is online here: )

    This preamble makes it clear that our party believes in positive freedoms as well as negative ones. It also recognises the enabling role of the state. These views are not shared by libertarians. (Anyone wishing to explore the ideological differences in more detail is advised to read David Howarth’s article here: ).

    The Liberal Democrats are a broad church but even a broad church needs walls. As I argued in Liberator (June 2008), “A political party needs a clear set of guiding principles otherwise it has no point. But the necessary criteria require fine judgement. They should be broad enough for the party to be electable, but not so broad as to be meaningless. They should be precise enough to supply definition and direction, but not so narrow that they turn the party into a small and impotent sect.”

    Our preamble meets those criteria and libertarianism falls outside. A preamble broadened to embrace both libertarians and existing members would be meaningless and the party would lose its point.

    Libertarians have every right to express their views – but they do not belong in the Liberal Democrats.

  • Herbert Brown 27th Oct '09 - 12:47am

    “What party would you have JS Mill join instead?”

    I hate to have to break this to you, but John Stuart Mill has been dead for more than 130 years.

  • Simon – “The view that I and many others in the party have argued is that right-wing libertarianism is outside the scope of the preamble”

    Indeed Simon, but there is a self-defeating absolutism in your position. On the same basis we should for example exclude all economic socialists and those holding some socially conservative views.

    We don’t do that and we don’t for sound practical reasons of politics. Our coalition would not survive. People’s views are often not that clear cut or consistent, and the most practical test of whether or not you should be in a political party is whether or not you agree with more than you disagree and are prepared to accept some compromise on the rest. Liberals build bridges not walls.

    And as to the constitutional point I was Boy Scout at a time when we had to promise allegiance to God and the Queen. Resigning on the basis of my secular republicanism was always an option however I never saw much relevance in the Promise in respect of going camping or tying knots.

    I must have been some kind of Scouting dissident. Should I have defected to the Woodcraft Folk or should I just have stuck it out until the Scouts changed?

    People do ask themselves these questions when on the fringe or cutting edge or organisations (depending on your perspective) but it is not obvious that disagreement with a part of the values of a movement necessitates leaving it, it surely depends on the depth of the disagreement and the priorities of the individual concerned?

    As to encouraging people to leave, Stephen is right, picking and choosing parts of the preamble some libertarians might think less important to being a liberal democrat than you do is a disagreement of ideas. In my book for example the ‘widest possible distribution of wealth’ is one that doesn’t involve a heavy handed state discouraging people at both ends of the scale from achieving their potential through excessive taxation or inadequate access to education. Others might believe it is a prescription for high levels of tax on the rich and benefits for the poor. Both of these positions are consistent with that document.

    One of the benefits Mark bought to the party is he could have probably made the above point in a sentence, and done so to a camera spontaneously without preparation. That I think is the sort of talent the party needs more of, whatever wing of liberal opinion it comes from.

  • Simon Titley 27th Oct '09 - 7:26am

    @Matt GB – Your response is an incoherent ramble. Your points about Chomsky and Mill are irrelevant and make no sense. “Spewings”? I’d calm down, if I were you.

    @Andy Mayer – You accept that there are limits? The preamble provides a broad ethos appropriate to a broad church but it would be meaningless if it encompassed anyone. I was not “picking and choosing parts of the preamble”. Right-wing libertarianism is fundamentally at odds with both the letter and the spirit of this preamble. And there were no libertarians in the party until a few years ago, when entryism funded by the tobacco industry started, as well you know.

    @Jock – Where did I state the opposite of “market where possible, state where necessary”? You are arguing with a straw man of your own making. Opponents of libertarianism are not necessarily statists.

    Generally – Fortunately, libertarians are a tiny and shrinking minority in the party. And since they never leave their computer screens, they will never have any serious influence, despite the disproportionate amount of noise they make in the blogosphere (usually hidden behind a pseudonym). Think of their contribution to politics as a student’s passive-aggressive Post-it note on the party’s fridge door.

  • Martin Land 27th Oct '09 - 8:03am

    Nobody in my constituency has ever heard of Mark Littlewood. Those little ballot boxes will fill themselves without us gazing at our navels folks…

  • @Simon “And there were no libertarians in the party until a few years ago, when entryism funded by the tobacco industry started, as well you know.”

    I think that’s got to be entirely untrue hasn’t it, there have been small-state liberals in the party for as long as we’ve been a party. Whether they called themselves libertarians, or liberal libertarians, or just liberals, is I suspect a matter of popular labels of the time more than beliefs.

    As to funded entryism Mark, like myself re-joined the party in 2002 when the PECP folded was into the Liberal Democrats. It was an organisation noted for it’s economic liberalism and pro-Europeanism. I am entirely sure that no part of that deal had anything to do with the tobacco industry; although Kennedy may have caged a fag off Mark at some point, I’m not sure that counts.

    I also thought I should talk to Sunder and Matt’s point about detailed research. Mark’s most notorious clash with the party, or a somewhat over-excited representative of it, came from Liberal Vision’s report on the impact of the swing to the Tories on our seats. I suspect the level of anger was not unrelated to the level of the detail, with a quantitative seat by seat breakdown, not just the unwelcome message in the overview.

    It is also perhaps worth saying that policy wonks in glass houses… I’ve yet to see a cogent piece of research that supports the party’s position on tuition fees, whereas Centre Forum did some very detailed analysis to show a) it doesn’t impact enrolement and b) is largely middle-class welfare… the mansion tax proposal is unsupported by any credible research… the lack of competent analysis around the economic and political impact of the local income tax policy caused huge problems in the last election…etc… we seem to pick and chose when we think research matters as a party…

  • AFAICR the only time I’ve questioned whether someone was in the right party was when after quoting several sections of the preamble to someone they responded by saying in that case the preamble needed changing. I think that was fair enough.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 9:25am

    In the preamble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats I see

    We believe the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals

    which seems to me to be inconsistent with the “Libertarian” ideal that the sole role of the state is to defend property rights. I then see

    public services of the highest quality

    which seems to me to be inconsistent with the idea that there should be no public services because the role of the state is only to support what is necessary to allow private organisations to compete to provide services. Later on I see

    the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary

    which suggests to me the idea of a state more active than the “libertarian” ideal.

    I would also argue that phrases like “we believe that people should be involved in running their communities” and “decisions taken and services delivered at the most local level which is viable” and “sense of community and partnership” and much else in this preamble are incompatible with the “Libertarian” ideal which sneers at democracy, and instead insists that control exercised by the power of money is the way everything should be run. This is more tangential, yet the “libertarian” defence of their compatibility with this preamble also relies on the tangential, essentially saying “our central political way of working will deliver, as a side-effect, what the party says it values most here”.

    So it seems to me to be central to what this statement of our aims and objectives is that we accept a democratic state is a good thing and can be trusted to act beneficially for the people, whereas the “libertarian” ideal says the opposite. I just do not see anywhere in that preamble the idea that we should regard the state as essentially evil and so that therefore our prime motivation should be to cut it down. It seems to me that these are fundamental differences, and not nuances.

    This indeed seems to be the case when one tries arguing with these people. For defending a position which is essentially what I see here written in our party’s constitution I have variously been called “odd”, “polluting”, and accused of having such outlandish views that I cannot even be human. There is no meeting of minds here. There is no ability to see a spectrum in which we might disagree about the precise role of the state – there is only a closed-mind attitude in which anyone who does not adopt the “libertarian” line of “evil gummint” (it is telling how they often adopt the sort of language one sees from the supporters of the likes of Sarah Palin in the USA) is dismissed as if they wanted oppressive Soviet communist style of government.

