One of the least religious places in the UK, the worst rate for homelessness outside London. Home to Britain’s only Green MP and its first Green Party Council, the city of Brighton and Hove is not the first place you think of fertile as ground for a free market, small state party. However gaining ground for these ideals is the role Sofia Svihurova takes on as Brighton Group Leader of the Libertarian Party.
Recently completing a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton, with a thesis on “Concerning the Right to Self-Defence in the UK and the Issue of Empowerment”, Sofia spoke at the Libertarian Party 2019 Conference about why she is libertarian.
Sofia thanks for agreeing to speak to us.
You spoke at the conference about why you are a libertarian, but for our readers can you tell us a little about why you are a libertarian and why you joined the party?
My first introduction to anything anti-establishment was actually punk rock, I really got into the whole Anarchy in the UK mentality and I especially still have a soft spot for the Clash. It was weirdly enough political music that got my attention and then I mostly just watched the news from there and found out that libertarianism made the most sense to me. The most interesting shift for me was probably seeing attitudes towards freedom of speech, shifting from the Conservatives censoring speech to the Left doing it, and of course both sides now either blame each other for censorship or act like they’re championing it. For me, neither side really cares or represents the people or their rights. To me libertarianism at least tries to uphold these rights and values, it might not hand you anything for free but it won’t interfere in your life either unless you’re actively physically harming someone. For me libertarianism is just the most reasonable ideology out of the whole lot. I joined the party because I wanted to promote those values and meet more likeminded people who also saw liberty as vital to a good life.
Brighton doesn’t seem a natural home to libertarian Politics. How did libertarian ideas go down on campus and more generally in Brighton?
You’d be surprised actually! I think Brighton has a lot of potential for libertarianism. There are a lot of anarchist groups around with people actively volunteering and doing stuff to help their community instead of moping around waiting for the local council to do something. And of course, the whole town is mostly obscure small businesses that somehow have enough customers to keep going, so I think there is a lot to work with! Recently, the council have been experimenting with the whole “car-free” idea, by closing off Madeira Drive by the seafront, and people are already protesting it saying it will affect business too much. I think Brighton is already convinced of the ideas of personal freedoms and small state, it’s just the economic side that would be an uphill battle.
As for libertarianism on campus, it took me a while to speak out and say what I truly believed but I eased people around me in to my way of thinking and by the end of first year I had built up a libertarian reputation (for better or worse)! During my second year I managed to get on to the Philosophy Society committee and managed to get 2 speakers who weren’t strictly radically left, one was even a libertarian from the IEA so that was a win! In all honesty, now that I am thinking about it I wish I had done more but it was always so exhausting and felt like an uphill battle. I think there was one other person in my year who I knew of that was libertarian/conservative and stuck with their views from beginning to end.
Because of this I was mostly involved with Libertarianism in Brighton outside my uni. I first joined a non-party group, Liberate Brighton, who later became the Brighton Brexiteers. There I met people like Paul and Ian who inspired me to keep fighting the good fight even after they decided to step away from it a bit. We’ve had a few meet ups as the party “Brighton Libertarians” and had a good few people show up! I think it’s important to keep these sorts of socials going, even if we don’t always end up doing anything productive at least it allows people to meet up and speak freely and feel less alone in this largely left-wing town.
Your thesis was on “Concerning the Right to Self-Defence in the UK and the Issue of Empowerment”. Clearly this was a major piece of work, but what are your main views on the issue?
