The Reform Party UK is due to hold its very first party conference on October 3rd 2021 in Manchester. While political parties are not really my thing, in view of the potential importance of the Reform Party to the on-going battle for liberty in the UK, I have made plans to attend. I thought that before then I would look out their latest policy documents, refresh my memory as to what they are proposing, and make some comments on their ideas from my highly individualist and libertarian point of view. The document in which they have published their proposals is “Reform is Essential,” dated May 2021 [https://reformparty.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Reform-is-Essential.pdf].
I will put quotes from the document in “italics inside quotes.” My own thoughts will be in normal font and informal style. Where necessary, I will address those responsible for the policies in the second person.
“We must reform the way our country is run and managed, so it works properly for the people.” Absolutely. It must work, as John Locke put it, “for the public good, i.e., the good of every particular member of the society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for.”
“Let’s reclaim our right to free speech…” Again, absolutely. Particularly in the light of their “online safety bill,” that seeks to put absolute power in the hands of bureaucrats to decide what is “harmful misinformation” in social media and on the Internet, and will give them power to fine social media or internet service companies millions of pounds if they fail to take down such material. That must be scotched.
“…let’s celebrate our pride in being British; our amazing culture, our incredible heritage, and our wonderful values.” If by “our wonderful values” you mean the values of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, as filtered through English (and Scottish) culture, then yes, we should celebrate them. But I feel no pride at all in “being British” in the political sense – that is, being subjected to the wallies and prats that now fill parliament.
“Leaving the undemocratic EU was just the beginning.” Yes. Brexit was a sine qua non for many vital things we need to do, like withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, and from all other environmental commitments that cannot be justified by rigorous cost-benefit analysis based on hard evidence and good, honest science.
“People’s eyes have been opened as to the benefits of being an independent sovereign UK.” I don’t think we have seen much if any of the benefits of Brexit yet; COVID being a major reason for that. And in my hat as an amateur ethical and political philosopher, I have no time at all for “sovereignty” – a 16th-century system that not only allows arrogant psychopaths to grab political power and ride roughshod over the needs and desires of ordinary people, but also lets them get away with it. But the key here is independence. To be independent means to make your – and my, and our – own decisions, and not to have to kow-tow to any external party. That is essential.
“Reform Our Economy: to succeed, we must become a low tax, smartly regulated, high growth economy.” Low tax, definitely. High growth, definitely. But “smart” is a word that gives me conniptions. To me, smart people are too clever for anyone’s good (including their own). “Smart meters” and “smart cars” are worse. I’d prefer “lightly and justly regulated.”
“Faster growth is the only way to better wages and more tax revenues to invest in better healthcare and other public services.” I’m not sure it’s the only way, but I think it’s the right way under current circumstances. I am reminded of the German Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s; though I think the state played too big a part in that. Support for fast growth also puts you (like me) firmly and squarely against the green craving to subject us all to “de-growth.” I think it’s also worth making the point that lower tax rates often result in higher tax receipts.
“Our bold economic vision frees up over 6 million people from paying income tax and frees up over 1.2 million small businesses/self-employed from paying corporation tax.” Sounds great! We “little people” have had a real bashing from successive governments of all parties. It would be great to get some of our own back for a change!
“We would also remove a raft of stifling taxes.” Including IR35, I hope! As a one-man software consultant, I myself have been a victim of IR35 for more than 20 years; and they have recently used the same bad law to hammer the lorry drivers, with negative effects that are obvious to all. In my view, government must never interfere with economic activity, unless there is actual harm being done or intended to someone, or people’s rights are being violated, or fraud is being committed; or there is criminal negligence, or recklessness beyond the bounds of reason.
I wonder if you might benefit from thinking wider and more radically about taxation in general. For example, should what individuals pay for government not mirror more closely the benefit that they get from it? (In my view, the benefit from properly provided government is very much in proportion to the individual’s total wealth). The present system is very regressive, because people with good earnings but no or little capital end up paying far more tax than the rich with lots of capital, who can live well without needing to earn much.
“Reform our Public Sector: we must be ambitious, seeking faster, more efficient public services that work better for us all…” As a radical libertarian, I don’t think there should even exist a “public sector” as such. There are core functions of governance, such as courts, police, military defence and the support services they need. There are things which arguably can best be done by government, like emergency services and maintenance of public infrastructure. And there are things like education and health care, which should be de-politicized. That said, we are where we are, and change has to be incremental to start with.
“Our police need to focus on preventing crime and catching criminals, not woke nonsense.” Spot on!
“Reform our Institutions: major change is needed to the bodies that impact our lives, the unelected cronyism of the House of Lords, the unaccountable civil service, the bloated BBC.” Yes, very definitely.