    I did not know the extent to which there were people with these “libertarian” promoting themselves within our party until around the time of the leadership election I decided to take a look at what sort of discussion was going on in Liberal Democrat blogs and found so much of it there. Until then I had always thought of this way of thinking as a stream within the Conservative Party, and it seemed to me most appropriate that it should be there. The modern Conservative Party is indeed a coalition which was built up from a variety of streams, with several big moves of the more right wing Liberals at the end of the 19th century and carrying on right through the 20th century. The older “King, Church and Country” style of Conservatism seems to me to be diminishing and almost extinct in the Conservative Party at least at its top levels and almost anyone actively thinking and developing policy in the Conservative Party, so it would seem to me that any remaining ideological objections which “libertarians” might have had to being involved in that party have reduced over the years.

    During the twelve years I was a councillor I was not involved much in any sort of debate on policy issues in the party, so I found it particularly odd to come back and see all these people claiming allegiance to the party and forcefully stating that they are true liberals holding into the ideals of the Liberal Party when they held views I never heard in the Liberal Party when I was involved in what was happening with it nationally. In particular I was a member of the National Executive of the Young Liberals in the years leading up to the merger with the SDP, and so I find it particularly disturbing that these people should be attempting to rewrite history in an Orwellian way giving the impression that their sort of politics was what the Liberal Party was about then and the SDP was what extinguished it. I was there – I was an opponent of the merger with SDP, and neither myself nor anyone else I knew who was similarly opposed had politics remotely resembling what these people calling themselves “libertarian” now have.

    While I was always on the left in the Liberal Party, I never regarded or felt myself as on its extreme left. So to find myself, as so often with these “libertarians” painted in their discussions with me as if I was some sort of extreme fringe element who shouldn’t really be there, in a party I have given huge amounts of my time and money to help build up, is hurtful. I have been left, following discussion with these people feeling “Should I have done this, why should I have bothered sacrificing so much to build up a vehicle for a politics I oppose fundamentally, for people who do not even seem to speak my language?”. This is not healthy and one should not be left feeling like that in discussion with people in one’s own party. A consequence of what I have experienced here is that since I have been left uncertain as to just how much these people do have influence in our party, I now make only the minimal donations to keep membership of the party nationally, any further donations and help I give to the party are to local campaigns where I have a better idea of who is involved and what they are working for. In this way the party is being damaged, and I feel I am not the only one put off involvement by this extreme right-wing element who use their connections and the financial support they can obtain to push their influence to gain a dominance they do not deserve by actual numbers of people.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 9:32am

    I’ve yet to see a cogent piece of research that supports the party’s position on tuition fees, whereas Centre Forum did some very detailed analysis to show …

    Funded by? People with money will pay for research which concludes it’s good for them to keep that money. They won’t pay for research that says the opposite. Part of my fears here is around the way the right-wing in the party can get plenty of money to push their ideas, but the left can’t, and then we have crowing like this. How can we have a fair debate and policy development when there is so much money available to push it one way and none to push it the other?

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 9:40am

    But this I will say this of Mark: he has a hunger for power, and a desire to get liberal ideas on the statute book that all of us could learn from.

    One of the nice things about the old Liberal Party was that it wasn’t full of people who were “hungry for power”. It was full of people who kept it going because they loved democracy and felt a duty to do this and didn’t want any more from it other than a satisfaction of a good job done and their community and wider world improved through that. I despise people who are hungry for power. If hunger for power is what motivates them, I do not want to be involved with them. And my judgement on such people has often been good – their hunger for power often does push them forward, but because this personal egotism is what drives them rather than a sense of service, once they are there in positions of influence they do a horrible job and make a mess of it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 9:51am

    Nobody in my constituency has ever heard of Mark Littlewood. Those little ballot boxes will fill themselves without us gazing at our navels folks…

    Well, ok, but the “Liberal Vision” site was full of media appearances he was making at the time of our party conference. So he has managed to push himself forward as a figure of influence, and put forward the lines that he was some sort of “true liberal”. Infiltration works this way, it’s subtle, the whole point of that the little people carry in doing the donkey work for the party while it’s slowly stolen from them at the level of the nobs and snobs the little people aren’t involved with.

    So, just how come it was so easy for the spokesperson for some tiny right-wing fringe element who had no official role in the party to get so many media appearances? Would the media be so indulgent to a spokesperson for some left-wing fringe movement in the party? No. Those of us on the left in the party have always struggled to get any sort of coverage of where we stand in party issues. We almost always get a mention only when being dismissed by someone else as some shadowy army of “activists” whose influence needs to be curtailed.

    If you say the right things, the things the establishment want to hear, the things that give defence and comfort to the wealthy at the expense of the poor and powerless, you will always find a welcome in high places that ou wil mnot find if you do the opposite.

    So, I am sorry, but I join in with this – good riddance to Mark Littlewood, can I have my party back now?

  • “We believe the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals”. Absolutely. But that would be entirely compatible with moving to a system of universal health insurance, for example, as widely used in continental Europe, and praised by Nick Clegg. The role of the state does not have to be in providing services. Mark (or anyone else in the supposedly libertarian wing of the party) does not believe that health or education should only be available to people who can pay. The public services line is covered by the same.

    “the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary”. Have you ever heard Mark oppose trading standards legislation? Fit for purpose legislation? The Plimsoll line?

    I am still not sure how anyone can think that Mark’s beliefs fall outside the LD constitution or preamble, and remember, Tony Blair did not believe in Clause 4 when elected – it didn’t stop him being Labour’s greatest asset for some years. Constitutions do have to change from time to time.

  • Andrew Chamberlain 27th Oct '09 - 12:22pm

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Alix. When I hear the word libertarian I think of Nozick, Friedman and the Tory right. I tend to describe myself as a free market liberal, or just a liberal, or a social and economic liberal. Much less likely to create a misleading impression.

    Personally I don’t regret seeing Mr Littlewood move on. I didn’t know the man, but it seems to me he did more to harm his cause (and even the party, on occasion) than he did to help.

  • I do not wish to mischaracterise anyone but there is an important debate here.

    Sometimes those who view themselves as economic liberals want to put forward the idea that if only we left companies alone, they would manage to get things right by themselves.

    However, history suggests that this does not always happen. Lehman Brothers, acting in what it believed was its own interest, still failed. This is unlikely to be the last bubble in human history. When the next one happens, I do not want to have to bail out more government-guaranteed banks (with my taxes) just because fallible humans cannot tell the difference between a short term trend and a longer term reliable pattern

  • Herbert Brown 27th Oct '09 - 12:52pm

    “I’m hoping the liberal wing of the party will now be able to coalesce more effectively …”

    As opposed to the other wing, which by definition is not liberal? Oh dear.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 1:30pm


    I assume you are not impeaching the impartiality of Centre Forum? If so, why? If you believe they are partial, then you should present proof

    What they publish tends to be within the bounds of our party’s aims and objectives, yes, but it generally seems to be oriented towards a particular view of them, which often coincides with what right-wing commentators in the media generally are saying. I haven’t read all their stuff, but I don’t ever recall them publishing something which is more oriented towards the left of our party. The higher education tuition fees stuff is a good example – happy to see this issue raised and discussed, yes, but could you ever imagine CentreForum publishing a pamphlet putting the case for higher taxation in order to make Higher Education free at source? No. If you can give me a counter-example, where they pushing against rather than for the right-wing in our party, please let me know.

    I also think it’s entirely fair to ask where any group publishing ideas for our party gets its money from. That’s a basic declaration of interest, and I think we are fully entitled to know it and then to use that to draw what conclusions we might like.

