Classical Liberalism and the Conservative Party
Classical Liberalism has been a major aspect in Conservative Party politics for over thirty years now, reaching its zenith during Lady Thatcher’s leadership, styling it in her own unique way and being labelled ever since as Thatcherism.
Those who disagree as to whether Mrs Thatcher was a follower of Classical Liberalism we can look at the cornerstones of each ideology and find how remarkably similar they. Both revolve around the idea of a small state with the individual liberties put above all others. The Thatcher Government focused on freeing the markets in the belief that a freer market would inevitably lead to a freer people and, by and large, this did occur.
Looking to the original Classical Liberals of the nineteenth century Liberal Party and their modern counterparts in our own party the similarity between both are unprecedented periods of economic growth and, as a result, significant periods of office for their own parties. Early victories for the classical liberal movement were the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the Reform Act of 1832 and, their most significant and potent victory, the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom that had been fiercely fought for by one of histories most memorable classical liberals, William Wilberforce.
The classical liberals had, during such a momentous period in world history successfully set the agenda of political life, ending feudal laws and the mercantile system of trade that had blocked the path to individual prosperity for many hundreds of years. By setting the political agenda and focusing on the morals of the time they were able to put forward their reforms effectively bringing free trade to the British Empire and then beyond with agreements with France. These classical liberal ideas of individual liberty, limited government and equal justice helped to forge what is now the United States of America and whether or not one supports the actions of the United States as a whole they cannot deny that, as a nation, they have maintained their founding principles.
Mrs Thatcher’s great success in the 1980’s was her own ability to set the agenda of British political life by first taking the moral opinion that the state should not have such deep controls on our lives and, as such, successfully privatised many nationalised industries, a modern form of mercantilism where the state controls trade and industry.
It is only when they became complaisant in their own success that both of these great classical liberal groups fell. The divide between classical liberals as individualists and modern liberals and socialists as collectivists did they finally fall as the dominant ideology in the Britain, its colonies and other nations influenced by Enlightenment thinking. This divide resulted in the rise of collectivism and large government controlling political life in Britain and after the Liberal Party itself had been usurped by the Labour Party as one of the two major political forces in the United Kingdom the classical liberals had all but declined into obscurity. The failure, however, of the collectivist ideals of modern liberalism and socialism in and around the 1970’s resulted in the resurgence within the Conservative Party of classical liberalism with Mrs Thatcher focusing her efforts on its economic side over the social aspects of this ideology.
It may be argued that Thatcherism itself is, in its simplest form, classical liberal economics. With such economic failures that had been occurring under the Corn Laws that collectively protected the super rich the original classical liberals emerged to dominate British politics in the nineteenth century. The economic failures arising from the collectivist socialist attitudes of the early to mid 1900’s led to the rise of the second classical liberals under Mrs Thatcher in Britain and the collectivist regulations that had protected a new breed of super rich in the early 2000’s may yet lead to a revival of a truly free market, unhampered by legislative regulation by overbearing and self-interested government. A possible third classical liberal age may yet dawn and create another period of unprecedented economic boom as it had done before, with more individual freedoms and liberty that has been seen by the restrictions of our age that attempt to, ‘protect’ us but in order to do so we must take the initiative and rather than becoming bogged down in each individual policy the Conservatives must orientate themselves around the fundamental principles of classical liberalism and with such a clear dream in mind we can push forward our ideals.