Monday, May 04, 2009

Thatcher the libertarian

Margaret ThatcherInteresting article in today's FT by Lord Saatchi (thanks, Gus!):
[Margaret Thatcher] would despise the vision that is opening up before us — in which the state controls your mortgage, your bank account and your life insurance; where the state routinely passes your papers from one government department to another, your phone bills to the health department, your health records to Revenue & Customs, your tax records to the benefits department; your car journeys tracked by state sensors; your bus and Tube journeys caught on state cameras; your foreign trips notified to the authorities; every click on your computer available for inspection; your identity card always ready for presentation; one in three on the state’s payroll; two in three receive a state payment; cities where half the jobs are with the state, and where the state has views on how you fill your rubbish bin.

Lady Thatcher would see this for what it is. She would block it with every ounce of her body. Because she knows where it is headed.

Historians might argue that Thatcher was more on the authoritarian/social conservative wing of her party than the libertarians currently in the ascendant. Still, one must take help from wherever it comes ;)

3 comments:

Pete said...

Er... what? From the government that brought us Clause 28, poll tax, etc etc....

Can't help thinking this is a case of "I don't like this, I like Thatcher, therefore Thatcher wouldn't like this..."

Anonymous said...

I switched on R4 Today just as Saatchi started ranting on about Thatcher; it took several sentences for me to realise this wasn't an evangelical preacher bashing on about his god (although in his own way, I suppose he was). I'd fully expect him to have his own "Maggie's Shrine" in a hidden room at home...

Steve Jones said...

I'm sure at a personal level Thatcher was a social conservative, but that's hardly incompatible with disliking government surveilance.

What we have now is an increasingly corporatist state that seeks to legisilate and interfere, often on the best of motives, in personal lives. Some actions have been taken out of the domain of personal responsibility into those of public accountability. Activities that were once legal (like changing an electicitity fitting in the kitchen) are now regulated. It's not that these are aimed at oppression as such, but the weight of such regulation is no considerable (much of it of European origin of course).

We also have regular outbreaks of moral panic on things like obesity, drug taking, alcohol intake, the sex industry with an administration increasingly taking to law making, often justified on a handful of cases and very often without any real measures of effectiveness. In fact it has got worse than that - increasingly we have rafts of unenforceable legislation left up to the courts and individuals to determine the meaning of vague qualitative terms.

Of course there is a fine line between protecting the public and intruding on the private. However, whatever Thatcher was, she was much more of a hold people to account for the results of their action rather than legislate what they do in the first place.

We can see this with the government's approach to free speech and even the banning of people coming into the country on account of what they might say. Much of the approach in this area has come from trying to satisfy various religious and other social groups who are often not on the side of freedom of expression. We do not have the robust protection of individual freedom that the American constitution guarantees. Maybe they go a bit over the top (I don't really want semi-automatic weapons held by my neighbours), but I rather think we are drifting far too much towards a bureaucratic, interventionist state model.