    And do you have any evidence for that assertion that the “right wing” (are we ever going to learn to stop using those ridiculous terms) in the party get plenty of money

    “Right wing” is a shorthand. If you think it’s a ridiculous term, please suggest another. I think people know very well what I mean by it, there is an identifiable right-wing in our party, it tends to concentrate on solutions to problems which involve policies which bring comfort and get support from those running big business. In general I think the term “right wing” for people whose line is that those who are currently most in power in society are good people and need to be encouraged because their goodness and skills are what makes things work makes sense, as does “left wing” for those who challenge the current power structures in society and wish to change things so that those currently weak get more power.

    There seem at the moment to be a very large number of policy-development organisations around which are working on a theme of “cut back the state, cut back taxation, let businessmen do more and take more profits, that will be to the good of society in the long run”. Fine, fine, fine that’s a perfectly valid position to have and to argue. But I think we are entitled to wonder whether the strength of this way of thinking comes about because there is a lot more money available pay people to develop policy in this way than to pay people to develop policy in the another direction which isn’t so beneficial to those who already have wealth and influence.

    Yes, Geoffrey Payne and Matthew Huntbach, why do you deliberately mischaracterise Jock? It’s not as if you haven’t had his views, and the difference between them and wingnut American libertarianism of the type you fear explained to you often enough.

    It might help his case if he didn’t have such a fondness for the sort of language used by wingnut American libertarianism. I don’t know if he has an American background, or it’s a pose, or he does it unconsciously because he mixes with those people. But it’s just one of a number of things where, when actually I’m trying very hard to sympathise with Jock and at least understand where he is coming from, put me off. If you think that’s unfair, consider someone who filled their writing with the sort of stereotypical terms we heard most often from Marxist-Leninists. Doing that would not help them in their battle to convince they really, really were quite different from the old style USSR and its defenders.

    I think I have made quite clear my problems with Jock in all my encounters with him. Firstly his tendency to waffle and just point to various obscure writers and say “oh, you’re stupid because you aren’t entirely familiar with these oeuvres” rather than give a straight answer to a straight question. Secondly, however sincere he might be, some of his way of thinking and language HAS been used by American right-wing wingnut types, and the Thatcher/Reagan movements to justify what they have done, so I think I am entirely justified in asking from him for a clear understanding of how these things can go wrong if others pick the bits from them they like and use them.

    For myself, the ability to be self-critical of one’s own ideology and aware of the arguments against it and how it may be misused is an important aspect of a mature development of it. I just don’t see this with the likes of Jock. If one prompts them with the hope of getting it, they just turn nasty and insulting. I myself am fairly much a moderate in politics, and I’m happy to understand the “libertarian” ideal as a valid criticism of my politics which involve acceptance that an active democratic state can be of value in building more liberal society. So, yes, reading their sort of stuff has helped me develop a more mature attitude and to know where my politics could go wrong if badly applied. But I just don’t see a reciprocity applied the other way round.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 1:38pm


    I’ve known Jock for a decade here in Oxford East, and he has been an active member of the party, as a councillor, council candidate, deliverer, activist and thinker. Doesn’t mean I agree with him, but it does mean I respect him, and resent – deeply resent – the ill-informed attacks on him and his politics by those who have never met him.

    I can only judge Jock by what I see of him here. Part of the problem is that I find it so frustrating is that I suspect there is a fair amount of common ground between us, but whenever I try to push Jock to find it, he reacts in a way that I find offputting rather than in a way that suggests to me he shares the strong criticisms I have of “vulgar libertarianism” and has convincing answers to my doubts.

  • Herbert Brown 27th Oct '09 - 1:40pm

    “You can use different terms if you like, Herbert, I’m not fussed.”

    Do you really not see that you’re liable to offend people if you imply they are not “liberal” because they hold views that are different from yours? Have you not considered that arrogance like this may lie behind much of the ill-feeling that you were quick to complain about above?

  • Tom Papworth 27th Oct '09 - 1:45pm

    Hmm… Where to begin?

    Stephen: I share your exasperation about the speed at, and depth to, which these descend. But I’m surprised that you are surprised. You’ve been editing LDV for long enough to know that anything in these pages that strays off a fairly narrow policy path quickly degenerates into intra-party mud-slinging.

    Voter @ 12.45am: “Sometimes those who view themselves as economic liberals want to put forward the idea that if only we left companies alone, they would manage to get things right by themselves…I do not want to have to bail out more government-guaranteed banks (with my taxes) just because fallible humans cannot tell the difference between a short term trend and a longer term reliable pattern”

    Can you not see the contradiction in what you are saying? Government guaranteed banks are the antithesis of a free market. Government guaranteed anything is the antithesis of the free market. This is why it was many of the “libertarians” who were arguing against the bail-outs, while the “statists” (including our very own Vince Cable) were arguing for a multi-hundred billion pound bailout. There has not been a free market in banking since at least the nationalisation of the Bank of England, and arguably ever.

    Alix: I don’t think it is your decision to eschew the word “libertarian” that has spared you the rod. I’ve never described myself as one (it’s a horrible term which, as Andrew Chamberlain noted, carries a lot of American baggage), sticking fairly strictly to the term liberal and occasionally allowing the word “classical” to sneak in, if one of the New Liberals is demanding clarification. I suspect there is an element of tone – you’re not aggressive, whereas many of the others (on both sides) are. If I was a feminist I might attribute it to too much testosterone.

    Martin Land: Fair point. However, LDV is the home for navel-gazing (as, to be fair, are most sites organised around a group – you should see my wife’s allotment forums!). I often wonder whether – and dread how – it is perceived outside the party.

    David L.G: Another spot-on point. All the major political parties are broad churches. I think it was Anthony King who argued that the advantage of the first-past-the-post system is that it forces UK governments to forge their coalitions before the election. Those who are expressing their joy and fond riddences in this string might want to bear in mind that those parties that put ideological purity above the formation of a broad church tend to find themselves relegated to the political fringes, with nothing to show for their efforts but a handful of councillors and a lot of wasted time.

    Jock: Your first comment was just deliberately stirring up the hornets’ nest. Shame on you! :oD

    Oh, and as for the actual article….

    Good luck to Mark in his new role. The IEA do excellent work and I hope that Mark both enjoys his time there and helps them bring liberal views to a wider audience.

  • Tom Papworth 27th Oct '09 - 1:46pm


    We seem to share an inability to format things!

  • Whatever you say about him – good or bad – Mark is simply not experienced enough to take on such a responsibility. I am afraid that being media savvy is just not enough for any think tank.

  • Jock, I do not see that as a misunderstanding.

    Implicit in what Alix said is a call for deregulation. This is just I was referring to when I said “left companies alone”. Are you saying that Alix is misunderstanding something?

  • “This is why it was many of the “libertarians” who were arguing against the bail-outs”

    I do not see how you can privatise infrastructure. Infrastructure is basic to society. When we put it in a failing private sector, we fail to recognise its basic nature and naturally disaster follows

    We have police in the public sector and for good reason.

    Libertarians need to recognise that monopolies exist for good reasons and wishing them away is not the right approach

  • simon mcgrath 27th Oct '09 - 2:22pm

    “And there were no libertarians in the party until a few years ago, when entryism funded by the tobacco industry started, as well you know”

    Really?, I joined the Party in 1974 and there were certainly Libertarians (or liberals as they should be called) around.
    Am i missing out on the tobacco money – where do I apply?

  • Julian – will you cry if you want to (oo oo ooooh)

  • Molinari died in 1912. A theory needs a more modern advocate.

    Robert Nozick is credited as a philosopher on wikipedia, not an economist.

    The state makes laws because of public opinion. To say otherwise seems to be something of a conspiracy theory. Now, the Lib Dem can certainly adopt conspiracy as party policy but it would seem unwise

  • Alix, I understand but I do not see how that makes what I wrote a misunderstanding

  • Cllr Tom Papworth 27th Oct '09 - 2:44pm

    Rankersbo @ 12.18: It is a shame you haven’t met him. In person he is the mild-mannered janitor. OTOH, the animus between Matthew and Jock goes way back to the days when LDV was in black and white, so what you may be detecting is exhasperation.

