Saving the Soul of Libertarianism in the UK – Part 1

For the vast majority political decision making is clear, simple and wrong. Wrapped up in a false dichotomy of left vs. right of different flavours: red communism, green communism, ‘liberal’ fabianism, false conservatism, populist nationalism, and so on, many individuals genuinely believe they are being given meaningful choices at the ballot box. Unfortunately they are all variations on authoritarianism to a greater or lesser degree, all variations on people trying to use the monopoly on force held by the state to impose their idea of utopia on their neighbours whether they like it or not, and for their own good. That’s what most people are exposed to, though they likely don’t recognise my description of it. More likely they imagine some moral difference in voting left, or right, while failing to see the violence inherent in both sides.

Many others have woken to recognise that it doesn’t seem to matter who they vote for, the government always gets in to power and little actually changes that matters or when it does it’s in the wrong direction. Consequently many become disengaged from the democratic process, and election turnout figures plummet.

I was able to break free from the prevailing political mobius loop when I discovered libertarianism. In principle it had all the right foundations. It recognised a valid principle for the origin of human rights, and logically built on that to form a defensible answer to almost any policy question. Not an answer that would satisfy the power craving, but an answer that was fair and just, that upheld human rights, that avoided violating one for the gain of another. I began to recognise that libertarianism really was the politics of adults who are willing to take personal responsibility for their lives.

Libertarianism became a core principle for me. You’ve all seen the ‘optical illusion’ where you have to decide if you’re looking at a picture of a young woman or an old woman – of course one of the images appears hidden – but once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. That’s how libertarianism is when you ‘get it’ for the first time and that’s how it is for me.

Imagine my disappointment when, after a period of committed service to the Libertarian Party UK, the very kinds of things that made the big brand parties unacceptable to me, became apparent in this party too. What most members imagine, and what actually occurs at the top, I suspect may be two very different things. In my mind the party is the members. They fund it, they (in theory) vote for their representatives and Party officers, it belongs to them. In reality the Party is the majority vote of the national executive or coordinating committee, and whether that body’s decisions truly reflect what dues paying members expect, or would choose, may be a question mark and is often secret from them. Having volunteered for a role that allowed me visibility of what goes on behind those closed doors, ultimately what I saw led to my decision to resign and my recognition of the threat to the soul of libertarianism in the UK.

I joined the Libertarian Party UK in March 2016. (I took the decision to resign in 2020, and I’ll explain why within this article, because I believe it’s important for understanding the threat to the soul of libertarianism.) It was the first and only political party I had ever become a member of. As I wrote in my early email communications with the party to offer my time and talents, I didn’t join to donate only and call myself a member – I joined to grow the libertarian movement in the UK.

As a member I’d been content to serve in any way that would promote libertarianism and the party. When the Regional Coordinator for Mercia stepped down I was grateful and humbled to be given the opportunity to serve in his place. I took my responsibility seriously, and devoted countless hours and many miles to the promotion of the Party, seeking to meet with local members or interested others across the region as I held travelling in-person meet ups in places from Worcester to Nottingham, Northampton to Shrewsbury, Leicester to Birmingham, and many more. These efforts were slow to gather momentum at first, but in persisting they bore fruit resulting in notable members joining the party and the creation of associations or groups that didn’t exist before.

As a Regional Coordinator, I was also a member of the Party NCC in which I strove to deliver value and to support my fellow NCC members. Like many others I worked long into the night, and woke early in the morning, to complete work for the Party alongside work, family and other commitments more times than I can remember. Like others I was also pleased to travel as far as Basingstoke to the south and Hull to the North, to assist Election Candidates in their campaigns, offering my support to neighbouring Regional Coordinators in that way. In 2019, I stood for election as a Libertarian Party candidate twice, once as a local candidate and once as the PPC for Westminster.

I believed my service was recognized when I was approached, in 2018 I think, by a number of members asking if I would be willing to stand as party Chairman in order to let the incumbent step down as was his announced wish at that time. It wasn’t a position I had sought at all, yet In October 2019, after several attempts by the outgoing chairman to step down but lacking a willing replacement, I accepted that responsibility. In the few months that I served in that role I believe all are witness to my good conduct, and NCC members were witness to my efforts to Chair the NCC with fairness, equality and professionalism, ensuring meetings allowed all to speak who wished to, to apply boardroom democratic conventions, in order to promote equality among peers and allow the NCC to benefit from the insight and expertise of all of its members.

