Don’t be liberal about being liberal.

The short video at the bottom of this post is about as neat, succinct and certain in defining classical liberalism as you will find anywhere.  It builds on Dr Nigel Ashford’s short book Principles of a Free Society, commissioned by the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation which identifies the core elements to a Civic Society: Democracy; Equality; Free Enterprise; Freedom; Human Rights; Justice; Peace; Private Property; The Rule of Law; and Spontaneous Order.

In Northern Ireland there are many who loosely use the term ‘liberal’ to flatter themselves. Mostly, they haven’t a Liberal ideal or principle in their head. They use the term ‘liberal’ in the same way as they talk of ‘rights’: a vague sense of moral superiority wrapped in rhetorical cliché.

What too often defines ‘liberal’ politics in Northern Ireland, is an interest in the preservation of the vast and overbearing public sector. There is no thought of the individual in this consideration, only of the big ‘public’: no room for the one, except when embraced into a singular collective for the pursuit of the extension of ‘public interest’. Of course it is in the public’s interest, because the liberal knows best.

Northern Ireland liberals seem most comfortable with keeping a cosy status quo and not doing anything that might upset the (gravy) train. Witness the roll back on the association between the Alliance Party and the Liberal Democrats. Fine to have Charles Kennedy support Anna Lo’s Assembly campaign in South Belfast in 2007 (and previously in 2003); but not for Naomi Long to support the Liberal Democrats in Government in Westminster. Here was the chance for the Alliance Party to be part of a real Government: instead they chose not to risk prospects at the parish pump with such a brave and game-changing move on the national stage. ‘Liberal’, just not Liberal.

Of course, the fated UCUNF was projected as ‘liberal’ project, yet it was mostly defined by what is was not: not the UUP, not sectarian; not anything much on their website since May 2010.

Time to stop being liberal about being a liberal. True champions of liberalism in Northern Ireland are required. That should mean the adoption and promotion of positive principles and practical principled policies that might fundamentally change the nature of Northern Ireland’s political discourse above and beyond the current presentation of tired sound-bites and petty vacant politics.

Having viewed the following, if it is not possible to sign up to these simple ten principles then please understand why it may be considered the nature of Northern Ireland politics continues to lack a credible liberal champion.

Dr. Nigel Ashford explains the 10 core principles of the classical liberal & libertarian view of society and the proper role of government:1) Liberty as the primary political value
2) Individualism
3) Skepticism about power
4) Rule of Law
5) Civil Society
6) Spontaneous Order
7) Free Markets
8) Toleration
9) Peace
10) Limited GovernmentDr. Ashford is Senior Program Officer at the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) at George Mason University.

About the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation

Founded after the fall of the Berlin wall and the iron curtain, the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation aims to promote co-operation and European development based on freedom, democracy and market economy. This is done through education and information on democracy and European integration directed to political parties and organizations.

About the Institute for Humane Studies and George Mason University.

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