    Voter @ 2.06pm: “I do not see how you can privatise infrastructure”

    Extremely easily, as the M6 toll road, the QE2 bridge, and our various ports and airports show. As for banks, banks are not infrastructure. I agree that one should not hand anything over to the failing private sector. Fortunately, teh failing private sector tends not to be able to afford stuff, as only the successful private sector has any money. By comparrison, failing government has lots of money because it either takes it by force from the private sector (aka. you and me) or prints it, thus devaluing all that the private sector (aka. you and me) has built up.

  • If modern academics are convinced by Molinari, then they can make the same arguments.

    It is telling that Jock has to fall back on conspiracy theories and ancient writers. A lack of examples in the real world of his libertarian system actually working should tell us something.

    Just as a lack of replicated homeopathy experiments tells us something although I am sure we can find people who wrote about how good homeopathy it

  • Nope. My example of Lehman Brother is illustrative of human nature. LB wanted to succeed and was able to convince itself it was doing the right thing.

    This facet of human nature will not be changed by deregulation. Delusion and bubbles are here to stay. The question is how to manage them.

    Our latest banking crisis followed deregulation.

  • Tom Papworth 27th Oct '09 - 3:04pm

    • Voter: “My example of Lehman Brother is illustrative of human nature. … The question is how to manage them.”

    Are you suggesting that the role of regulation is to eliminate failure? If so, might I ask whether Schumpeter counts as too ancient an author for you?

    “Our latest banking crisis followed deregulation.”

    No it didn’t. It followed the transfer of regulatory powers from the Bank of England, where they had resided for over two centuries, to a new government Quango called the Financial Services Authority, where over 2,000 civil servants tried to administer over 1,000,000 paragraphs of regulation.

    If that is “deregulation”, what would “regulation” look like?

  • Tom Papworth 27th Oct '09 - 3:10pm


    “Molinari died in 1912. A theory needs a more modern advocate.”
    “If modern academics are convinced by Molinari, then they can make the same arguments. It is telling that Jock has to fall back on conspiracy theories and ancient writers.”

    Oh, come on, Voter! John Stuart Mill died in 1873, but I hope you would not dismiss his writings or the support he continues to find among contemporary writers because he died a long time ago and is primarily considered to be a philosopher rather than abn economist.

    That has to be the silliest argument so far today.

  • If your system is dependent on having no bubbles and no loose money, you are putting the cart before the horse since I cannot see either of those going away in the near future.

    We have to deal with the world as it is when designing any plans to transition to a new system.

    As to the idea that competition is a defense against future Lehmans, why should it be? If one bank can make money out of a rising bubble, then two banks can as well. Competition does not seem like a plausible solution.

  • Herbert Brown 27th Oct '09 - 3:57pm

    “Well, some people in the party aren’t liberal in the classical liberal sense.”

    Yes, of course. Just as some on what you call the “liberal wing” aren’t liberal in the social liberal sense.

    Neither wing has a monopoly of “liberalism”.

  • tonygreaves 27th Oct '09 - 4:43pm

    “we should’nt celabrate when we lose people like Mark.”

    Oh yes we should. His resignation from the party is a gain, not a loss.

    Tony Greaves

  • Julian – Dave Allen and Barbara (Blowin’ a) Gasket. Sign me up!

    Tony Grieves: I am reminded of the joke New Zealanders tell about every migrant from there to Australia raising the average IQ of each country. Or is it vice versa?

  • Matt I think at that level of detail only the report’s authors could respond,

    Tony I think Mark will be pleased to learn that his last action the party has made a sweet vulnerable old man happy,

  • Oh gee, another [email protected] libertarian witch-hunt thread on LDV. How utterly, utterly tedious. I dread to think what the browsing public think of this party when they see the likes of Titley, Payne and Huntbach etc\banging the drum of expulsion whenever they see people they disagree with in the party. Even I get bored of this toss and I actually like politics. Those narrow minded purists will be the death of this party as a serious force in British politics if they get anywhere near power in the party… for crying out loud people please make sure they never get beyond the pathetic, sniping, small-minded and self-obsessed clique of Luddites that they come across as.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 10:18pm


    This seems to me to be Jock’s libertarianism in a nutshell. It’s on precisely the opposite side to those who advocate protectionism in favour of big business (the Thatcherite/Reaganite tendency you speak of). The critical connect he is making here, which I suspect is the one you don’t follow/accept, is that moving *away* from the state doesn’t mean moving *towards* big business

    You patronisingly ask me if I can comprehend this, and in your arrogance suppose that my problem is that I haven’t joined your enlightened circle and if I were just as clever as you I would see the light and be saved, rejoicing that now I know what true libertarianism is, and I have come to accept Hayek as my Lord and Saviour.

    I no more accept this than I accepted Trotskysists whose only argument against the line “Why is it that when people who wanted what you say you want got into power it turned so nasty?” was to say “Oh, THAT was just state capitalism and it’s completely the opposite to what we want”. And when you pressed them further for something practical to see if they at least understood what went wrong so you might have some idea that of they ever did get anywhere it wouldn’t go wrong again, all they;’d give you is some pie-in-the-sky stuff, waffly blather, tell you to go off and read some tomes, and accuse you of being stupid because you hadn’t read those tomes and hadn’t gained the enlightenment they had.

    The fact is that the language “the state is bad, cut it back” HAS been used, and has been used massively in recent decades most particularly in our own country to promote growing ineqaulity, a horrible dog-eat-dog attitude, and end to what was left of the mutualistic co-operative ways of thinking and acting that were left over from true 19th century liberalism, and a consumer dependence on big business doing everything for you.

    I have not seen from Jock any clearly defined way in which we can move away from this dependence and control by big business. From others of his sort, I see an urgent wish to cut back the state, and very little or no criticism of the power of big business. Jock at least can sometimes be got to talk a little about mutualistic ideas, but he’s pretty clueless about how we can get from here to there. So, I’m afraid, it looks very much like pie-in-the-sky stuff, no more believeable than the Soviet Communist line that they were the first stage in the state withering away. There may be some softies, maybe Jock is one, who really believe in that stuff. But I suspect the wealthy business people pumping money into funding the free-market think tanks and trying to make what was once a loony extreme seem to be the norm don’t think in that way – they are harder and they know where they’re leading us to.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 10:39pm


    Oh gee, another [email protected] libertarian witch-hunt thread on LDV. How utterly, utterly tedious. I dread to think what the browsing public think of this party when they see the likes of Titley, Payne and Huntbach etc\banging the drum of expulsion whenever they see people they disagree with in the party.

    I think I have pointed out how very far the views of these “libertarians” are from the stated aims and objectives of our party as expressed in the pre-amble to our constitution. It is not a matter of disagreement over nuances, it’s a matter of them sneering at the things it is written there about what our party is for, and using terms of abuse and outrage and trying to paint as hateful extremists someone like myself simply for defending what is written clearly there and what we joined this party for and have kept it going for – that we see a role for an active state in the provision of public services and in combatting enslavemnt by poverty, ignorance and conformity.

    As for what the browsing public might think, well, here we are in typical “libertarian” arrogance, assuming there is a big crowd of people out there all gung-ho keen for their extreme free market policies, and it’s those of us who are defending moderate mainstream attitudes who are the weird ones. If your views are so popular, go out and found your own party to push them, don’t try and steal another party which never stood for them.

    To my mind, people in this country are if anything crying out for a politics which moves away from the free market line first pushed by Thatcher/Reagan, then taken on by Blair, and now offered by both our main parties despite the economic disaster it has pushed this country into. The fact that at this very time there is this small band of infiltrators trying to push our party too down this line is, well, I think extremely damaging to our party.

