Nigel Farage misses few opportunities to describe himself as “libertarian”. And why not: it’s a far less divisive term than saying you are either left or right wing, and recent polls indicate that it is helping Ukip reach out to voters from across the political spectrum. But it’s also not true.
In the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, libertarianism is about “minimisation of the role of the state”. Of course, this includes economics – so far, so UKIP.
But libertarianism is about social issues too, which is where Ukip’s claims to be ‘libertarian’ are really exposed as hogwash. The US Libertarian Party supports both the legalisation of drugs and same-sex marriage; both positions would be anathema to Farage and Ukip, who try to woo disaffected Conservative voters with their opposition to gay marriage. Many in the party also support the reintroduction of the death penalty, though it’s not official party policy. And lets not even mention the UKIP candidate who advocated "compulsory abortion when the foetus is detected as having Downs, Spina Bifida or similar syndrome" in his 'personal manifesto'.
And, while advocating a smaller state economically, Ukip’s website emphasises the need to “spend an extra 40% on defence annually”; by comparison, the US Libertarian Party advocated a 43 per cent reduction in defence spending in this year’s presidential election. Ukip’s ‘libertarians’ have rather less common ground with American libertarians than they might imagine.
What Ukip really are is "right-wing". There is no other apt description of a party that fuses opposition to gay marriage with calls for flat taxation and much lower state spending.
Such positions are popular enough to have a major impact on general elections – just ask David Cameron about his fears of what UKIP could do to the Tory vote in 2015. But their appeal is largely limited to those on the right of the Conservative Party. It is ultimately very unlikely Ukip would win many – if any – Westminster seats if they were seen as merely being the party of disaffected right-wing Tories. Which is why Ukip are trying to remould the public’s image of them into being the "libertarian" party.
Though the parties are of course very different, their tactics bear some resemblance to the BNP’s attempted rebranding. An official BNP document before the 2005 election emphasised the need to get the mainstream media to refer to the BNP as a “right-wing populist party” rather than “fascist”. Ukip’s attempted rebranding - from “right-wing” to “libertarian” - can be portrayed in a similar light; an attempt to gain support for their ideas by making them seem more mainstream.
There may be a niche in the country for a libertarian party; but Farage merely saying the word isn’t enough to make Ukip it. Ukip are no more libertarian than they are the BNP.