“Reform is essential to our voting system so it is fairer and more representative...” I think the problem goes far deeper than the voting system: “democracy” is not an appropriate way to run a system where people are divided. To get around that problem you need, at the least, smaller political units and far more local autonomy. To me, Brexit has been only the first, small step in what needs to be an ongoing process of down-sizing and de-centralizing of government.
“…the two-party system embeds the status quo and prevents real change.” I think this understates the problem. Today’s political system is in effect a one-party system: the Big Green Establishment Party.
Freedom is Precious
“Return all the freedoms and liberties that we enjoyed before COVID. Every single one.” Of course. But there are other freedoms we have had taken away in recent decades, as well – for example, our privacy has been destroyed by cameras everywhere, and by government monitoring our on-line activity. These freedoms must be restored, too – and those that have infringed them must be brought to justice. Moreover, we must fight to retain other liberties that are under threat today – for example, the right to use cash.
“Free us from the woke nonsense that pervades through Westminster and for too much of our lives.” Yes, indeed!
“Restore the democratic right to protest.” I would add to that “in a non-disruptive way.”
Reform Our Economy
“The government is increasing taxes to the highest level in 70 years with medium-term growth expected to be the lowest for 60 years.” I get the feeling that they have belatedly woken up to the fact that – as some economists were telling us more than a decade ago – UK government commitments on items like health care and pensions are unsustainable. The establishment are a bunch of kleptomaniacs anyway; but I read these moves as an attempt to “kick the can down the road,” by getting enough money in to give them a few more years in power before brown stuff hits fast rotating object. Of course, it won’t actually do anything to solve the problem; and will probably make it worse by depressing the economy as a whole.
Low Tax, Simple Tax
“Free up 6 million people from income tax, by lifting the maximum threshold to £20,000.” Sounds like a winner to me! (As long as the numbers to justify it have been worked out right). It would also provide retired people with an incentive to start working again part-time to supplement their pensions.
“Free up 1.2 million SME’s from paying corporation tax.” This too sounds helpful to the “little people” – who are treated by the establishment parties as mere objects to be exploited.
“Simplification Plan Highlights.” This, too, sounds mostly good stuff; subject, of course, to the proviso about the numbers justifying it. I’m not sure how your online delivery tax would work, though. Would it apply to all transactions done online, or just to payments made online? For example, would a hotel reservation made on the Internet but paid for at the hotel attract the tax or not? And since business rates today go to local government, how would you work out who would get the revenue?
Reform Our Public Sector
“Our public services are paid for and valued by us all.” I disagree; not all of them are valuable to us, compared to what we are forced to pay for them. And for some of them, we get exactly the opposite of what we pay for. For example, funds which should be used to make roads better are used instead to put in speed bumps, cycle lanes that nobody uses, or “low traffic neighbourhoods.”
“The vast and growing mountain of daft, unproductive regulations that hinder small businesses and restrict growth are all part of the same problem, lacking in common sense.” I think you are far too kind here. I see these regulations as being driven by a hatred that the establishment seem to feel for independent people, and particularly small business people. But yes, we should pile all these bad regulations into a bonfire, and set light to them.
Reform Our Public Services: Health
“We should aim for zero waiting lists.” I’m not sure this is even feasible. I think there needs to be a prioritization system that everyone can understand, and that is fair to all.
“Stop the taxpayer being ripped off by pharmaceutical companies.” Sounds good, but how to do it?
“Re-open the nursing and midwifery professions to recruitment without the degree requirement.” Why is government imposing such an idiot rule in the first place? I can understand the need for a certificate of competence to carry out specific medical activities, but requiring a degree to enter the market amounts to an arbitrary kind of “business licensing,” which no government should ever do.
Reform Our Public Services: Education
“University students are being ripped off with high fees often for just online learning.” I think the problem is much bigger than that. Many arts degree courses seem not to be teaching anything that is useful to anyone but the “woke.” Indeed, I think universities are a major disseminator of these attitudes that are hostile to the Enlightenment values that you and I share. You should be looking at which university departments do teaching and research that actually deliver needed skills or useful knowledge, and de-funding those that don’t.
“We have to be honest that many young people would be better learning while in work rather than accruing debt at university.” Spot on. For me, learning is a lifelong process. Once you have learned how to learn, nothing can stop you as long as you have the energy and the time.
“Teachers must be free to teach pupils how to think, not what to think, without fear of the woke police or religious persecution.” Absolutely.
Reform Our Public Services: Policing
“Common sense dictates more police on the streets will help prevent crime and help catch criminals.” My (cynical) view is that most crimes today are done in government offices!
“A focus on combating violent crime, robbery and burglary, rather than enforcing restrictions on free speech and harassing people sitting on a park bench.” Yes, absolutely.