    Those you criticise here are all very long-term active members of the party, so perhaps part of our anger is that we have put a lot into it, and don’t like seeing this attempt to turn it away from what it used to stand for, and we remember far back enough to know that some of what is said about this extreme free market line being what the Liberal Party used to stand for is pure lies, an Orwellian attempt to rewrite history.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 10:45pm

    Andy Mayer

    Tony I think Mark will be pleased to learn that his last action the party has made a sweet vulnerable old man happy

    There are few people – perhaps no people – who have contributed as much towards the survival and revival of the Liberal Party than Tony Greaves. Without Tony there would be no party for you and your lot to try and steal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 10:56pm


    In a nutshell, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. But if it only quacks occasionally, but otherwise walks like a Tory, it’s a Tory trying to hijack our natural policy area–don’t reject that policy area because a Tory pretends they like it as well, because that’s all Thatcher ever did with the language of liberalism.

    But the problem is there are an awful lot of these duck-like things you call non-ducks about. You raise this idea that there is some mythical real duck who is not like all these things that we see quacking and walking like ducks. But the real duck always seems to be somewhere else, and it seems to be a bit of a cop-out when you try and tell us how wonderful this real duck is that every time there’s a duck-like thing around which quacks and walks like a duck, and also shits like a duck and makes a mess, you raise this airy-fairy real duck which we have to close our eyes and clap our hands and believe in. And when it comes to “OK, so what are the true signs of the real duck”, you are always rather evasive, or like Jock tell us we must go and read some big books, and if we can’t spot a real duck from the fake ducks, well it’s just because we’re stupid.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '09 - 11:10pm


    @Andrew, that’s my feeling. I’m hoping the liberal wing of the party will now be able to coalesce more effectively, whether around the newly de-Littlewooded Liberal Vision or not.

    And here we have the supreme arrogance. This tiny group of extremists who hate what our party stands for as expressed in its constitution love to describe themselves as a “wing”, as if they are somehow one half of the party. And not just a wing, but the “liberal wing”, so they are the people who really stand for what this party is about, so much more than those of us who have been long-term active members for decades. so much more than the “sweet vulnerable old man” who was the prime mover in actually rebuilding the thing.

  • @Mattykins “Without Tony there would be no party for you and your lot to try and steal.”

    Would you like a hug Matthew?

  • Herbert Brown 27th Oct '09 - 11:50pm

    “You know what, I missed this the first time round. I’ve been unemployed and I’ve gone through the last year at sub-minimum wage levels. And yes, I still “believe in” classical liberalism. What is this supposed to prove?”

    Doesn’t it suggest to you that the market is rather bad at assessing the merit of job applicants?

  • Jock – is that a handy summary of this thread so I needn’t scroll through the hundred odd messages above 🙂

  • Herbert Brown 28th Oct '09 - 12:09am

    “I sure as hell have actually read my JS Mill and my David Ricardo”

    I’m “sure as hell” you have (albeit Ricardo died more than 180 years ago!).

    I’m a fan of history myself, but doesn’t it occur to you that in the 1-2 centuries since these worthy gentlemen died the world has changed almost beyond recognition? Are you absolutely sure that everything that’s happened since then wouldn’t have changed their opinions in the slightest?

  • Herbert Brown 28th Oct '09 - 12:26am

    And of course Adam Smith has been dead for nearly 220 years.

    There may indeed have been “many many since” – but apparently no one worth mentioning by name who survived as late as Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

  • Andrew Chamberlain wrote: “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Alix. When I hear the word libertarian I think of Nozick, Friedman and the Tory right.”

    Have you ever read Nozick or Friedman? Can’t imagine either of them for instance supporting Section 28 or a ban for abortion. It should be also mentioned, that Friedman was instrumental in repealing conscription in the U.S. Nozick argued for animal rights and probably wouldn’t have approved fox hunt

  • Voter wrote:

    “Sometimes those who view themselves as economic liberals want to put forward the idea that if only we left companies alone, they would manage to get things right by themselves.

    However, history suggests that this does not always happen. Lehman Brothers, acting in what it believed was its own interest, still failed.”

    Government also had it’s part in causing the current recession. I suggest you’d read to learn more.

    The point is, market may not be perfect, but neither is the government which should control it. Which is smaller evil, a free market or a big government is for each of us to decide.

  • Oops, sorry, I made a mistake in formating my last message. It should be:

    Voter wrote:

    “Sometimes those who view themselves as economic liberals want to put forward the idea that if only we left companies alone, they would manage to get things right by themselves.

    However, history suggests that this does not always happen. Lehman Brothers, acting in what it believed was its own interest, still failed.”

    Government also had it’s part in causing the current recession. I suggest you’d read this op-ed of the Wall Street Journal to learn more.

    The point is, market may not be perfect, but neither is the government which should control it. Which is smaller evil, a free market or a big government is for each of us to decide.


    Disgraceful ! Hope you choke on your caviar and that the Champagne goes down the wrong pipe ! Figuratively speaking of course.
    Just what we need. More neo- fascist sellouts. Thirty pieces of silver was it ? Nah ! Less than that I’m sure.

  • Herbert Brown 28th Oct '09 - 9:12am

    “Nevertheless, it is always interesting to hear people dismissed because they died x years ago. You would not utterly dismiss the likes of Newton …”

    I haven’t “utterly dismissed” anyone, but I have pointed out that it’s a very long time since these economists wrote, and that the world has changed almost beyond recognition in that time. It’s ridiculous for people to invoke them continually as though their works are some kind of holy writ, because their response to radically different economic conditions might well have been different.

    As for Newton, you could scarcely have picked a worse example! Because, of course, Newtonian mechanics – once believed to be absolute truth or something close to it – has been superseded. It is a useful working approximation in some circumstances, but under conditions different from those Newton was able to experience the rules are quite different.

  • My reading of this debate is that it’s between two groups of people based on the following division: on the one hand, those who believe in the ability of economic incentives and (reasonably) rational individual calculation to bring about a good society, and those who believe in the necessity of strong [tax-funded, democratic] institutions to achieve the same. The imagined outcome, for both sides, probably looks quite similar (and would match up quite well to the aims that the party sets out in the preamble to the constitution). Both groups are liberal in outlook and believe that their own proposals would lead to the ‘most liberal’ outcome.

    The first group can probably be called the ‘economists’ and the latter group the ‘political scientists’ (I think that I’m borrowing these labels from some literature I’ve read on the subject, but I apologise if I’m using them in error). For clarity, Jock and co. are the economists, Matthew and co. are the political scientists.

    The economists believe that the power of economics can be harnessed to create a better society. They believe that people can spend their own money better than third parties could do so on their behalf, and hence favour lower state spending. In order to tackle (abolish?) poverty, they propose direct cash transfers to the poorest in the form of a basic income, again based on the premise that the poor would benefit more from being, well, less poor than they would from having state-run programs designed to help them. They also believe that taxation should be applied to ‘externalities’, that is the side-effects of personal actions which can harm others. This creates an economic incentive to do less harm to others and the economists believe that people will respond to this (this is the rationale behind green taxation).

    The economists are generally skeptical about state institutions because these tend to offer little choice to individuals and often deliver their services in a way that does not accord with economic incentives. For example, ‘benefit traps’ can mean that it’s more profitable for an individual to remain unemployed than to work, or that the financial gain from working is so small that it’s not worth it. They would also point out, from a liberal perspective, that state institutions can be used for coercive purposes, for surveillance and, with the wrong (i.e. fascist) government could be used to do great harm to the people. They believe that these institutions are largely beyond reform and the only solution is to abolish them in their present form and replace them with voluntary (private-sector) alternatives. Given the basic income mentioned above, it is presumably imagined that, at the very least, individuals would be able to afford to pay for the same level of service they would receive from present-day state institutions, with the added bonus of greater choice and less coercion. Taken to its logical conclusion, this view is skeptical of all corporate institutions – including companies. Companies are, after all, state-backed institutions – limited liability and corporate personhood exist by force of law. When someone earlier in the thread mentioned ‘leaving companies alone’, the economists will probably have been frustrated by this characterisation of their views, as the consequence of getting the state out of the business of regulating companies would be that no companies (in their present limited-liability) form could exist at all. Cooperatives, partnerships and other smaller-scale models would be the norm.

