‘Take away the right to choose what we do with our money and you take away our one tool for making change happen’
Individualism is about opportunity” (Chris McAndrew CC BY 3.0)
We in Britain are embracing freedom in a way we never have before. The ability to reach across the world and communicate faster than ever. To order food and heat our homes at the touch of a button. To trade instantaneously the goods and services we have created. From technology hubs to high streets to garages, British towns and cities reflect that freedom with a cornucopia of new enterprise. The talk of the end of capital, property and enterprise couldn’t be further from the truth.
This is particularly true among younger people. Today’s under-thirties are the most independently-minded generation ever. They are taking risks, finding the courage to do things differently, and developing the technologies and companies which are challenging traditional industries, such as cryptocurrencies.
Research shows the young identify more with the values of self-reliance and accomplishment than other age groups. More than ever, people define themselves by their individual thoughts and actions, rather than by their background. That individuality doesn’t mean we’re becoming more selfish or uncaring. But we are increasingly defying the rules and hierarchies of the establishment — from big corporations to big Government. Individualism is about opportunity, diversity, mobility, the freedom to go wherever you want, do whatever you want, challenge the system and the status quo.
From Twitter to eBay to Uber, people are finding their voice, cutting out middlemen and rejecting closed, overregulated markets. They are peer-to-peer lending, leasing, trading and investing. It is said people care less about property but I think that’s untrue — we are just embracing new, more convenient forms of ownership. We still want to work and enjoy the fruits of our success — we just want more flexibility over how we do so. John Locke’s conception of property is no less true today than it was a decade or a century ago.
So why are so many of this young, freedom-loving generation wooed by a Labour Party so utterly opposed to these things? A party which doesn’t support ownership or disruption, wants more government control, and to close down these new forms of exchange?
Take their war on Uber — where Labour have taken the side of the establishment against innovation and the people who benefit from it. Or John McDonnell’s plan to buy utilities at a price “determined by Parliament”, or their plan to force people to sell their land at discounts to the state. We know from disastrous experiments in history that this level of state intervention doesn’t work — it destabilises markets and leaves people worse-off. It will make investors think twice before putting their money in the UK — investment that’s sorely needed by start-ups and entrepreneurs. And it violates the right to make choices over our own property — not just for the owner of the land that happens to be in McDonnell’s crosshairs on any given day, but for all of us.
I don’t think this new generation wants to abolish private property and have the economy run by politicians. But they do want to shake up the system. They see a vote for the anti-establishment Corbyn as a way to break down traditional power structures. But what they will get is the exact reverse — because Labour are offering more government control, not less.
Imagine what it would be like living in such a country. Where politicians run major industries, with no choice and nowhere for people to turn if it goes wrong. Where new technologies like automation and peer-to-peer exchange are seen as a threat, rather than an opportunity, and promptly shut down. Where it’s frowned upon to challenge corporate or government interests with a new business idea. Where a higher share of your pay packet goes to the state than at any time in our peacetime history. People are right to worry about the cost of housing and energy, but bigger government is not the answer.
What the housing market needs is disruption — more free land to build on, more small builders finding newer, cheaper ways to build homes which will then sell at lower prices and put the big players under pressure. We should unleash the free market to build higher, denser and faster, and reform our complex and archaic planning system.
The same goes for the energy market — we need new entrants providing light and heat to homes cheaper and more efficiently. We need an environment which plays one energy company off against another, forces price cuts and makes unfair practices unprofitable.
Free enterprise is fundamentally humane and democratic. Unlike the Big State and corporate monopolies which put senior management and vested interests before people, enterprise is driven by everyone. We make millions of individual choices about what to do with our money which, as a collective, defy the fat cats the bureaucrats who benefit from the status quo and think they have all the answers.
That power over the powerful is rooted in private property. Take away the right to choose what we do with our money and you take away our one tool for making change happen. It’s why Labour’s plan for a state on steroids — with rail, water and power run by politicians and big corporations insulated from failure and competition by the Strategic Investment Board — won’t just leave us poorer in the short term. It will erode the freedoms upon which our prosperity depends.
So I ask every Labour voter, young or old, to re-examine that party and the solutions that it is offering. Because beneath the shiny veneer of free tuition and protest marches and jam-making, there is a coarse underbelly, raging at the victory of the property-owning democracy, which sees business as the enemy, disagreement as traitorous, and personal ambition and choice as forces to stamp out.
They don’t just threaten our prosperity — they threaten the freedoms which have taken centuries to win, and which show no sign of abating in this new generation of fiery, creative and diverse individuals. Only the Conservatives can offer the vision that we need to win the argument for freedom, and consign the forces of conformity and control again to the dustbin of history.