By Mike Swadling
Growing up in the 80s it was common to hear “I can say what I like,, it’s a free country”. This has not felt true for some years. We have seen growing control from the state over what you can say, the business you can engage in, the food you eat, and what you can stop your children being taught at school. This gradual encroachment on liberty from governments, universities and Big Tech, has been little preparation for the tsunami against freedom we have seen in 2020.
Whatever you think of the initial 3 week lockdown, it was as an understandable response to a pandemic, and was imposed to simply protect vital health services. 5 months in, health services were not overwhelmed. The introduction of further requirements for facemasks seems only to happen because politicians and advisors have too much power and too little willing to give it up.
When the Coronavirus Bill was passed giving sweeping powers to the government to lockdown society few other than Steve Baker MP showed any concern at what was happening saying in the House of Commons “For goodness’ sake, let us not allow this dystopia to endure one moment longer than is strictly necessary”.
Since then we have seen advisors, the mainstream media, celebrities, big business, Big Tech and politicians of all parties, complain the lockdown wasn’t imposed soon enough, wasn’t harsh enough, and that people mostly stuck indoors weren’t taking it seriously enough. We’ve even had the police already given unprecedented powers, make up rules to tell people they can’t stand in their own front gardens. There are notable exceptions in the media like Toby Young with his excellent Lockdown Sceptics site, but there is no mainstream objection or leading politician questioning the erosion of liberty.
What can we do about this? How can we reclaim liberty?
The Green Party with foundations in 1975 (as the Ecology Party), hit a high point in 1989 with 15% of the vote in the European elections, has never had more than 3.6% of the vote in a General Election and never had more than 1 MP. Yet all main parties are committed to net zero emissions and have we have a Department of Energy & Climate Change.
UKIP / Brexit Party whilst receiving 12.6% of the vote in 2015, and twice winning the European elections, managed only 2 MPs. Yet we had a referendum and have left the European Union (and let’s hope we fully leave at the end of the year). The SNP and Plaid Cymru were never major parties prior to the devolved assemblies in both nations. The reason I point this out? You don’t have to win general elections to exert influence. If you can gain some support in the polls the major parties will take note, you will empower sympathisers in them, and make strategists look for opportunities to win back your support.
Imagine we had a group, even small group of major politicians who were vocal about liberty. Politicians who could be invited onto mainstream media or write columns opposing new rules. Politicians who make speeches on liberty in the House of Commons. Mainstream figures who could be shared on social media. This would start to make a difference. It might not have stopped lockdown, but might bring about a quicker opening up, might stop further lockdown rules and bright ideas on advertising, or buy one get one free offers.
Scared politicians are compliant
It would be great to be able to write that I believe a classical liberal party could start up tomorrow and with a little bit of advertising could capture 30/40% in the polls and be viable to form a government. I’d even like to be able to write that I think they could get 15% and really shake the establishment to taking on their policies. Nothing I have seen before or during lockdown makes me believe that. But 1%, and up to 5% with the right issues in some areas. Yes that’s possible.
Imagine we had a broadly libertarian party running at 1% in the polls and able to stand candidates in most of the country. At 1% (about 500 votes per constituency), 12 MPs with majorities of less than 1% would know their seats we’re at risk. At 3% a number quite achievable with some targeting of resources, 40 MPs would be at risk. At 5% (again possible with targeting), 35 Conservative (almost half their majority) and 20 Labour (almost 10% of their MPs) would be at risk.
Whatever one of these numbers could happen, a small group of MPs wanting to see off a threat from freedom focused candidates would likely be opposed to the governments next imposition on us. They would garner supporters in the mainstream and non-mainstream media, and be champions for the cause. Long before anyone mainstream was talking about a referendum to leave the EU, we had a multitude of opt outs from the EU and never joined the Euro, in no small part due to a small number of eurosceptic MPs. Imagine what a similar group could do for liberty.
Is this possible and if so, how quickly is this possible?’ At the 2019 General Election the Yorkshire Party proved to be the biggest of the small parties, running 28 candidates and receiving over 29,000 votes. The Liberals (an actually liberal party unlike the LibDems) managed to run 19 candidates averaging over 570 votes per constituency. Whilst economically more collectivist, strong on personal liberty, the Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) managed 27 and 20 candidates respectively and the Libertarian Party managed 5 candidates averaging 356 votes a piece. These relatively unknown parties, who all respect personal liberty managed a respectable 72 candidates (all of whom did and would have expected to lose their £500 deposits) and an average of 316 votes (about 0.6%) between them.
Based on the numbers above, and keeping in mind 2019 the Brexit Party took 2% of the vote, people who are likely to sympathise with this cause, it should be more than possible for a well organised party to run say ~200 candidates, get registered in polling, and make MPs take note.
We have a Libertarian Party, a Scottish Libertarian Party, and a UK Liberty Party. The Brexit Party is broadly libertarian, UKIP is by its constitution libertarian. The Foundation Party, 5 Star party, and Time Party are all largely classically liberal. Whilst more economically collectivist the Liberals, SDP and CPA all agree with many of the core values of freedom, run decent number of candidates and reach communities most libertarians don’t.