    It should be pointed out here that there are those on the right wing who share some of these ideas but wish to serve right-wing ends – these are commonly called ‘Thatcherites’. The primary difference is that they would not be at all interested in a basic income, believe that having a sizable class of poor people is inevitable and even necessary for the functioning of the economy and are skeptical about taxing externalities where this might get in the way of business. They regard the limited liability corporation as something perfectly admirable and are often confused when told that this is a state-backed institution.

    The political scientists, on the other hand, believe that institutions matter. Furthermore, they believe that there are many (though certainly not all) problems which require an institution of some kind to solve them. The core functions of the state – police, judiciary, defence – are institutions that almost everybody supports. But the political scientists also think that healthcare, education and other forms of social welfare should be delivered by institutions, as there is no better way of delivering them. The question for liberal political scientists is not ‘how can we abolish these institutions’ but ‘how can we make them democratic and liberal’. They regard the economists as naive and dangerous, and believe that institutions offer stability, accountability and a sphere of democratic choice that is not present in the more anarchic society of the economists. They value the common endeavour represented by health and education systems that are shared by all, and regard improving those services as their highest calling.

    To a political scientist, a democracy without institutions is no democracy at all. What would there be left to vote on? This emaciated democracy would merely stand by and watch as whatever forces society and the economy unleashed did their work. Institutions provide safety because they allow us to create change by the power of our votes and our voices, influencing the powerful through the simple fact of our citizenship rather than our wealth and value to others. Creating better, stronger forums for democracy is the goal of the political scientist, and it is their belief that the democratic process of reform and improvement will eventually deliver the liberal society we all want.

    The right-wing version, however, believes that the same institutions can be used to create a society that is more conservative, more rigid and ordered, driven by nationalism or another ideology of central command and control. I would include Stalin’s Russia in this, despite the fact that it was nominally ‘left-wing’ it was a state which centralised power and allowed the elite to control the lives of the people. Institutions are powerful, but that power can be used for harm as well as good.

    I hope I haven’t patronised anyone in my characterisations above. I just thought that with all the shouting back and forth that’s going on, I’d try to help the two sides understand each other better. Maybe they already understand each other perfectly and the loathing is truly mutual, but I somehow doubt it. After all, the end point that we all want to reach is probably quite similar. What seems to be the case is that both sides are assuming that the other side is, in some way, a stooge for their right-wing equivalent. While nobody questions Jock’s honesty, some might legitimately wonder if his libertarian paradise is just a convenient fiction supported by those whose real agenda is to roll back any checks on the power of the rich. Likewise, the libertarians cannot easily understand how vesting more power in the state is a good idea if, for most of the last century, that state has been run by our ideological opponents and may, in the future, be run by those who are even more fundamentally opposed to our view of a good society (the ‘Road to Serfdom’ argument). I don’t think that either of these arguments are, alone, good enough to ‘win’ the debate for either side.

    To be honest, I’m not sure that the two views can be reconciled as they rest on a fairly fundamental difference about the mechanisms that we should use to improve our society. But I’d like to be proved wrong on that, and I can only hope that the debate moves beyond name-calling and begins to engage – in a slightly more generous spirit – with the best arguments from both sides, rather than the worst straw-men that can be conjured in their place.

  • Malcolm Todd 28th Oct '09 - 9:46am


    Having, as often before, followed this thread with interest and despair, I found your contribution as cool, clear and refreshing as mountain spring water on a hot, sticky climb. Any chance of recreating it as an article/blog/whatever the hell the word is for the piece at the top of the horrifyingly long column of comments at the foot of which this currently and rather squashedly sits? Then more people could join what the persistent voice of Hopeoverexperience claims could be a sensible debate or even discussion, without having to wade through all of the bile and choler above.

    Of course, one downside of your very clear and (as far as a virtual non-combatant like myself can tell) very fair characterisation of the two sides to this argument is that I am left still incapable of working out which side of the fence I’m standing on, while finding the pointy end of the palings no more comfortable than before. But then, there must be a reason I joined the LibDems, and it could have something to do with a congenital inability to pick sides. Perhaps a little more Robbish clarity will help me to work it out.

    Okay, I’m now going to tick the little ‘Notify me of followup’ box below. Which may be one of those biiig mistakes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Oct '09 - 9:47am


    For the first part, what you’re failing to understand, despite having had it restated many times in this and many other threads, is that Thatcher et al, let alone Blair, did not implement anything close to a genuinely free market.
    They implemented an economic system that favours corporations and big business, and erects massive barriers to entry, the very antithesis of a free market.

    No, I am not failing to understand what you have said. Looking back, I have done so in a message timed 10.18pm last night, and then again and more facetiously in a message dated 10.56 last night. If Thatcher at al were not at all moving politics in the direction you “real liberals” as you claim to be wish it to go, were the people at the time who were the true supporters of your true free market ideology deriding them, were they voting Labour in 1979 and 1983, and backing Tony Benn for leadership of the Labour Party because Thatcher and Blair and the like were so far removed from what they wanted? No. They were cheering on Thatcher and Blair. Their criticism was only that they were not going far enough.

    You arrogantly assume I have “failed to understand” when I understand perfectly what you say, and I reject it. You arrogantly assume that your politics is so wonderful that anyone who understood it would be fully in favour of it, so anyone who rejects it must just be a stupid fool who does not understand it. In your arrogance you cannot even contemplate the idea that perhaps you are wrong, or perhaps there are people who really do think differently from you. My reading of JS Mill “On Liberty” is that this sort of arrogance is one of the main things he is writing against.

    This debate could be ended instantly on an “agree to differ” agreement where I say “I see what you are saying, but I do not think things would work out as you say they will if your politics were implemented, and I have not seen what I feel is a safe path to what you regard as the ideal society from where we are now, rather I have seen when people attempt to push things in your sort of direction it goes wrong and does not have the outcomes you say.” And you say “OK, I see where you are coming from, you are perhaps a pessimist who is more cautious in politics than I am, and sees things differently than I do”. If this is getting angry and testosterone filled, it is very much because of your continual accusation that because I disagree with you, or am not convinced by your arguments, that I must be some stupid person.

    In the second half of the paragraph you seem to think that it is infiltrators that are pushing a free market line that is, somehow, against the principles of the party you’ve been involved with forever. Well, sorry, but I’ve studied my liberal history, and I sure as hell have actually read my JS Mill and my David Ricardo. You think that those favouring markets and genuine competition don’t belong in this party.

    I have argued by quoting from the pre-amble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats which states the basic aims and objectives of the party. I have not said that the use of markets and competition is wrong in all cases, which is what you are accusing me of here. I am simply noting that I feel, and it is down to the imbalance of power given by imbalance of ownership and an imbalance in knowledge and an imbalance in human relationships, that the simplistic line that the removal of all government intervention and of all government provision of services will increase freedom for everyone all round is wrong. I don’t think it will work like that.

