In part two of Total Politics’ interview with the leader of the Libertarian Party, Xander Stephenson learns about Gordon Brown’s true academic record and a certain devil’s theatrical past…
What is the vision of the Libertarian Party and how far do you think Britain as a country is from it - how can the two meet?
The vision of the Libertarian Party is a society with minimal state interference—where individuals can live their lives as they see fit. There are more than 60 million people in this country: each one with their own priorities and their own desires. They should be able to pursue those desires in whatever way suits them best, provided they adhere to the central tenet of Libertarianism—the non-aggression axiom. This can be summarised as: "You shall not initiate force or fraud against someone else's life, liberty or property." I have often argued that this should, in fact, be the only criminal law on the statute books: the courts can decide the exact interpretation in each individual case.
How far are we from that?
A long, long way. We have a government that can pass laws without consulting Parliament, let alone the people; we have detention without trial, confiscation of property without a verdict of guilt and a surveillance state growing steadily more intrusive by the day. We have had 60 years of the Welfare State which has delivered what David Cameron calls "our broken society"; people look to the state to solve their problems, they don't wonder what they could do for themselves or for others.
But, ultimately, our model of "social democracy" is not only unsustainable from a moral point of view, but also from an economic one. Our government is spending a hundred, a hundred and fifty, two hundred billion pounds a year more than it brings in from tax: that cannot continue indefinitely. And yet even the Tories do not seem to have a clue how they might cut this appalling structural deficit.
Part of the problem is that government is so utterly inefficient at spending money: for every pound taken in tax, something like 30p actually reaches the "front line". That is pretty bad –especially if you think that the "front line" services are incredibly inefficient themselves.
The trouble is that people are beginning to be afraid of the state – but they are also afraid to be without the state.
That is why part of my mission this year is to paint a realistic picture of what society might look like with almost no state at all. Earlier this year, I gave a talk to the Adam Smith Institute about Friendly Societies—voluntary collectives that operated as community-based insurance-assurance companies. They were immensely successful until they were effectively killed off by National Insurance: if you are poor, you cannot maintain your 10 per cent salary subscription to a Friendly Society as well as paying the state its 10 per cent.
But even were Friendly Societies to do the heavy lifting in the social security arena, private charity would have a large role to play – and people have simply got out of the habit of giving. Even were we to immediately drop taxes to five per cent, say, I don't think that people would immediately donate another 20 per cent of their salaries to charity. All of this has to be managed in a transition – it will take time to allow people to understand that they, not the state, have a duty to help their fellow man.
And the state itself?
I would like to create a Parliament so powerless that it no longer mattered which party won the election, frankly.
What are your predications for the next election?
As I said, I think that it will be a straight Tory-Labour fight, with smaller parties picking up some votes from people disgusted with the Big Three. However, I think that Cameron will win, albeit with a smallish majority.
If the Libertarian Party candidate(s) are elected in the next election and we are faced with a hung parliament would they form any coalitions with any other parties?
No. If I may paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, our general motto is "Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all parties; entangling alliances with none."
Ultimately, we do not believe that any of the other parties are libertarian: if they were, we wouldn't carry on with the expense and hassle of setting up and running the Libertarian Party.
What do you make of Brown as a leader?
Brown's a leader...?
The man's an idiot – and a deeply unpleasant idiot at that. People keep saying to me that he must know something about finance because he studied economics at university. I don't know where this rumour came from – Gordon's spin doctors probably. For the record, Gordon Brown's degree was in history, and his PhD was entitled The Labour Party and Political Change in Scotland 1918-29.
I mean, seriously...
What do you make of Cameron’s leadership skills as party leaders and as a potentially future PM?
Cameron's a leader...?
I must admit that Dave has done a good job of uniting the Tory Party – even in the face of some extreme provocation. But, ultimately, he is a social democrat and I don't believe that much will change under his premiership.
Gordon Brown once a likened himself to Heathcliff, having browsed your website I thought you might liken yourself to Withnail. Has that thought ever occurred to you, or have you ever likened yourself to any fictional character?
Ha! Actually, I played Withnail in a stage production of Withnail and I at the Bedlam Theatre, in my second term at Edinburgh University. I don't remember much about it: I was drinking quite a lot at the time...