FREEDOM doesn’t get many shout-outs from politicians in today’s Britain. The hustings of the nation whose proudest boast used to be “it’s a free country” now echo with little but shades of paternalist reassurance. Have a problem? There ought to be a law to sort it out – and if you vote for us, by God there will be.
Disquiet at the major parties’ lack of interest in political freedom drove this week’s inaugural Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, hosted in the City’s Guildhall by Conservative think tank the Centre for Policy Studies. It was cheering to hear a ringing Tory reaffirmation that liberty matters, but it is not enough. We need a cross-party equivalent.
As Daniel Hannan writes in his excellent history of the English-speaking peoples, How We Invented Freedom And Why It Matters, the political dynamic of Britain for a quarter-millennium was between Tory and Whig, or latterly Conservative and Liberal. The tension was recognised across the Anglosphere. Thomas Jefferson saw the division between lowly Whig ambition and high Tory caution as “founded in the nature of man”. He said “I consider the party division of Whig and Tory the most wholesome which can exist in any government, and well worthy of being nourished, to keep out those of a more dangerous character.” Only with the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s were new ideological battlelines drawn in the UK.