    I think it is the mark of the fanatic that if someone criticises his ideology, the fanatic automatically assumes that person is a strong and fierce opponent of every aspect of that ideology. The fanatic cannot tolerate moderation and free debate and reaching a balance and agreeing to disagree. To the fanatic, you are either with him or against him, so if you disagree with him, you are the enemy who hates everything he stands for. It is impossible to argue with the fanatic, because if you try and express doubt about some of what he says, he rounds on you and refuses to accept that perhaps you are trying to find common ground by airing the problems you have with what he says. He accuses you instead of not understanding him, of being the enemy, or maybe even of not being human or of being some plant with a hidden agenda, because the fanatic cannot even get it into his head the idea of someone who is different from him and so doesn’t see things the way he sees them. Part of my political development came from meeting that sort of fanatic on the socialist side and being repelled by that attitude. That so many people who called themselves “socialist” had that sort of fanaticism led me to be quite clear that I did not feel myself to be any sort of “socialist”. I am sorry now to find people who claim to be “liberals” exhibiting a similar sort of fanaticism. I had myself up till now thought liberals were against that sort of thing.

    My own reading of what 19th century Liberals were doing suggests they were not all saying everything the state does is wrong and there should be no provision of public services, rather it should be left to free enterprise to provide them. Rather I see that the provision of public services was all very much part of what Liberals were about then. We may of course disagree about the most suitable balance between state and private, between power exercised by spending money and power exercised by the ballot box. But your line that liberalism is all and totally about diminishing the power of the ballot box and increasing the power of money and ownership and that that’s what it was about in the 19th century seems to me to be wrong. We have a song we sing “Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hands?” which I think dates back to the 19th century. Why would we sing that song if our line was that the state should have no power, that government is always wrong, and that therefore what can be done through the ballot box should be diminished to nothing?

    I would also note that things have changed since the 19th century, so there are aspects now of diminution of freedom which were less apparent then. Back then, industry and ownership of the infrastructure which supports basic human existence was on a much smaller scale. When “free market” mean the local butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers competing with each other, perhaps it could be viewed in a different way than when it means huge global corporations dominating and competing with each other. Back then, the established power of the aristocracy and church seemed to be the pressing thing to fight against to increase real human freedom. Now, perhaps, these have been replaced by other powers, which are equally dominating and in their dominance restricting, though they need not necessarily have the “state” label. To me, a more true inheritance of 19th century liberalism would be seeing this sort of thing, seeing where power now lies and how it may be challenged.

    If you favour something else, please do feel free to tell us a) what it is, and b) why you think it’s more liberal than liberal economics? Because all I see is you constantly railing against a basic tenet of liberalism.

    No, you see me railing against those who over-emphasise one basic tenet to the exclusion of others.

    I have no idea what you’re actually for.

    I think I have already said that all I am doing here is defending the sort of thinking which is laid down in the pre-amble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats. When I looked at that when it was quoted in this debate, it seemed quite a reasonable expression of what I am for. So if I am for that, and you are not, doesn’t this suggest I am onto something when I use the word “infiltrator” in regards to people who are in the Liberal Democrats and yet think like you?

    My paragraph above starting “I would also note ..” indicates where I would like to be moving onto in the development of new political ideas. I wish I was amongst friends who could join me in this. I do find it tiresome this constant debate with people like you who seem just to be repeating the tired old orthodoxy which has been dominant since 1979 with your only difference being that you want it more and deeper because you claim that will resolve the problems observed in milder versions of it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Oct '09 - 10:00am


    I find your characterisation wrong. I have no problem at all with the idea of “basic income”, in fact I very much support the idea. If those who call themselves “libertarians” were to spend more time talking about things like that and less time saying the same sort of things you can hear from wealthy businessmen defending their wealth, I’d think much better of them.

    I am not committed to state-regulated institutions in the way you suggest. I believe the state has a role in correcting imbalances in wealth and power, yes, but that certainly may be in a way which is very light touch when it comes to the details of the provision of services in health and education and the like.

  • Alix Mortimer 28th Oct '09 - 10:42am

    “If those who call themselves “libertarians” were to spend more time talking about things like that and less time saying the same sort of things you can hear from wealthy businessmen defending their wealth, I’d think much better of them.”

    I think this does seem to suggest that Rob is right on the point about stooges. You must at some level believe that Jock is a stooge for the “right-wing” and betrays himself by using a certain kind of language that you associate with Thatcherism. Is this fair?

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    I find your characterisation wrong.

    OK, that’s fair enough. In fact, the way you describe your views (‘light touch [in] the provision of services’) is pretty much the centre ground in this debate. It’s a view that I can certainly support and agree with. However, I also think that if I’ve misread your views (by exaggerating the extent of your attachment to state institutions), I also think that you may have misread Jock’s views too.

    I think you’re saying that if someone were to put forward the kind of views I ascribed to the ‘economists’ earlier – basic income, land value and green taxation, reduction in the power of the central state and so forth – that you would find those ideas basically agreeable. What’s frustrating is that that’s exactly what people like Jock (and Alix, Andy Mayer, Charlotte Gore and others) are arguing for, and they believe – perhaps unfairly – that you disagree with them (perhaps they think my earlier characterisation of your views is correct, in which case you have now corrected them).

    I think that the people you have a real disagreement with are those who are in favour of all of the ‘rolling back regulation’ measures and none of the redistribution and tax reform measures: the Thatcherites. I think – I certainly hope! – that Jock and others would oppose them just as vehemently as you do. To relate this point back to the original post, I think the problem with Mark Littlewood was that it was never very clear if he really did oppose Thatcherism in the sense we’re talking about it here. Maybe he did, but he didn’t seem to go to any great lengths to make it clear.

    Of course, the fact that we have substantial common ground doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to debate in the details. The precise scale and scope of any reforms would have to be debated long and hard, and I imagine that some people would favour a greater shrinkage of the state than others, some would favour greater redistribution than others, and so forth, but these are at least topics that we can debate on their merits rather than debating the character and honesty of the participants in the debate. I hope we can accept that Jock isn’t a Thatcherite and Matthew isn’t a statist, as this seems perfectly clear to me.

  • Rob, I’d echo Malcolm’s comments above.

    There seems to be far too much shouting and not enough reflection. Once again I’m reminded of the scene from “Life of Brian” where Brian tries to join the People’s Front of Judea.

    Personally, I think there is far too much rigidity on either side of this debate – public good, private bad and vice versa. To me, it hinges not on provision method but upon scale; far, far too much of the modern world relies on huge public and private institutions. Individuals get lost in the massive scale of these institutions, and that’s where problems start.

    There is interesting research that shows that the optimal size for a human grouping is c150 (which, interestingly, is about the size of group we would have lived in as primates/primitive peoples). At this level an individual can develop meaningful interpersonal relationships within that organisation that help it to function better on a social level and in terms of delivering what the organisation is supposed to.

    And ultimately – this all boils down to power and its diffusion, the traditional Liberal touchstone.

  • Fair enough Jock. However – and I say this as someone who thinks you’re probably right – there’s no real prospect of the state being “ditched” any time soon. We can move in the direction of less state interference in people’s lives, less state control of public services and a fairer and less distortionary tax system. If we do those things and they work, people may begin to gain an appetite for going further with more radical reforms. But until there’s some evidence that the “baby steps” (LVT, basic income etc.) actually work, the more radical ideas will be dismissed as too extreme. A second avenue is to actively build – here and now – alternatives to state provision. With your mutual housing scheme it sounds like you’re doing that already, and I think that everyone in the party ought to be supportive of your efforts.

    My point is that your “hardcore” positions are just extreme versions of the opinions that are mainstream within the party, not something that lies outside the liberal political landscape.

  • “I know MatGB tends to call himself (half-jokingly) an anarcho-syndicalist – maybe the ‘left-libertarians’ in the party would get more respect if they called themselves anarchists?”