Well, first of all I should highlight that, unfortunately, I didn’t really reach some grand conclusion. After doing over a year’s worth of research I mostly found out that there is no one size fits all solution. But my research did lead me to find out just how ridiculous the laws here are. Of course, pepper spray is still very much illegal. But in fairness you could just carry a bug-spray, just don’t tell anyone that you’re using it for self-defence because then you’re carrying it “with intent to harm” and that’s definitely something that could get you into trouble. Similarly, while carrying a knife with a blade under 3 inches is legal, make sure you’re not carrying it for self-defence reasons (again intent to harm). Legally the only self-defence item we are allowed to carry in the UK is a rape whistle. Which is ridiculous of course, there is no defence in that at all. Imagine using it in a big city like London, it would get about as much attention as a car alarm going off does. We have to be pragmatic about these things, telling people in the UK that they should all have access to firearms from tomorrow so that they can defend themselves is never going to work. Legalizing pepper spray might though, everyone I have spoken to on all sides of the political spectrum seems to agree with this. We can’t rely on the police for protection, those minutes, sometimes even an hour between you getting attacked and the police showing up could mean life or death. And if the US is anything to go by the police might not always be on our side anyway.
You’ve been at University during lockdown, how has this affected higher education, and do you have any thoughts on what more permanent changes we might see in universities as a result of this period?
We had our lectures emailed to us and just used Microsoft Teams for our seminars which only worked so well due to the technical difficulties everyone was having. I can definitely see universities simply uploading lectures online instead of having them in person. It would save on a lot of time and money for sure, hopefully for both sides… Seminars and Lab work or anything hands on like that are probably irreplaceable though. It wouldn’t be the same experience otherwise, debating with people is already too impersonal with it mostly just happening online and whatnot. I think having to physically talk to people you disagree with is so important, even if you walk away with no minds changed you can always learn something from the other person, even if it’s just realizing the way the other person thinks so you can avoid certain traps or phrases next time you try to get them to see your side.
More broadly what do you think of the government’s handling of the Covid crisis and lockdown?
I have the mainstream view that the way they handled it was ridiculous. They change their mind about what we should and shouldn’t do almost every week. So many mixed messages for different groups of people too… I think they should have just done local lockdowns from the beginning and closed the borders for a bit. There’s no knowing if that would really work of course but maybe that would have somewhat controlled economic damage at least. The overall lockdown situation is pretty terrifying from a libertarian perspective though, the state has just decided to give itself huge amount of power, I am not sure how easily they will give that up again if they even will at all.
Now lockdown is easing how do you think the government should get the economy back up and running?
Remove a lot of unnecessary red tape first of all and lower taxes for a good while as well. We will have to pay back all that debt at some point, that’s what worries me most.
During this time we’ve seen an explosion of cancel culture and identity politics. What are your thoughts on these?
To be honest I don’t care about these things as much as some people in our circles. I think that sometimes it’s just used as a distraction. Sometimes we end up spammed with news of multigender polyamorous “families” bringing their kids up identifying as spirit animals or whatever, but I don’t see why we should give it any attention, it’s all they’re after anyway. While we’re getting mad at them for making up new gender pronouns, there’s a whole elite paedophile ring investigation being swept under the rug, or new tyrannical laws being introduced, know what I mean?
As for cancel culture, I think it can be tough, but it’s also always been unavoidable. If you’re going to go on a mainstream platform and insult half the people using it of course they’re going to boycott and report you. It’s not fun to see when it’s someone you support getting cancelled, but I suppose it’s like the free market working, gotta keep your consumers happy so they don’t consume you instead of your content! I think the free market is already fixing this issue though, especially with Parler and Gab and similar such platforms gaining popularity.
If you could introduce or remove 3 laws what would they be?
Definitely remove. Firstly, I would get rid of laws prohibiting pepper-spray. Secondly, and a similar to the first one, I would remove the “carrying with intent to harm” law. And can I also say, remove income tax?
How are you espousing libertarian ideas in Brighton, and what can people do to get involved?
Now that I am out of university, I mostly just organize the meet ups and post on the Brighton Facebook page. The meet ups should be back up again soon hopefully, now that the virus is slowing down! If people want to get involved they should definitely just DM the page or email us or just DM me directly. I will be living in London from now so if anyone local would be interested in helping me run the Brighton page that would be great!