The on-going UKIP leadership contest has granted an opportunity for members from across the party to debate the future direction of the party. The final candidates have not yet been finalised with members and elected representatives still entering the race. The dividing line seems to be clear. It’s the dividing line than has always existed within UKIP; the divide between Libertarian UKIP and authoritarian UKIP.
It may feel currently as if the UKIP leadership election is a regular feature of British politics, but I would argue this one is more important than most. It is more important primarily because it represents the first time that UKIP will need to win back the substantial support it lost in the recent General Election, which saw the party take just 600,000 votes.
Fundamentally, I believe we need a libertarian UKIP and here are 9 libertarian policies that UKIP should adopt to get ahead of the debate and firmly establish itself as a permanent populist insurgency.
1. Local Authority Taxation
Most, if not all libertarians look to the United States for vision and ideology, where the libertarian movement has far greater influence in the legislature than in the United Kingdom. One policy that sounds simple yet is really quite revolutionary is the idea of local authority taxation.
After spending a year serving my local village at community council level, I noticed the ease with which fellow councillors were able to demand more money for the services they attempted to offer. They were able to demand more money without fearing their community because the understanding has always been that the money will come from a different community, one that doesn’t elect them.
Reforming the taxation system is no small feat, with generations of jiggery pokery leaving us with one of the most complicated systems in the Western world. However, introducing the expectation that local authorities, whether at community, town or county level need to raise their own revenue would very quickly create an environment in which conservatives and libertarians would become far more popular. It’s difficult to argue against spending increases in your community when it is believed the money will come from elsewhere. If the money has to come from the same community it is intended for however, spending increases by definition mean tax increases. The administrative savings are also not to be sniffed at.
2. Abolish the Sugar Tax
In March 2016, scrambling for a distraction from his failing economic policy, George Osbourne introduced a levy on soft drinks companies. This is due to come in to force in April 2018 and should be opposed by libertarian UKIP.
As has been noted quite substantially by members of the Institute for Economic Affairs, despite rising levels of obesity in the UK, the consumption of fizzy drinks is falling and there are swathes of evidence to suggest that ‘sin taxes’ don’t actually achieve their intended result; in this instance reducing obesity.
Aside from failing on its own terms, UKIP needs to argue once more for personal responsibility and liberty. A libertarian UKIP should pursue the belief that it is not the role of government to manage people’s health, nor to use the taxation system to regressively penalise people for making perfectly acceptable choices in a free society. The NHS is there to serve the people, not the other way round.
3. Amend the Smoking Ban
Though this policy has already featured in previous UKIP manifesto’s, very little consideration was given to these so-called ‘sin taxes’, despite the knowledge that they affect the poorest in society the most.
When Labour introduced the idea of a smoking ban in their 1997 manifesto, it specifically stated the intention to be flexible in terms of the pub and club industry. Unfortunately, that flexibility failed to make it into the law, which ended up being a blanket ban on smoking in all public places, hammering the pub industry in a way that is still being felt today.
The argument surrounding smoking in most public places has been lost, however the fight to allow private pubs and club owners the opportunity to offer well ventilated smoking rooms or to even allow smoking in their pubs altogether still rages. Libertarian UKIP should champion this policy, which while mearly offering greater choice, could have a massive impact on our declining pub industry, encouraging it once more to become a beacon of communities in working class areas.
4. Abolish plain packaging on tobacco
One of the more bizarre policies adopted by the so-called Conservative Party is plain packaging on tobacco. The logic behind this policy seems simple and predecated on an extremely low opinion of British smokers; that they buy tobacco products because of the nice packaging.
There is an argument with regards to children smoking, but let’s be realistic. It’s now extremely difficult to purchase tobacco products if you are under the age of 18. The heavy fines that are imposed on businesses that do sell to underage teens has provided an extremely strong deterrent. Combined with the inability of consumers to even see the products their purchasing prior to purchase, the chances of underage teens being able to purchase tobacco for themselves in minimal, yet the illiberal nature of plain packaging should be cause for alarm in UKIP.
To allow tobacco companies to advertise their products to consumers who want them should not be seen as a problem. Encourage people not to smoke, fine. Tax tobacco, provided the tax is equivalent to the cost of negative externalities, fine. However, to call ourselves a free society while we systematically undermine a free societies basic liberties seems odd. UKIP should be opposed to all plain packaging, it’s illiberal, it doesn’t work and it’s extremely frustrating watching shop-owners and workers unable to find the products being asked for.
5. Reduce Beer Duty
Another of those ‘sin taxes’ which has had a profound impact on the pub trade and on the spendng power of the poorest in society is beer duty.
As has been comprehensively argued by Christopher Snowden, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs, the current tax regime, while contradictory and illogical, is rasing revenue far in excess of the £4.6Bn he has estimated as the cost of alcohol to the UK taxpayer.
UKIP should quite sensibly accept the plethora of work undertaken by the Institute for Economic Affairs and Christopher Snowden and argue for a flat tax rate of 9p per unit. The result would be a rise in the cost of a pint of cider, but a sizeable reduction in the tax on every other drink. This logic would allow UKIP to win the argument both over sin taxes and over the negative externalities caused by excessive drinking and continue to fight the noble cause of restoring the pub industry to its former glory.
