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Libertarians versus the Nanny State

Britain is currently caught in a curious paradox. On the one hand the freedom of everyone to choose how they conduct their lives is a key value.

On the other, there is still a widespread reluctance to accept personal responsibility and an expectation that the nanny state will decide everything for us. In the 2010 election David Cameron set out the Big Society vision that meant less government and more scope for local and personal responsibility. This flopped even amongst his party faithful and no longer features in his speeches. 

This is surprising in a national culture that is increasingly consumerist. Post-modern thinking rejects political and religious meta-narratives in favour of people being free to choose and change their lifestyles and everyday behaviour. Everything from mobile phones to personal relationships is discarded if it fails to satisfy. When the government sought to enact a Communications Data Bill to help the police and security services to catch terrorist plotters and serious criminals, a third of those polled saw this as a gross invasion of their privacy. Cameron’s proposals for protecting children from extreme online pornography were opposed on similar grounds by 27%. 

My objective is to explore where British society is heading, not to express support for any party or specific policy. Anyone who has read my blogs over the last four years will recognise that I favour a more participative form of democracy. When God created us in his own image he made us responsible for the care of his creation. He did not give this responsibility to a few but to all of us. It is part of what it means to be human. We do not all have the expertise to be involved in every decision, nor would this be practical, but opting out of all social and political responsibilities abdicates our citizenship and detracts from our humanness. It is also foolish because there are issues about which we and our local communities understand better than the government in London. 

That does not remove the need for national government because there are shared problems that can only be handled at that level. There is also a need to ensure that policies do not discriminate in favour of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless. Social justice and individual rights are both important. The challenge is how we find a combination that works for most of us most of the time, without denying anyone certain basic rights. 

That is not always achieved through the electoral process. The British media has castigated the Egyptian military for usurping the democratically elected President Morsi. Unfortunately President Morsi was using his office to impose an Islamic state on a people, many of whom wanted a more inclusive democracy that respected the freedoms of belief and conscience of non-Muslims as well. British democracy needs most of us to actively participate, and to fulfil our citizen’s responsibilities without opposing everything on libertarian grounds. It is our God-given duty.