Sunday, 24 June 2012


In recent years UKIP has increasingly used the term libertarian to describe itself. Yet, libertarianism is a distinct political ideology and not one which UKIP policy truly reflects. This has led to the party sending out a confused message. 

There are two key strands of libertarianism. First, minarchy which stands for a nightwatchman state designed to protect only the “life, liberty and property” of its citizens. Second, anarcho-capitalism which holds that practically all state functions could be performed by voluntary bodies or charities.

The following are two examples of policy areas where UKIP's stance is incompatible with libertarian theory: gay marriage and immigration.

When UKIP came out against gay marriage, its press statement said that the decision was made from a libertarian perspective. Libertarians are opposed to the state being involved in the way its citizens choose to live their lives. Therefore they say the state should not set up the institution of 'gay marriage' which would be the state sanctioning a particular marital arrangement a couple have undertaken.

However, the problem with UKIP's justification is that the true libertarian view refuses the need for state recognition of any form of marriage, including traditional heterosexual marriage. In the recent Republican primaries in the USA , the libertarian candidate Ron Paul advocated such a position when asked by the ultra socially conservative candidate, Rick Santorum, if he would allow three people to get married.

Nevertheless, there is a political philosophy which UKIP's gay marriage stance does appeal to aside from conservatism, namely, classical liberalism. Classical liberalism was developed during the period of the Enlightenment and though it lay the groundwork for the later libertarians, it has come to be recognized as a distinctly different political force.

Classical liberalism maintains that the the state has an interest in certain public goods which it should provide because all societal members will benefit from them and that they wouldn't be provided if left to the market and other non-state bodies. Two very important examples are welfare and basic education.

Traditional marriage falls into the category of objects which the state must provide and sanction. Marriage is a core institution in British society which has been there for hundreds of years. It fosters a key part of our culture and identity and only the state can universally sanction marriages across the various religions and creeds of the British people in such a way.

In the field of immigration, the libertarian movement is very opposed to UKIP's desire, as expressed in its immigration policy document, to cap immigration at 50,000 people per anum. For a number of reasons libertarians are opposed to this measure. They think that, for example, if Britain were to do away with all forms of the state provision of public services, only rich desirable individuals would come to Britain.

The UKIP response should be twofold. First, UKIP does not want to do away completely with all welfare, the NHS and state schools. While much urgent reform is needed, these institutions are at the core of the British nation-state. Nevertheless, even without welfare it is not clear that poor migrants will stop coming to the UK for economic reasons.

Second, the desire to cap immigration at 50,000 is a common sense method of ensuring that migrants can successfully integrate into British society. Libertarians tend to be value pluralist, and do not see the national culture as needing to be protected by the state. But while UKIP could never be against immigration per se (immigration is a key part of any democratic liberal nation-state) restricting immigration to sensible numbers ensures migrant communities successfully integrate into British society. This stops ethnic and racial conflict, reduces the risk of terrorism and most importantly helps to create a more peaceful, cohesive society. As Classical Liberal thinker John Stuart Mill once wrote in his book Representative Government: “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling… [e]ach fears more injury to itself from the other nationalities, than from the common arbiter, the State. Their mutual antipathies are generally much stronger than [their] jealousy of government.”

If UKIP wants to realize its dream of a Britain outside of the EU, UKIP must have a narrative and a vision of what Britain outside the EU will look like. A move away from the libertarian brand will help UKIP to create a more consistent and appealing narrative to the British electorate.

Julien Conway is a student of Law at the University of Southampton, 
He tweets at @julienconway