6. Abolish Fuel Duty
Fuel Duty really is a scourge on our society. Despite the staggering sums of money spent on so-called ‘renewable’ energy, fuel still accounts for the vast majority of economic activity. To be frank, fuel is the grease that keeps the cogs of the economy turning.Research from the Institute for Economic Affairs in 2012 concluded that the average tax on fuel accounts for 60p in every litre in the UK. This figure now stands at approximately 74p per litre. As with all blanket taxes, the poorest are affected most. I struggle to find one welfare policy that would do more for the poorest in society than the abolition of Fuel Duty.
The 2012 research linked above shows that the level of taxation on fuel exceeds government spending by a staggering £30Bn a year. Our road users are being short-changed, especially the poorest road users. UKIP should vow to gradually reduce fuel duty with the ultimate aim of abolishing it altogether.
7. Negative Income Tax
Taxation is an area where UKIP have flaundered over the past 10 years. Back when UKIP was still heavily associated with libertarianism, UKIP believed in a flat rate of tax set at between 20 – 30%. For some reason, UKIP has now accepted the so-called ‘progressive’ tax system of penalising people for earning more. As I noted in a previous piece, UKIP’s economic portfolio under Godfrey Bloom was awash with brilliance, yet was overshadowed by Godfrey’s inability to show the necessary discipline required of political parties in Britain.
When it comes to welfare, UKIP should be just as radical as it was all those years ago on taxation. UKIP should be arguing that the numerous different welfare provisions produce huge inefficiencies and results in large sums of money going to bureaucrats instead of those who need it.
A negative income tax would make it possible to incorporate all benefits into one, and would go a long way to ensure that nobody falls through the net when it comes to support from the state, while also not deterring innovation and allowing a welfare culture to do so much damage to the poorest in our country.
8. Unilateral Free Trade
Despite unilateral free trade being at the heart of Britain’s Industrial Revolution and its success as an international trading nation, free trade has become a byword for government stitch-ups and regulatory deals which prioritise large multi-nationals over ordinary, local traders.
A libertarian UKIP could and should become the voice of unilateral free trade. UKIP should point to the tremendous successes of Britain’s history under this policy, which substantially reduced all prices, helping the poor far more than any welfare legislation ever has.
International competition across the world has resulted in the largest rise in people’s living standards in human history. World poverty has collapsed in the past 20 years as developing countries open their markets. Yet despite this extraordinary success, instead of opening our markets to the goods of other nations, we impose arbitrary tariff’s which do huge damage, while at the same time deceiving ourselves by believing that our bloated foreign aid budget is actually doing any good.
There can be no single better policy to help both the developing world and our domestic poor than to allow our citizens to exchange freely the fruits of their labour with whomever has the desire and ability to buy them. a libertarian UKIP should champion free trade, becoming a beacon of liberty in a country that increasingly concentrates on the concentrated losses, ignoring the immense dispersed gains.
9. Sensible Electoral Reform
While UKIP has always supported a form of electoral reform, the party would appear far more genuine and credible in this ambition if it actually put their preferred changes forward.
We’ve heard a lot of about Proportional Representation, but realistically this is a disasterous option. Full Proportional Representation takes no account of the nation’s need for strong government. It also takes no account of the amazing constituency system which provides a degree of localism in our politics unlike most other systems.
If UKIP is to become a credible voice when it comes to electoral reform, it should look no further than the Welsh Assembly, which gave UKIP its largest domestic electoral successes.
The system in Wales is relatively straight-forward and relies on the melding of both First Past The Post and the Additional Member System. 40 of the seats in the Welsh Assembly are elected under First Past The Post and represent constituencies in the same way Westminster does. The remaining 20 seats however are divided into 5 regions and are elected on a Proportional Representation system by the D’Hondt method.
At this point the numbers that would be elected under PR is irrelevant, that is a discussion for UKIP and the country. What is certain is that this system is both workable, proven and provides UKIP with a serious talking point on the issue of electoral reform, while not appearing to want to overthrow the entire system, a system which on the whole works very well in terms of redressing grievances.
In honesty, I could have rolled off a list of more than 20 policies a libertarian UKIP should adopt. However, the libertarian voice has long been a shrinking minority in UKIP. If the libertarians of the party want UKIP to remain true to their principles, they have to put those principles forward. I have made some effort to offer an alternative direction, but it relies on members and supporters to respond to them.
UKIP could have a great future ahead of it, cementing itself as a party that goes far beyond the question of the European Union and fills a liberty-loving vaccum in our politics which has left millions without a voice. UKIP can be radical without being grotesque and these 9 policies offer UKIP the opportunity to broaden their appeal, be radical and secure itself a permanent place in British political life. With candidates still announcing in the upcoming leadership contest, I do not yet know who would be best fit to pursue these goals. Let us hope that when nominations close at least one candidate will stand to represent us.