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 most explicitly libertarian party in the United Kingdom is the Libertarian Party.[according to whom?] However, there has also been a long-standing right-libertarian faction of the mainstream Conservative Party that espouses Thatcherism.[2] UK voters have tended to vote more in line with their position along the traditional 'left-right’ division rather than along libertarian-authoritarian lines, and so libertarians in the United Kingdom have supported parties across the political spectrum.[3]

Political parties[edit]

Libertarian parties[edit]

The Libertarian Party is the main libertarian party within the United Kingdom describing itself as being a "Classically Liberal, Regionalist and Minarchist organisation".[4] The Liberal Party was formed in 1989 from those opposed to the merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. The Scottish Libertarian Party was formed as a separate party in 2012 and officially registered in 2014.[5]

Relationship with the Conservative Party[edit]

Libertarianism, and particularly right-libertarianism, became more prominent in British politics after the promotion of neoliberalism and economic liberalism under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher.[1] Since the 1980s, a number of Conservative MPs have been considered to have libertarian leanings,[2][6] and libertarian groups have been perceived to exert considerable influence over the Party.[7]

However, in her first Conservative Party conference speech as leader, Theresa May attacked the "libertarian right" and argued for a more pro-state communitarian conservatism.[8][9][10][11][12] In recent years, Conservative Party policy has appeared to move further away from libertarianism, [13][14] and a smaller proportion of their support has come from voters with libertarian attitudes.[3]

Relationship with the Green Party of England and Wales[edit]

Sociologist Chris Rootes stated that the Green Party took "the left-libertarian" vote,[15] while Dennison and Goodwin characterised it as reflecting "libertarian-universalistic values".[16] The party wants an end to big government – which they see as hindering open and transparent democracy – and want to limit the power of big business – which, they argue, upholds the unsustainable trend of globalisation, and is detrimental to local trade and economies.[17] There have been allegations of factionalism and infighting in the Green Party between liberal, socialist, and anarchist factions.[18]

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.[19][20] The party describes itself as a "libertarian, non-racist Eurosceptic party".[21]


UKIP's original activist base was largely "libertarian", supporting an economically liberal approach.[22] Its "economic libertarian" views have been influenced by classical liberalism and Thatcherism, with Thatcher representing a key influence on UKIP's thought.[23] Farage has characterised UKIP as "the true inheritors" of Thatcher, claiming that the party never would have formed had Thatcher remained Prime Minister of the UK throughout the 1990s.[23] Winlow, Hall, and Treadwell suggested that a UKIP government would pursue "hard-core Thatcherism" on economic policy.[24] UKIP presents itself as a "libertarian party",[25] and the political scientists David Deacon and Dominic Wring described it as articulating "a potent brand of libertarian populism".[26] However, commentators writing in The Spectator, The Independent, and the New Statesman have all challenged the description of UKIP as libertarian, highlighting its socially conservative and economically protectionist policies as being contrary to a libertarian ethos.[27][28][29]

While Farage denied in 2007 that the party's strategy was "targeting David Cameron as such",[20] 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".[19]

In 2010, the UKIP's call to ban the burkha in public places was criticised by Shami Chakrabarti as contrary to libertarianism.[30]

Libertarian think tanks[edit]

Libertarian Alliance[edit]

The Libertarian Alliance was the oldest[attribution needed] and most explicitly libertarian think tank[opinion], 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".[31] 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.

Institute of Economic Affairs[edit]

The Institute of Economic Affairs is the oldest pro-free-market think tank in the United Kingdom[attribution needed] and a progenitor of a large network of neoliberal think tanks around the world as well as greatly shaping[opinion] the Thatcher government's economic policies.[citation needed]

Other organisations[edit]

The Centre for Policy Studies was set up by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph for the purpose of advancing classical liberalism while the Adam Smith Institute largely promotes free-market regulatory and welfare reforms.[citation needed]

Student societies[edit]

There are a few[vague] 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.[citation needed]

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.[32][non-primary source needed]

Prominent libertarians[edit]