During my Chairmanship I emphasized the Constitutionally devolved nature of the Party, encouraging the creation of Regional Coordinating Committees which would assist coordinators in providing regional leadership and provide a training ground for the next generation of activists and leaders. In turn this would allow the NCC to focus on national issues, approving candidates and legal compliance. This emphasis on devolution, away from a NCC centrally planned party, I believed was essential to the next phase of growth in the party, was in keeping with the Constitution and did have the support of fellow NCC members – demonstrated by some of them seeking to form RCCs for their regions and by others accepting active roles in them once formed. I believed I was making a positive difference for libertarianism and the Party, laying, with the support of fellow NCC members, the groundwork for the Party’s next phase of growth.

Not everything was positive, and that is to be expected. No organisation is perfect, and no person in the organisation is perfect. The more challenging aspect of Chairmanship involved managing relationships between members that were susceptible to friction. Such a necessity is not something that put me off the role and I sought to do it with fairness and seriousness that would be expected in our litigious age. All organisations that are predominantly people centred, just as political parties are, are subject to people not getting on and differences of style and opinion that clash, including issues of potential seriousness.

It was such a clash that revealed to me what I believed to be wrong in the current party based approach to libertarianism in the UK, and which poses such a threat to the soul of libertarianism in the UK. During my membership this particular ‘shatterpoint’ centred on the approach some in Party leadership took to try to remove fellow NCC member, Sean Finch, from the Party. So appalled by what they sought to do and how they sought to do it, I resigned as Chairman, and ultimately seven other senior party members also resigned in protest. As we wrote at the time:

“…our decisions to resign came in protest of the actions of certain individuals in the NCC at that time who in our opinion sought to target a fellow NCC member, Sean Finch, for removal in an unfair, unreasonable and biased manner that went utterly against core libertarian values which we believed the LPUK ought to uphold – namely, that an individual is considered innocent until proven guilty; that an allegation is not of itself evidence; that due process ought to be carried out in a fair, reasonable and impartial manner; that an investigation ought to be impartial; that decisions should be based on evidence; and that accusers cannot also be ‘judge, jury and executioner’ [the very definition of a ‘kangaroo court’].

“Unfortunately such basic expectations were in our opinion rejected by some then on the NCC. Even the investigating officer engaged in behaviour that in our opinion sought to prejudice any forthcoming outcome for Sean Finch, including by publicly posting on Facebook in a manner that could prejudice any future action. A matter which itself is serious.

“The former Chairman and others in the NCC sought to apply a fair, reasonable and impartial process in full compliance with the letter of the Party Constitution, and finding there was no evidence presented of conduct that should result in Sean Finch’s removal the then Chairman took no action to do so. The door was left open for any available evidence justifying such an outcome to be provided, but by the time of our resignations none was ever forthcoming.

“Subsequently certain of the accusers, instead of providing evidence to support what in our opinion seemed to be their preferred outcome, supported a move to replace the Party Chairman with one of the accusers. At this the Party Chairman resigned believing he had lost the confidence of the NCC. The accusatory faction subsequently succeeded in having their preferred man elected as a temporary Chairman who continued to pursue Sean Finch, in our opinion unfairly, in spite of lack of evidence; in our opinion ignoring the strong likelihood of prejudice introduced into the process by the investigating officer; and by retaining a number of NCC accusers as ‘judge, jury and executioner’.

“…We came to see the situation as follows: that an individual might join the LPUK, become an activist and candidate, commit resources, miles and a great many hours in campaigning in the Party’s name, and yet still be pursued with the intent to remove, unfairly, without justifying evidence, on the say so of a vocal few, a number of whom have demonstrated nowhere near such commitment. Not wishing to lend even tacit support to the LPUK while individuals pursuing what in our opinion was an unfair, unreasonable and biased approach sat in power over others, and being unwilling to lend our good names to what in our opinion was a corrupt vendetta by some in the NCC against Sean Finch without evidence to justify it, we each resigned as we each found the situation irreconcilable.” (Ex-NCC Joint Statement Response to Libertarian Party Press Release)

I suggested in my opening paragraphs that party members are probably unaware of what goes on behind the closed doors of party leadership, or of what is done in their name. To prove my point, following our resignations, those remaining in the Party leadership published an entirely fictitious explanation of why we had left the party – a false account that remains live on their website at the time of writing this.

You see why I think there is a threat to the soul of libertarianism in the UK? When those claiming to stand as its defenders behave in such a way what else can it be called?

I had hoped this might have been a one-off, that there would be a recognition that ‘mistakes were made but lessons were learned’, but after around 18 months, with the false version of events still live, I can no longer hold out hope for that. I had hoped that it might just be a problem with a few in this particular libertarian party, but recent events in another organisation suggests that they are not immune either.

Only the members of a Party can do anything about this type of thing, and they can only do it if they are aware of it. I’ll talk more about that in Part 2.