In Defence of Liberty

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Murphy’s Flaw

Are Conservative activists really "libertarian ideologues"? (Edited: Telegraph)

Are Conservative activists really “libertarian ideologues”? (Edited: Telegraph)

Richard Murphy is a chartered account and the founder of the Tax Justice Network. Mr Murphy regularly appears on television as a ‘tax expert’ and has one of the most influential blogs on economics in Britain. Despite these credentials, Mr Murphy commits blogging’s primordial sin: the unsubstantiated claim.

In a post concerning Clacton MP Douglas Carswell’s defection to the UK Independence Party, Mr Murphy begins by dismissing the Financial Times’ Janen Ganesh as “right wing nonsense”. After successively agreeing with Mr Ganesh, the author of The Courageous State makes this courageous claim:

Too true: the lid may not be containable for the Tories for a lot longer. Most of its activists are libertarian ideologues.

There is no reference for this statement, as if it were well-known. Mr Murphy uses ‘ideologue’ as a pejorative, which is a flourish of shallow rhetoric, rather than serious consideration. James Landale of the BBC explains why there is a dearth of polls of political party members:

Data protection plays a part but political parties are also loath to allow outsiders to find out what their members are really thinking.

A 2013 YouGov poll of 852 Conservative party members only directly published two questions on government policy. 45% of members strongly opposed the legislation “allowing for gay marriage”, with a further 14% tending to oppose this law. In contrast, equal marriage had merely 24% support. Furthermore, 67% of the Conservative ranks opposed the protection of Britain’s overseas aid budget. This survey does not elucidate the reasons for these answers, but is not allusive of a majority favouring political liberty.

A more detailed version of this YouGov survey was conducted for two politics professors, Tim Bale and Paul Webb. Their Political Studies Association article stated:

Social conservatism is pretty widespread, judging both from the battery of ideological questions we asked members and their notable opposition on the part of members to the government’s social liberal policies.

The professors found disparities between political self-perception and activism:

Interestingly, while there is no clear linear relationship between activism and where members place themselves on the left-right scale, the most active group of members (namely, those giving more than 40 hours of their time to the party per month) are the most right-wing.

This survey provides potent evidence against the claim that “most” Conservative activists are “libertarian ideologues”. The survey suggests there is no ideological monoculture growing within the Conservative grassroots.

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2 comments on “Murphy’s Flaw

  1. Perry de Havilland
    September 13, 2014

    I am not at all convinced most Conservative activists are even “conservative ideologues”

    • Anthony Masters
      September 13, 2014

      Broadly, we all have a system of beliefs. I doubt Conservative activists and their critics would characterise that system of beliefs in the same manner.

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