Reform Our Institutions
“Reform the BBC: Bloated, wasteful and obligatory.” I’d say, abolish the BBC – the Biased Broadcasting Corporation. You could sell off the parts (like sports) that make programmes that are actually worth watching, and just shut down the rest.
“Reform the unelected, crony filled House of Lords: … A properly representative second House is needed.” I’d say the real need is not so much a second chamber, but a quality control system to be applied to government. Independent, honest auditing of the ethical standards and value-for-money of government departments, of companies contracted to do government work, and of parliament itself, is something I would very much like to see. But if the Lords is to be reformed and made elected, then I think no-one belonging to, or closely connected to, any of the major political parties in the Commons should be allowed to be part of it. Everyone in it should be a cross-bencher! Without this, there would be a danger of it simply becoming a rubber-stamp; unless the elections to the two were staggered, as in the USA. And even that doesn’t really give people enough protection against bad government.
“Reform the Civil Service: Better leadership, more accountability, and greater welcome of successful people from the private sector to come in and serve the nation.” I agree; though I’d say that in a supposed “democracy” this function should serve the people, not the nation. And I think there are probably two different areas in which people could usefully come in from the private sector. One is to encourage more dynamism; the other is quality assurance, such as the audits I referred to above.
I also think you might look more closely at local authorities, what they do and how they do it. Too often, they get co-opted to implement “by the back door” wide-ranging policies that no-one has voted for and many of us strongly object to; such as creeping speed limits and obstacles on the roads, and 5G masts going up all over the place.
“Reform our Border Controls and Immigration:” I am unusual among supporters of Reform UK in that “illegal” immigration isn’t one of my hot-button issues. In my view, people should be able to move around, as long as they don’t become a drain on or a danger to the people they are living among. I am far more concerned about the sheer volume of immigration that is being forced on us (in my area, they tell us we need to cram in 20% more people inside 20 years, even though birth rates are below replacement!) I suspect this is probably down to earlier attempts to try to defuse the UK health and pensions bomb by expanding the tax base, for example by inviting in many people from Poland. All I will say for now is: (1) any system of controlling immigration must be fair to all applicants, and (2) decisions should be made at the lowest level possible – by people who will actually have to live with the immigrants, not by central bureaucrats.
“Reform the voting system:” As above, I think there are much deeper problems with “democracy” than the voting system. One is that the candidates of all the establishment parties are often of very low quality in their personal ethics, as shown by the expenses scandal; some kind of “honesty audit” on prospective candidates might help to improve this. I can accept, up to a point, direct democracy on the type and scale of a Swiss canton or a New England open town meeting, where every individual has a voice. But I don’t think that “representative” democracy can work, unless the representatives are held fully accountable for the effects on the people of what they do. Which they are not under the current system.
Reform Wasteful Government Spending
(Disclosure: I am a member of the TaxPayers’ Alliance).
“Tens of billions of pounds of our money is wasted every year.” I think that’s a gross under-statement. There is also a huge quantity of tax money spent on things that, if they benefit anyone at all, benefit only vested interests and political pressure groups. The green agenda is a prime example; what have we got for all the money we have paid over decades in “climate change levies” and the like, except sky-rocketing energy prices and an unreliable and uncertain energy supply? And they can’t even show hard evidence that the world is any cooler now than it would have been if we hadn’t paid that money! Even if a cooler world would be a good thing. Which, in my opinion, it would not be; for historically, human civilizations have flourished in relatively warm periods such as Roman and early mediaeval times.
“Amongst wasteful government spending, one of the greatest areas is effective foreign aid.” The foreign aid payment of 0.7% of GDP each year came out of a commission headed by Willy Brandt in the early 1980s. Such payments, as we know, re-distribute wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. And these payments have been going on for 35 years. I would say that only to halve this payment is not going nearly far enough.
Reform Border Control and Immigration
I already addressed this subject above.
Reform Our Environment
(Disclosure: In the last decade and more, I have acquired a decent level of expertise in the area of environment, and in particular in the history of the green agenda. Sufficiently so, that I have published on the Internet several major articles on the subject, some of them at wattsupwiththat.com, “the world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change.” For those who are interested, I will put some links at the end of these comments.)
“We are all concerned about the environment…” My own concern is for the environment for human beings. The things we need in order to fulfil ourselves, like peace, civil liberties, a free market and objective justice, are far more important than (for example) polar bears or saving a few watts of energy. Deep green environmentalism puts something called “the environment” up on a moral pedestal, to be worshipped and preserved without any change, however small. It is like a religion – and a very intolerant and dangerous religion, too.