Prominent British libertarians have included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Walsh, Jason (7 April 2006). "Libertarianism limited". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
  2. ^ a b 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. S2CID 144304577.
  3. ^ a b Curtice, John; Simpson, Ian. "British Social Attitudes 35: Voting: The 2017 Election: New divides in British politics?" (PDF). NatCen Social Research. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  4. ^ "Home Page". Libertarian Party UK. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  5. ^ "View registration". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  6. ^ Wallace, Mark (11 Feb 2014). "Are 2010 intake MPs really more libertarian than their predecessors?". ConservativeHome. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  7. ^ Lawrence, Felicity; Evans, Rob; Pegg, David; Barr, Caelainn; Duncan, Pamela (29 Nov 2019). "How the right's radical thinktanks reshaped the Conservative party". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  8. ^ "Full text: Theresa May's conference speech". The Spectator. 5 Oct 2016. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  9. ^ "Leader: Against the Brexit libertarians". New Statesman. 9 March 2017. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  10. ^ Cowley, Jason (29 May 2019). "Theresa May was a 1950s Conservative: resolute but charmless, and will be remembered for failure". New Statesman. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  11. ^ Shackleton, Len (6 Oct 2016). "The 'libertarian right', Mrs May? What 'libertarian right'?". Institute of Economic Affairs. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  12. ^ Asthana, Anushka; Stewart, Heather (5 Oct 2016). "Theresa May draws line under Cameron era with return to small-c conservatism". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  13. ^ Norris, Pippa (13 Nov 2019). "On dealigning and realigning elections: Is Britain about to experience a Westminster earthquake?". LSE British Politics and Policy Blog. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  14. ^ Timothy, Nick (24 Nov 2019). "The Tory manifesto is a first step on the road to political realignment". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  15. ^ Rootes 1995, p. 76.
  16. ^ Dennison & Goodwin 2015, p. 185.
  17. ^ Hanif, Faisal (15 January 2015). "What are the Green party's policies?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  18. ^ Harris, John (15 December 2013). "Have the Greens blown it in Brighton?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  19. ^ a b Robinson 2010, p. 203.
  20. ^ a b Woodward 2007.
  21. ^ Ruddick 2009.
  22. ^ Ford & Goodwin 2014, p. 277.
  23. ^ a b Tournier-Sol 2015, p. 145.
  24. ^ Winlow, Hall & Treadwell 2017, p. 43.
  25. ^ Ford & Goodwin 2014, p. 7; Tournier-Sol 2015, p. 145; Lynch & Whitaker 2013, p. 296.
  26. ^ Deacon & Wring 2016, p. 170.
  27. ^ Alex Massie (27 November 2012). "UKIP is not a libertarian party". The Spectator. Archived from the original on 1 June 2015.
  28. ^ Tim Wigmore (18 December 2012). "Ukip are by no means libertarian". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017.
  29. ^ Tim Wigmore (19 November 2014). "Is Ukip the most divided party in British politics?". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 22 July 2015.
  30. ^ Chakrabarti, Shami (19 January 2010). "Freedom must apply to all faiths and none". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
  31. ^ "Mission Statement". Libertarian Alliance.
  32. ^ "About Us". European Students For Liberty. Retrieved 2021-07-03.
  33. ^ "Bill Etheridge MEP quits UKIP and joins the Libertarian Party four days later".
  34. ^ "Peter Bauer, 86; Economist Fought Foreign Aid". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. 19 May 2002. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
  35. ^ "Alan Duncan". BBC News. 16 October 2002. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  36. ^ Marr, Andrew (28 March 2007). "Britain could be in for some turbulent times". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  37. ^ "Friedrich August Hayek". Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  38. ^ Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (August 1999). "The First Libertarian". Liberty. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  39. ^ "Chris Tame". The Daily Telegraph. London. 7 April 2006. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
  40. ^ "Clacton by-election: 12 facts about Ukip's new MP Douglas Carswell". The Independent. 10 October 2014. Archived from the original on 2022-06-14. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  41. ^ "David Davis: British 'intellectually lazy' about defending liberty". 8 November 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2017.