Shrinking Freedom in Britain
By Staff News & Analysis - March 20, 2010

Labour has taken 13 years of diabolical liberties with Britain … Individualism and autonomy used to be prized – now they are held in contempt, argues Simon Heffer … Britain has become increasingly authoritarian. A danger of the government having made such a mess of the economy is that one risks forgetting all the other horrors for which it is responsible. Between now and the election I shall make a point of discussing some of these other factors that an intelligent voter should want to consider before casting his or her ballot. Despite stiff competition from matters like Europe, immigration, law and order and the near-destruction of our education system, one is perhaps worse than all the others: the insidious and at times quite terrifying assault on our civil liberties. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: Britain on the brink.

Free-Market Analysis: It is passing strange to read this article (excerpted above) by Telegraph writer Simon Heffer because it takes on a subject that British mainstream pundits seem to avoid for the most part – Britain's endless and growing authoritarianism, in some ways akin (in our opinion), ironically, to the 20th century fascism of Germany that British soldiers fought against so valiantly. The article appears at virtually the same time as another one on the same subject by Telegraph writer Philip Johnston – a book excerpt actually. Both are interesting summations of this discouraging British trend.

Of course, we've been aware of such an increasing diminution of freedom for years, ever since we observed the vituperation aimed at former prime minister Margaret Thatcher when she tried to institute modest free market reforms in Britain. It was almost like there was a sickness wafting from Britain, the smell of irrevocable envy, the stench of what Samuel Johnson called compulsive "leveling." It is very sad what has happened to Britain. Once Albion basked in the reflected glory of Johnson's Rambler; today it bathes in the muddy waters of BBC corporate rhetoric.

In fact, when one observes the great achievements of Britain in the arts, but most importantly in literature, it is hard not to be an Anglophile – and to grieve for what was. The list of great British writers, especially, is endless, a roll call of burnished prose and glorious poetry. Read any playwright and then read Shakespeare and you will see the difference. He truly deserves his reputation (or Edward de Vere may anyway). But there is much more to this once great culture – common law, the Magna Carta … Where has the greatness gone?

All the focus seems to be on politics, now, on the endless British obsession with class structure, various accents and, of course, politically correct egalitarianism. If one reads the British press, it seems like one can never get away from analyses of the policies of the country's former prime minister Tony Blair (he of New Labour) and now the pitiless Gordon Brown (pictured above left), who has aimed his great, munching jaws at what is left of the genius of British life and culture.

The troubles with Britain go beyond the leadership, though, and seem to raise questions about British citizens themselves. The country, especially under New Labour, has tolerated tremendous erosions of freedom seemingly without a murmur. On the whole, the British populace seems content to sink into the morass of socialism and authoritarianism without much of an (visible) outcry.

Given what is expressed above, these two articles in the Telegraph constitute a welcome change of pace. Of the two articles, we actually prefer the second entitled "Bad Laws," with a cut line reading as follows: "Labour has clowned around with our freedom … This nanny-state government's legislative tinkering leaves no one better off, says Philip Johnston in an extract from his new book. 'Bad Laws.'" (Constable). Johnston in the excerpt doesn't get bogged down; he cuts right to the heart of what's gone wrong:

Think of all the things we could do 15 or 20 years ago that we can't do now. On July 1, 2007, it became a criminal offence throughout the United Kingdom not merely to smoke a cigarette in a public place, but in your own car if other people share it to travel to work or if it is used for work purposes. It is also an offence to smoke in a room in your own home if it doubles as a workplace. It is now a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, to smack your own child if a visible mark is left as a result. It is also an offence to mount a horse and ride off in pursuit of a fox. Since 1997, it has been a crime to possess any handgun, even a .22 calibre, for sporting purposes. An individual whose most aggressive instinct is to fire at a target can no longer do so in this country, even under licence, though special dispensation has been given to the British team for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Since 2003, it has been illegal to own a horse, donkey or a Shetland pony without obtaining an identity card for the animal, to ensure it does not poison anyone who eats it. At the same time, a thief who steals goods worth £200 or less from a shop is no longer arrested but handed an £80 fixed-penalty notice, without any criminal record provided it is paid on time. Even teenage "canoodling" is now criminalised under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which forbids under-16s from engaging in any sexual activity.

Under counter-terror laws, photographers and train-spotters have been threatened with arrest; under health and safety laws, teams of topple-testers roam the country's cemeteries to ensure gravestones are not going to fall over; under new vetting laws, nine million people, many of them volunteers, will have to show they are not potential child-molesters. …

Our common sense has been stolen. In its place we have been given new laws – dozens of them, hundreds of them, thousands of them. A long tradition of pragmatism has been replaced by a legalistic approach to everything. Where common law once provided the glue to our society, statute has taken its place. It has restricted the scope for discretion and for latitude; and this inflexibility has made us angry, not least when we discovered that many of the very people who were supposed to be keeping an eye on this – our MPs – were spending their time devising ever more imaginative ways of living the good life at our expense.

Simon Heffer, while somewhat more cerebral in his approach, makes a good beginning, which we've already excerpted above. We won't quote anymore, but you can go and read as you wish at the UK Telegraph website. These two articles constitute some much-needed analysis as regards Britain's loss of freedom (especially under New Labour). And while we would endorse the Telegraph's frankness, we still wonder why such sentiments are not more regularly reflected at the Financial Times, the Economist and other publications that once espoused the virtues of British classical liberalism but now seem only to prattle endlessly about the obscene marginalia of regulatory democracy.

But as long as we are on the subject, we should try to be fair. Britain's decline, it must be said, mirrors America's. These two countries are run by the same elite clique, in our opinion, and when one makes a comparison of the various political classes and their agendas, one can find an astonishing parallelism. The "special relationship" between Britain and the United States has little to do with culture at this point and everything with the elite obsession to dominate the global economy. Where one moves, the other goes. The two countries speak with one voice, and the sound, as George Orwell once wrote, is astonishingly similar to "a boot stamping on a human face – forever."

Just as England's national personality is being vitiated by the nation's strange immigration policies, so the American political class apparently attempts to do the same through "open borders" legislation. Just as Britain's nationalized health-care system degrades into ruin, so America's political classes tremble on the brink of initiating a similar disaster. Just as America fights war after unjustifiable war, so do British pols chase along behind, making the necessary military commitments in a seemingly desperate attempt to keep up. The two nations share a common heritage, but increasingly they share a commitment to hyper-regulation as it affects all aspects of the nation-state, from the environment, to business, to banking and beyond.

But we are optimists, and chroniclers of the change-making Internet. Much of the vitality of the British press is reflected in web-sites and blog-sites these days, many of which are astonishingly anti-EU and classical liberal in tone and sentiment. Eventually, we would have to believe, such sentiments will infect the larger mainstream British press, just as the conversation about freedom has steadily pushed such American outlets as Fox toward a more honest sociopolitical dialogue. (Though, Lord knows, it has a long way to go.)

After Thoughts

We think, therefore, that the two nations will also inevitably share a commitment to increased free-market thinking. That change is already visible in the steadily rising Tea Party movement in the US. And while the British don't seem to have a similar movement at the moment (unless its UKIP?), we have to believe that the socialist permafrost that has seemingly overlaid British aspirations for freedom will eventually thaw. Perhaps these two articles, and the concerns they voice, signal the beginning of such a (mainstream) thaw. Of course, maybe they only signal, in earnest, the start of the election cycle.