Too many parties chasing relatively few votes is a problem, and one very difficult to resolve. People fighting for liberty are by their nature free spirited. It may be over the next few years the parties shake out and we see one or two clear leaders, or as an alternative we might see parties work either formally, (realistically needed to register in polling) or informally, together.
Away from the parties what might be the platforms they agree on? I believe they all agree on the following:
- free speech
- rule of law
- devolution of power from the centre
- value for money from what government does spend money on
Here you have the basis for domestic liberty, government spending (at all levels), constitutional reform, and a preference for democracies in foreign policy. Not a bad start. The Stockport Declaration written by a group of former Brexit Party candidates is a good overview of much of this. We saw in the 2019 election the benefit of a small manifesto for the Conservatives (62 pages), and even then almost no one can remember anything beyond ‘Get Brexit Done’. A few simple ideas, well publicised, get votes.
How to make progress?
As someone who has run for office 3 times without making much impact on the outcome I feel a little presumptuous writing this but please bear with me.
If the goal is to get support, copy the parties you are aiming to get support from. What does your local Conservative, Labour and even Green Party do? Do the same or similar. Major parties build up support from local councils (from Parish to County and every type in between). Down to just 11 MPs, you might wonder how the LibDems keep going, but when you know they have 2527 Councillors, and run 19 District councillors it’s less of a surprise. District councils have limited but real power, and influence how we live.
To get elected you firstly need to run for election. Council seats are free to run for and only need 10 signatures (2 for Parish) to stand. In many parts of the country elections are held annually, and may include Parish, District and County elections for the same area. There is an annual opportunity to run for election, sometimes multiple elections, all free. All requiring just 10 signatures from local residents to run. 5000 leaflets (colour, double sided, A5, decent weight of paper) are £100 (not cheap but not generally unaffordable) from my local printers, it can be less online. 5000 leaflets would cover most council wards, and depending on the area you live in, give you about 40 hours of delivery exercise!
Granted not so possible at the current time, but once back to normal street stalls in a busy high street can be an effective way to get your name out there and speak to people. Leafleting on public land, outside a primary school when parents collect their children or in the morning at a train station are great ways to get seen by many people and get a leaflet straight in their hand.
As Jordan Peterson says first ‘clean your room’, get to know your local community, if you can, volunteer locally.This improves name recognition for you, builds knowledge, builds your CV (political and professionally), is living by the rules you are proposing, and can be personally rewarding. As a school governor for many years, it is mostly an apolitical role, but I have found on occasion I have been the sole voice for parental choice, or stopping a ‘bright idea’ that isn’t as apolitical as the proposer thinks it is.
When you have an event, issue a press release, local reporters emails are normally on their website. The press probably won’t publish it (they might) but you can publish it and people are more likely to read an article titled ‘Press Release’ than one titled ‘street stall’.
Use social media as an add-on not substitute for physical activity. A street stall where you hand out a 100 leaflets, speak to 10 people in some detail, get seen by a thousand, and followed-up with a Facebook post on the local residents Facebook group, or maybe advertised to the local area (normally about 1p per person reached, £2=200 people), backed with a few tweets to #nameoftown, is a really effective add on to your day, and reaches out to new support. The Facebook post or tweet alone will simply speak to the echo chamber. Public Facebook groups work best when they speak to the public, about real issues relevant to them, rather than ways to share in jokes, or the talk about the least mainstream ideas to the committed few.
If you do all this will you get elected? Probably not, no. Unless you live in an area with a Parish council where it’s quite possible you can stand unopposed. You probably won’t win the first or even the second time you stand. As a minimum, each time you stand you will raise awareness. You may deliver or hand out some thousands of leaflets with a simple message supporting free speech, supporting free choice. You might organise events, get more local Facebook or Twitter followers, get one of many press releases published, the key thing is, you will be building support for the cause of freedom.
And what if you are elected, even as a loan voice on a Parish council? You get the opportunity to implement polices at a local level. You get to build support for ideas. You can write to you constituents, the press, or more widely as a Councillor. An elected Councillor speaking for liberty, that would be a big improvement on what we have today.
Elections generally happen once a year. Many of these parties are very small and the next member may live a few towns away! It can be a hard slog when a few of you are out campaigning let alone doing it by yourself, but why not work together?
Often the main enemy of most small parties is a lack of name recognition, the main enemy of personal freedom, is I think, lethargy. Why not work with other local parties to organise a debate or a local protest, an event, to jointly support a petition etc. Anything that gets your name/s and the cause out there.
Find something your local council is doing to restrict freedom and work with others to make that an issue to campaign on. Even simply organise joint drinks with another group as a bit of moral support and to share ideas. When parties are running at 5% they can campaign against each other when they are running at 0.005% they gain more working together.
Right now we do have restricted freedom (a potential campaign issue) but unless under local lockdown you can leaflet. If you have a local issue you can issue a press release or write a letter (and mention your party) to the local paper, and if they don’t publish it – you can. You can write an article for a site like this or better still this site! And most of all, if there are elections in your area, you can stand for election next May!
Image by TJSMIT10 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)