Libertarianism in the United Kingdom

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Libertarianism in the United Kingdom can either refer to a political movement synonymous with anarchism, left-libertarianism and libertarian socialism, or to a political movement concerned with the pursuit of propertarian right-libertarian ideals in the United Kingdom which emerged and became more prominent in British politics after the 1980s neoliberalism and the economic liberalism of the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, albeit not as prominent as libertarianism in the United States in the 1970s and the presidency of Republican Ronald Reagan during the 1980s.[1]

Currently, the main libertarian party in the United Kingdom is the Libertarian Party. However, there is also a right-libertarian faction of the mainstream Conservative Party that espouses Thatcherism.[2]

Political parties[edit]

Libertarian parties[edit]

The Libertarian Party is a political party that was founded on 1 January 2008. They are the main libertarian party within the United Kingdom describing itself as being a "Classically Liberal, Regionalist and Minarchist organisation".[3] The Liberal Party was formed in 1989 from those opposed to the merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party and claims twenty-five councillors. Since 2012, there have been attempts to form new parties.[4] The Independent Libertarian Network was founded by Gavin Webb with a "minimal party"[5] strategy and a focus on local government. The Pro Liberty Party was launched in September 2012 with a focus on awareness raising. The Scottish Libertarian Party was formed as a separate party in 2012 and officially registered in 2014.[6]

Relationship with the Conservative Party[edit]

In an opinion piece, Jason Walsh held that the 1980s economic liberalism of Margaret Thatcher was "libertarianism-lite" when compared to minimal state views of more modern libertarians which were becoming more popular after ten years of New Labour's "increasingly authoritarian policies".[7]

Relationship with the UK Independence Party[edit]

As leader of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage sought to broaden the public perception of the UKIP beyond being a party solely seeking to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union to one of being a party broadly standing for libertarian values and reductions in government bureaucracy.[8][9] The party describes itself as a "libertarian, non-racist Eurosceptic party".[10]

While Farage denied in 2007 that the party's strategy was "targeting David Cameron as such",[9] political scientist Chris Robinson opines in 2010 that Farage may well have been hoping that this expansion of the party platform would attract voters disenchanted with Cameron premiership and thinking him "too Tony Blair-like".[8]

In 2010, the UKIP's call to ban the burkha in public places was criticised by Shami Chakrabarti as contrary to libertarianism.[11]

Young Libertarian Voice[edit]

Founded by M. Stinchcombe in early 2017 as a portion of the Youth Parliament, Young Libertarian Voice aims to preserve "Life, Liberty and Property in an anti-freedom Youth Parliament".[12]

Libertarian Student Movement[edit]

Libertarian UK[edit]

Libertarian UK is a student-run Facebook page which creates and shares libertarian content. In 2018, it is one of the largest UK-based libertarian pages[citation needed] with over 6,000 followers. In July 2018, they launched a campaign called UniFreedom with the aim of creating a stronger and more connected pro-liberty student movement on and around university campuses. The campaign's main goals are to establish channels of communication between existing pro-liberty groups and organisations, create new university societies on university campuses where groups do not already exist and help bolster the movement generally by organizing events and supporting compatible campaigns.

In late September 2018, Libertarian UK partnered with the Students for Liberty backed campaign Free to Speak to combat social and institutional censorship on university campuses.

Students for Liberty UK[edit]

Students for Liberty UK is part of European Students for Liberty (an offshoot of the American charity Students for Liberty) which run conferences, workshops and leadership training for students and promote liberty across Europe.

Libertarian think tanks[edit]

There are a number of think tanks that are explicitly libertarian or espouse libertarian views. The Libertarian Alliance was the oldest and most explicitly libertarian think tank, existing until 2017 "[to explain] the benefits of political and economic freedom and of toleration in the sense put forth by such philosophers as John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, F.A. von Hayek, Karl Popper, and many others in the British liberal tradition".[13] Politically neutral, it has united classical liberals, minarchists, anarcho-capitalists and even social anarchists. The Libertarian Alliance's founder Chris Tame was also the director of FOREST, the smokers' rights organisation. The more conservative Society for Individual Freedom from which the Libertarian Alliance originally split was its sister organisation.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is the oldest pro-free-market think tank in the United Kingdom and a progenitor of a large network of neoliberal think tanks around the world as well as greatly shaping the Thatcher government's economic policies. The Centre for Policy Studies was set up by Thatcher and Keith Joseph for the purpose of advancing classical liberalism while the Adam Smith Institute largely promotes free-market regulatory and welfare reforms.

There are a few libertarian student societies at British universities, including Cardiff University, Queen Mary University of London (Liberty Society), Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics (the Hayek Society), University College London, King's College London, St Andrews, York, Sheffield, Loughborough and Durham.

Prominent libertarians[edit]

Prominent British libertarians have included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walsh, Jason (7 April 2006). "Libertarianism limited". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
  2. ^ Heppell, Timothy (June 2002). "The ideological composition of the Parliamentary Conservative Party 1992–97". British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 4 (2): 299–324. doi:10.1111/1467-856X.t01-1-00006.
  3. ^ "Home Page". Libertarian Party UK. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  4. ^ Raccoon, Anna. "Libertarian revival?". 21 April 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  5. ^ "Future strategies- a minimal party". Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  6. ^ "View registration". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  7. ^ Walsh, Jason (7 April 2006). "Libertarianism limited". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
  8. ^ a b Robinson 2010, p. 203.
  9. ^ a b Woodward 2007.
  10. ^ Ruddick 2009.
  11. ^ Chakrabarti, Shami (19 January 2010). "Freedom must apply to all faiths and none". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
  12. ^ "Young Libertarian Voice". Google Docs. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  13. ^ "Mission Statement". Libertarian Alliance.
  14. ^ "Bill Etheridge MEP quits UKIP and joins the Libertarian Party four days later".
  15. ^ "Peter Bauer, 86; Economist Fought Foreign Aid". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. 19 May 2002. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
  16. ^ "Alan Duncan". BBC News. 16 October 2002. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  17. ^ Marr, Andrew (28 March 2007). "Britain could be in for some turbulent times". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  18. ^ "Friedrich August Hayek". Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  19. ^ Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (August 1999). "The First Libertarian". Liberty. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  20. ^ "Chris Tame". The Daily Telegraph. London. 7 April 2006. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
  21. ^ "Clacton by-election: 12 facts about Ukip's new MP Douglas Carswell". The Independent. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  22. ^ "David Davis: British 'intellectually lazy' about defending liberty". Retrieved 2 July 2017.