“…and we all want cleaner air. Let’s celebrate our success so far, as the UK has led the way by reducing our emissions since 1990 by about 50%.” This is true, but it misses an important question: what is an acceptable level of air pollution? Clearly, the level of air pollution in London in the 1950s (particularly from burning coal) was unacceptable, and the problem was, rightly, dealt with. But this isn’t necessarily so today. The issue is that, if you try to reduce and reduce and reduce air pollution, you reach a point at which the law of diminishing returns kicks in. But green policies on air pollution never seem to have a finishing line; and they don’t take cost-effectiveness, or loss of freedoms, into account. I would simply have said, “we all want air that is clean enough,” and left it at that.
“…to reduce emissions further and capture emissions…” I was rather surprised that this section didn’t specifically mention carbon dioxide (which is not a pollutant, and doesn’t impact air quality) and the associated “global warming” accusations. It will not come as a surprise to you that I consider these accusations, and the policies resulting from them, to be a giant scam. I have traced the back-story to these accusations far enough to have found some really unconscionable and ethically outrageous things that the UK government has done in support of the green agenda. See my links below. At the very least, I think you should be demanding an independent, honest audit of the evidence and the facts of the case, and encouraging full, open, public debate on what should or should not be done.
“We must maintain a range of types of energy supply, so we are not overexposed to any one particular supply; prices, technology, and relative performance will vary over time.” Yes, this is very important. Energy sources should also be appropriate to the purposes for which they are to be used (e.g., you can’t generate base load power using intermittent sources like wind and solar; you can’t run transport like cars or buses on fuels with low energy density).
“We will boost the solar and wind renewable sector…” This needs to be considered and costed objectively and very carefully. The big problem with both solar and wind are that they are intermittent. When the sun don’t shine, there’s no power on the line. When the wind don’t blow, the power don’t flow. That means they need to be backed up by other “conventional” power sources, which also have to be paid for. Moreover, when you take away the subsidies and consider costs over the whole life cycle, is power from wind and solar actually as cheap as it’s made out to be? I very much suspect not.
The Cladding Scandal
I’m not particularly well up in the details of the cladding scandal. But I can see that current UK environmental policies are likely to lead to similar scandals on an even greater scale, when millions find themselves forced to pay vast sums for things (for example heat pumps, home insulation or electric cars) that they neither want nor have the money for.
Links to some of my articles which may be of interest
Warning: some of them are quite long!
On environmental matters
Review of the UK government’s “green industrial revolution” plans (January 2021): https://misesuk.org/2021/01/24/green-industrial-revolution-or-great-leap-backward/
History and analysis of the “global warming” accusations (January 2021): https://misesuk.org/2021/01/31/a-dark-green-background/
A review of “Our Common Future,” the UN report which in 1987 set the green juggernaut in motion (April 2017): https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/04/20/our-common-future-revisited-how-did-the-roadmap-for-the-green-juggernaut-fare-over-30-years/
About the Precautionary Principle, and its perversion by the UK government (January 2018): https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/01/22/on-the-precautionary-principle/
About the role of universities in spreading “woke” ideas, and in developing the green agenda (February 2020): https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/02/29/on-cambridge-university-post-modernism-climate-change-oppenheimers-razor-and-the-re-enlightenment/
About the economics of the “climate change” agenda (March 2020): https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/03/17/on-externalities-integrated-assessment-models-and-uk-climate-policies/
About the social cost of pollution from cars in the UK, and the backstory on air pollution reduction policies (August 2017): https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/08/11/the-social-costs-of-air-pollution-from-cars-in-the-uk/
The War on Cars (video talk, August 2019, updating the August 2017 paper): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUpOj7KabvM
On ethical, political and general philosophy
Six essays, totalling almost 60,000 words (June/July 2021):
1. On philosophers who have influenced me: https://misesuk.org/2021/06/19/six-thinkers/.
2. My large-scale view of human history: https://misesuk.org/2021/06/24/the-rhythms-of-history/.
3. An overview of my philosophical system: https://misesuk.org/2021/06/29/two-world-systems/.
4. My views on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics: https://misesuk.org/2021/07/04/the-i-dimensions/.
5. My views on politics and the economy: https://misesuk.org/2021/07/09/the-we-dimensions/.
6. Some (long and radical!) ideas on how to reform politics: https://misesuk.org/2021/07/19/us-and-them/. Includes a brief summary of the first five essays.
Other links of interest
“Are Politicians Psychopaths?” (video talk, October 2016): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVR5Dv_yhAo. There’s a revised and updated written version at https://misesuk.org/2019/04/12/on-politics-and-psychopathy/.
About science and the scientific method (January 2018): https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/01/11/on-science-and-nonscience/.
About SAGE, the UK government “scientific” advisory body on the COVID epidemic (October 2020): https://misesuk.org/2020/10/17/eighty-six-sages/.