UKIP’s empty libertarianism

Oliver Kamm

Having written yesterday that UKIP’s policies are unpleasant, I note with complacence that the UKIP candidate in the Rotherham by-election has been supported today by Neil and Christine Hamilton, whom the party apparently regards as electoral assets. Mr Hamilton once complained at my describing him as a disgraced former minister, but, as he is undeniably a former minister, I’m not sure what else to say.

On his Spectator blog, Alex Massie says sensible things about UKIP (my only difference with him is that I favour tough anti-tobacco legislation). It’s a highly illiberal party with incoherent and destructive policies. But the term “libertarian” would be applicable to it in an American context. Libertarianism in that tradition doesn’t mean what it ought to mean: it’s instead a philosophy of minimal government and immense private coercion.

The fascination of US libertarians with gold makes philosophical sense in that context. If the currency is pegged to the price of gold, government is powerless to act as lender of last resort or to stimulate the economy through monetary or fiscal means. And libertarianism is a starkly empty conception of politics. As Hannah Arendt wrote (Past and Future, p. 148): “Without a politically guaranteed public realm, freedom lacks the worldly space to make its appearance.”

An alliance of the Conservatives with UKIP would be a catastrophe for the Tories. It would undo the work of David Cameron and his fellow modernisers, such as my close colleague Daniel Finkelstein, to reconcile Conservatism with modernity. This is of some autobiographical interest to me, though of scant interest to anyone else.

On election day in 2010, Daniel expressed incredulity and some hilarity that I’d voted Labour even though I recognised (and had long said) that Gordon Brown was utterly unsuited to high office. Labour has, in not quite such an extreme form, got the wrong leader now too. But if the Tories were to treat UKIP as their ally, they would abandon any claim to be a credible party of government, even given Labour’s current state.



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