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The Ministerial Merry-Go-Round
How Britain's Wars at the Top Could Sow Distrust in the State
2022 has seen the upper echelons of the British state locked in a game of musical chairs – and we still have two months left to go. This has been the year of two monarchs, three prime ministers, four chancellors and three/four home secretaries (depending on how one counts Suella Braverman’s non-contiguous terms).
When comparing the US with the UK (and, more broadly, with Europe) it is often remarked that the latter is more social democratic or "left-leaning" than the former, which seems to have preserved something, at least, of the spirit of free enterprise and self-reliance.
This isn’t entirely true, of course. For one thing, it is difficult to argue that fiscal and financial debauchery is qualitatively better or worse on either side of the Atlantic. Domestically, it may seem like Britain has been more crippled by the weight of excessive governance than its transatlantic ally. But many of the more extensive horrors of statism – war-mongering imperialism, a permanent spying, security and warfare industry – either have their contemporary origins within, or are otherwise at their worst, in the US. Additionally, it is likely that the culture war is more intense over the pond, with cultural leftists in the UK struggling to ignite the same kind of racial narratives that dog our American cousins.
Nevertheless, if I was a betting man, I would probably count on the population of the US to resist more forcefully the impetus for any kind of “reset” into a form of globalised, digital socialism – if only because they are blessed with the tradition of states’ rights, secession and decentralisation (as well as the corresponding, regionalised political infrastructure) that can, at least in principle, serve as a credible counterbalance to the accumulating insanity in Washington DC.
However, there is one aspect of the British attitude that seems more conducive to liberty than that of the Americans: that the British have very little love for politicians of any creed or colour.
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This is not to imply, of course, that certain sections of the British electorate have no enthusiasm for one political candidate over the another. Nor that Americans fail to display outright hatred and disgust for some of theirs. But while Conservative Boris Johnson – one of this year’s several prime ministers – achieved a modicum of populist enthusiasm by breaking through the so-called “Red Wall” of working class voters in the 2019 election, it seems unlikely that any British politician could stage a rally attracting the kinds of crowds that accumulate for American presidential candidates. In fact, I would say that British politicians generally are viewed as lying, self-serving crooks, an opinion which emanates from all sides of the political spectrum.
This may not amount to much, of course, and perhaps I am misjudging attitudes on either side of the Atlantic. Optimistically, however, it might well be the start of a clearer recognition of the fact that political tax eaters are little more than a parasitic class of spongers, scroungers and plunderers leeching off the blood of the rest of us.
This year’s ministerial musical chairs may help to emphasise this. Many libertarians have always been in tune with the fact that democracy has presented the people with very little, real choice. Rather, we are normally treated to a parade of pre-screened candidates, all of whom are agreed on most of the fundamentals. Relatively minor or trivial differences are exaggerated into deep gulfs so as to instil the illusion of choice. Certainly today, there is very little difference, for instance, between the major UK political parties; everyone is committed to high taxes and high spending while all are content to swing the economic wrecking ball of so-called climate change policy. One might as well be asked to choose between the noose and the electric chair.
Occasionally, however, the electorate does manage to exercise a genuine choice which sails against the prevailing winds of elite preference – as we saw, for instance, with the vote for Brexit in 2016 and, in the US, for Donald Trump in the same year.
Subsequent UK elections have hardly been as dramatic. Boris Johnson, for all of his promise, was a sore disappointment to anyone counting on his apparent libertarian fervour. He imposed COVID lockdowns while wholeheartedly supporting the vaccine programme. He is a net-zero zealot while he went above and beyond the call of duty in lending his (quite considerable) weight to perpetuating the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In fact, he is officially regarded as something of a hero in the latter. In every relevant way, he is an obedient little statist.
But the establishment (or fighting factions within it) are now so desperate to maintain their grip on power that not even this was good enough for Johnson to be assured of tenure. As such, he was ousted for largely unimportant reasons. But even more perversely, Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss was booted out after a mere six weeks following her announcement of an economic programme that was, at least, pointing in the direction of something resembling a smaller state. It now seems that exactly the right, reliable people have to be in place in the upper echelons of government if the powers that be are to be satisfied.
Consequently, the coronation of Rishi Sunak as our latest prime minister – with no say on the appointment having been granted to either the whole electorate or to his party members – is likely to infuriate not only anti-Tories but also the Tory base, especially as the latter had earlier rejected Sunak in favour of Truss. If candidates can simply be shuffled out in favour of options more preferable to forces operating behind the scenes, then precisely who is the state actually serving?
Asking questions of this nature is vital if people are to ever understand the true nature of the state and its participants: that, far from representing the people, it is an institution that seeks only to benefit itself. Weakening the state’s grip over our freedom cannot be achieved unless and until it is firmly identified as being, like oil and water, separate and apart from the populace, not a part of it. The idea that "we are all the government" or that the government somehow belongs to “us” must be firmly rejected.
Unfortunately, it also seems to be the case that people still, generally, perceive that the problem with the state is with the specific people in charge rather than with the institution itself – that only if we elect the “right” leaders then everything will be OK. Not until there is a realisation that whoever populates the state is irrelevant, and that they will all (with one or two exceptions that tend to confirm the rule) behave in more or less the same way, will there be much hope of wresting the UK free from the power of its centralised government.
Pro-liberty minded UK citizens should concentrate their efforts in this direction.