    Ah – so we’re more into “Holy Grail” territory then:

    ARTHUR: Please, please good people. I am in haste. Who lives
    in that castle?
    WOMAN: No one live there.
    ARTHUR: Then who is your lord?
    WOMAN: We don’t have a lord.
    ARTHUR: What?
    DENNIS: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take
    it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
    ARTHUR: Yes.
    DENNIS: But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified
    at a special biweekly meeting.
    ARTHUR: Yes, I see.
    DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–
    ARTHUR: Be quiet!
    DENNIS: –but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more–
    ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
    WOMAN: Order, eh — who does he think he is?
    ARTHUR: I am your king!
    WOMAN: Well, I didn’t vote for you.
    ARTHUR: You don’t vote for kings.
    WOMAN: Well, ‘ow did you become king then?
    ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake,

  • Alix Mortimer 28th Oct '09 - 12:52pm

    “see today’s LDV Voice article for an idea as to how far away we are even from that ”

    To be fair, that’s a guest from Centre for Cities and they seem to be a bit dozey. Their guest piece yesterday implored the Liberal Democrats to adopt something as party policy which was adopted about three years ago.

  • I do not see myself as either an economist or a political scientist. Nor do I regard either the state or the private as good, whilst labelling the other bad. I am concerned that people are hoping that simple solutions will work. H L Mencken said “for every problem, there is a simple, obvious and ineffective solution” or something like that. I do think that there have been government mistakes and yes this is down to both parties in the states and all three main parties here. That is one reason why I participate in debate, to improve policy.

    Now that we have lived through the history, I would like us to learn from it.

    Citing people from the past does not address this. And if gravity stopped working suddenly, we would very quickly have to rewrite Newton. Newtonian physics continues to apply and we can still do physics experiments in the classroom.

    Why can we not apply the same principles to economics? Do experiments and see what works. Instead of this, we seem to have people who seize hold of the current problems and attribute them to not enough competition (or whatever their favoured tool is) which conclusion seems to require a large amount of speculation.

    Gordon Brown deliberately went for a light touch regulation approach and, according to my understanding, this led to banks and building societies getting involved in risky items like mortgage-backed securities or relying on the continued openness of the wholesale money market. RBS person Fred Goodwin admitted that he was just doing what everyone else was doing.

    I cannot see how a pure market solution can prevent the problems. I suggest that all the elements which exist in a pure market solution also did not prevent problems with Northern Rock, RBS, Dumfermline. Yet there still seems to be a strong apetite for doing things which did not work in the past.

    Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it

    If anarcholibertarians really believe that their solutions are good, let them put forward a precise theory and cite an article in a peer-reviewed journal which shows that the evidence does accord with it. Otherwise we are just left with an “instinct” that the market can curb human nature even though the market did not prevent Lehman.

    Like Avon in Blake’s 7, I distrust instinct.

    Alan Greenspan believed for years and years that self-interest would be sufficient to get companies to look after themselves. He was wrong.

    I want to move to a more evidence-based approach where we take hypotheses (such as, can self-interest cause companies to act in a particular way) and see if they actually hold water. This is actually what the Lib Dem are leaning towards in other areas. Chris Huhne was on a television crime conference event and there they seemed to be using people’s actual experience in the relevant areas.

    I do not want to have the government bail out more banks just because it continues to think that risk can be managed. My preferred solution (at present) would be to get the taxpayer out of the risk business. Governments would stop guaranteeing high risk institutions. Of course, confidence in the certain markets might collapse and investment banks could die, but I think this is a better way forward than to guarantee banks which are speculating.

  • Currency? That does not follow.

    The problem was the risky speculation which should end.

  • Interesting, so who else is in favor of abolishing the minimum wage, Charlotte? Alix?

    Presumably this plan also involves some changes to benefits too? Would you explain them? I mean rational economic man won’t work for sub minimum wage levels if he could just take benefits that pay more.

  • I am open to solutions other than I outlined above but think that we should be cautious.

    The idea that risky institutions can be chopped up to improve matters makes me think of the Sorcerer’s apprentice who had one dancing broom. He cut it in half and then had two dancing brooms.

  • Andrew Chamberlain wrote:

    Jock, it’s possible that I’ve mischaracterised the US Libertarian Party and the likes of Robert Nozick. I can’t remember them ever arguing that property needs to be redistributed before we can arrive at a nightwatchman state.

    I’m at work so don’t have my copy of Anarchy, State and Utopia to hand, but I’m fairly sure that Nozick did argue that redistribution of property would be a pre-condition to a fair nightwatchman state. I can’t remember if this example was in the book, but others have posited the scenario where a dictator redistributes all property to himself, then abolishes the redistributive facilities of the state. This would be patently unfair and differs from the idea of declaring a nightwatchman state from our present situation only in the degree of unfairness. Personally I’d consider the risks inherent in such a ‘great redistribution’ to far outweigh the benefits. Gradual redistribution based on land value tax and basic income seems like a fairer and much less risky approach.

    Charlotte Gore wrote:

    The minimum wage is completely pointless. The only reason it didn’t have the devastating impact on employment that the Tories predicted was because we already had an effective minimum wage: The welfare state.

    This isn’t entirely true. Working at minimum wage is still, just about, worth it for a 25-60 year old with no children or other dependents. I used to do it and would do so again if I had to. I probably would have worked for very slightly under the minimum wage if that had been my only choice, even at the current level of benefits, if only to avoid the hassle of being entangled in the benefit system (however, I did receive housing benefit, so it would be false to argue that I supported myself fully on minimum wage alone). As you say, the minimum wage doesn’t really make much difference as it’s set so low that very few employers would be able to attract workers at sub-min-wage levels given the alternative of benefits.

    The minimum wage does, however, make things a bit more straightforward for the benefits system. If a significant number of people were earning less in work than they would on JSA, there’d be a whole new bureaucratic nightmare in trying to top their salaries up every week. I suspect that the minimum wage exists largely to ensure that people on low wages don’t ever end up in that situation, rather than as a measure to alleviate poverty or exploitation. It ensures that you fit either into the ‘working and thus able to support yourself’ or ‘not working at all’ boxes.

    Personally I’d be happy to get rid of the minimum wage if we had a basic income – a guaranteed minimum income for all, provided via redistributive taxation – which ensured that even if people were working for a pittance, they’d still be able to feed, clothe and house themselves, have access to healthcare, education and the opportunities afforded by society generally. Unlike benefits, it wouldn’t reduce in amount if your salary or hours increase. But getting rid of the minimum wage in the present situation would be very hard to justify on any grounds other than “but it’s illogical!”, an argument that voters are largely immune to.

  • Alix Mortimer 28th Oct '09 - 3:10pm

    Is it possible, I wonder, to build a computer strategy game that produces some level of simulation of the effects of LVT?

    Is that the most geekish thing I’ve ever said?

  • Malcolm Todd 28th Oct '09 - 3:22pm


    Dear god, I hope it is. 😉

  • nuclear cockroach 30th May '13 - 6:37pm

    If Mark Littlewood left the Liberal Democrats in 2009, why is that the BBC four years later still put him in front of their cameras and microphones as a leading member?

3 Trackbacks

  • By The LDV Friday Five (ish): 30/10/09 on Fri 30th October 2009 at 6:54 pm.

    […] Mark Littlewood resigns Lib Dem membership for IEA Director job (175) by Richard Huzzey 2. Opinion: A Liberal Line on Immigration (61) by Patrick Murray 3. What […]

  • By LDV doesn’t do statporn, but if we did (Oct. ‘09) on Mon 2nd November 2009 at 11:22 am.

    […] Mark Littlewood resigns Lib Dem membership for IEA Director job (176) by Richard Huzzey 2. Opinion: A Cooperative Coalition (150) by Sara Scarlett 3. Bedford […]

  • By Top of the Blogs: The Golden Dozen #141 on Wed 4th November 2009 at 10:36 pm.

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