6th July 2021
The myth of the libertarianism of Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, endures.
ANALYSIS: Libertarian Johnson follows instinct in a big bang unlock. He had promised a ‘cautious but irreversible’ route out of lockdown, but with Delta variant now spreading uncontrollably, he’s taking a big gamblehttps://t.co/vo37ZcvoAi
— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) July 5, 2021
But it is a myth.
By ‘myth’ I mean that it is a thing that has narrative force, and which some people believe to be true, but it is a thing that is ultimately false.
Johnson is, of course, a political libertine, in that he believes rules – and indeed laws – are for other people.
His government attacks the independent judiciary, the impartial civil service and diplomatic corps and the public service broadcaster, as well as disregarding the speaker of the house of commons, the electoral commission, the ministerial adviser on the civil service code, the panel on appointments to the house of lords, and so on.
And so on.
If his government can get away with weakening or eliminating a check or balance, it shall do so.
It will not be told by anyone what to do.
The politics of Kevin the Teenager.
And this defiance is no doubt the basis of the decision of the government to relax the lockdown, despite various warnings.
Members of the government, and their political supporters, are fed up with being told what to do – especially as the impositions are for the benefit of others.
Is this restless defiance ‘libertarianism’?
Is there a coherent vision of limiting the power of the state vis-a-vis the individual?
This is a government which is seeking to disenfranchise people:
Today the Government is presenting the Electoral Integrity Bill to the House. This Bill will contain provisions for Voter ID. Voter ID will potentially disenfranchise thousands of people. It is an illogical and illiberal solution to a non-existent problem
— David Davis (@DavidDavisMP) July 5, 2021
(And here it is nice to have a return of classic David Davis, as opposed to the Brexit variant.)
The government is seeking to ban people:
By giving the police the discretion to use anti-protest powers some of the time, the government takes away our freedom all of the time.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) July 5, 2021
And this is from just two political Davids alone.
There is also, of course, the similar myth of the prime minister’s liberalism – that he, like Donald Trump, is really at heart just a metropolitan liberal.
Yet many in his cabinet – Priti Patel, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Elizabeth Truss – merrily play with the fires of culture wars and the politics of social division and confrontation, rather than promoting the politics of inclusion and solidarity.
The prime minister does not mind or care.
By any serious definition of libertarianism and liberalism this government is neither libertarian nor liberal.
There is no general approach to limiting those with state power to the benefit of those who are affected by state power.
Instead we have a government with occasional twitches and jolts against state power while over time accumulating as much power as possible for the executive and dismantling or dismissing any entity capable of saying ‘no’.
The general approach of this government is authoritarian – though this authoritarianism can be set aside when the power of the state would be for the benefit of others.
There are many words for the general approach of the prime minister and his government, but ‘libertarian’ is not one of them.
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