My least favourite politician of all time is Ronald Reagan. In fact, most of my political sensibilities to this day are governed by an anti-Reagan feeling. This is because Reagan epitomises for me both the hypocrisy of the Right, and everything else that annoys me about conservatism at the same time. In many ways, it defines my liberalism.
Reagan gave the impression that his time in office was about two things principally: shrinking the state in fiscal terms, and shrinking the state in terms of interfering in people’s lives. On both counts, Reagan failed epically. Fiscally, he turned a country that had proportionally the smallest debt in the western world into the debt monster the US has now become through unprecedented state spending. In terms of the state interfering in people’s lives, Reagan’s presidency often resembled an encroaching theocracy.
I bring this up in relation to Philip Hammond’s speech today because the Foriegn Secretary spoke about how the state needs to interfere in people’s lives to keep us all safe. There are many quotes I could pull, but I’ll stick strictly to the most vomit inducing:
“There are some who remain wilfully blind to the difference between the spying agencies of oppressive regimes and those of democratic societies.”
What makes an oppressive regime oppressive in the first place is their willingness to disregard their people’s rights, Philip. When you couple this with the Tories desire to see human rights cast asunder, it starts to become scary.
Looking back to 2010, the thing the Lib Dems got bamboozled on most was the Tories’ commitment to keeping the state out of people’s lives. With the mutual desire to scrap ID cards, the Liberal Democrats thought that at least this was a strong common ground the two parties shared, the importance of civil liberties. We have unfortunately seen the Tories roll back from this, pretty much starting from day one. Theresa May’s whole time in the Home Office has served as a constant example. Now Hammond’s speech today, in which he said those who wished to defend people’s right to privacy had “had their time” and that the matter needed to be settled on the side of interference.
If the state is going to butt into people’s lives and treat them like children, then I think the state needs to provide for those people as well. This is why had this been a Labour defence minister talking like Hammond did today, it would annoy me exponentially less. As a liberal I believe that the state should interfere with people’s lives as little as possible. But I also think that to take away people’s privacy – to talk about it as a non-issue as Hammond has today – and then to say that these same people need to “make it on their own” is deeply immoral. Either the state is a paternal force or a minimal one.
I accept that there is a balance to be struck between people’s privacy and people’s security. But why do the Tories seem to always fall on the big state side of this argument? I am often taunted on social media by leftists asking why I don’t just go and join the Conservative Party. There are many, many reasons for that, but if Philip Hammond’s speech today was the only one, that would be way more than enough.