Restrictive legislation and rules, high taxes and the attack on Traditional Culture are eroding Britain’s freedoms, writes Anthony Coombs. The PM should make the defence of freedom a priority.
‘Mother of the Free.’ That’s how AC Benson described Britain at the the turn of the twentieth century when writing the lyrics for the Proms favourite, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. It is the loss of that freedom that is now leading to our country’s gradual decline.
Freedom is a fragile flower, its virtues easily taken for granted. Today the cause of freedom is in retreat and under more persistent attack than ever before. Little by little our freedom at action, our privacy, our independence from regulation, our freedom of thought and expression and, of course, our ability to accumulate wealth and keep it, have all been eroded.
The causes are manifold. Most recently COVID has been a statist’s and busy body’s charter. In fact, the snappily named Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour has now felt moved to apologise for the ‘unethical’ and ‘totalitarian use of fear’ used by many in the scientific community to exert mind control over the past three years. Undoubtedly, the internet and social media have speeded up political debate and given voices to special interest groups demanding ‘government action’ for their hobby horses. Politicians have too often overreacted, forgetting Burke’s dictum that ‘it is a general popular error to imagine the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.’The result in Britain has been a storm of primary and secondary legislation, and an onslaught of regulation, both by Government and through duties and codes of conduct, by unelected quasi-governmental bodies. Their common and shared thread is a mistrust of the ordinary people’s ability to act and fend for themselves in a responsible and commonsensical way.
Further restrictions on freedom have been introduced by ever higher taxes – the state now takes in taxes around 37 per cent of what we all produce, the highest since the Second World War, with an ever more complex system to raise them. Those who operate the system appear so resistant to reform that Liz Truss decided last September that the, admittedly ineffectual, Office of Tax Simplification should be wound up. Now, according to recent reports, the government is planning a Central Bank Digital Currency, or Britcoin as Rishi Sunak dubs it. It has the potential to significantly augment and, as in China today, even replace the national currency. This, according to Tom Mutton, a director of the Bank of England ‘opens up technological possibilities, including programming … allowing the State …. to control how the money is spent by the recipient.’ The consequences for freedom of such a currency are obvious. Ultimately the State could monitor and control how, when and where we spend our money. Small wonder that the Harvard Business Review has warned of the risk to privacy, whilst in Britain the Economist recently warned that these CBDCs would shift ‘power from the individual to the State’ and could become a means ‘for the State to control citizens.’
There is also a more general, cultural threat to freedom, not the direct product of the government, but encouraged and often instituted by it. The spirit of freedom withers away.
Withered but not dead. Throughout Britain, resentment against the political correctness, wokery and nannyism mostly responsible for the charge sheet above is widespread if infrequently articulated. These resentments surface only occasionally. Proof of their existence lies in the Brexit referendum of 2016, the collapse of the Red Wall parliamentary seats in 2019, and the current collapse of Conservative fortunes since the hounding from office of Boris Johnson.
But such discontent needs direction and focus. Within our Parliamentary system it demands political leadership unafraid of making words like freedom, aspiration, ‘getting on, self responsibility, winning and even ‘hope’ common parlance again. Robust though they are, this can’t be left to commentators such as Jeremy Clarkson, Rod Liddle or even senior politicians such as Sir Ian Duncan Smith to battle from the sidelines. Whilst Warren Buffet is both a populist and credible advocate for the free enterprise creed, he is a sadly waning and foreign voice.
Ironically, a freer country requires a figure from the establishment. If the PM cannot be persuaded himself, he should at least recognise that it would touch a powerful political nerve amongst a currently silent and often alienated Britain. He might set up a Department for Freedom reporting to No 10, with his deputy and senior Cabinet members seconded to it. Perhaps Boris Johnson might be persuaded to put his shoulder to the wheel.
Alternatively, in the same way as a ‘Czar’ for freedom in the universities is about to be appointed, what about a Czar for freedoms more generally, part of whose job would be to assess the impact of every new measure and regulation on freedom? Above all, like President Zelensky of the Ukraine, the Prime Minister must articulate, promote and defend this fundamental cause, and thus begin to restore to the British that sense of self reliance and freedom which has served them, economically, socially and politically, so well for so long.