What's in a name? Liberals, Neoliberals and Libertarians

This article was submitted by a Bracknell Forest Liberal Democrat member.

Liberals, neoliberals, and libertarians – three little words that mean completely different things. Confusing, eh? As Liberal Democrats, we are proud of a party label that goes back to the 19th century and that we think represents the best in politics. As it says on the label, we believe in freedom and democracy.  We are the party of business, but believe that business works best when it benefits all of society, not just the wealthy few.  We make decisions in the open, not in smoke-filled rooms. Everyone has the right to speak their mind. We recognise that people have the right to benefit from their hard work, but believe that this only works in a fair society where everyone has equal access to opportunities in health and education.

Neoliberalism, on the other hand, is a label that in many ways represents the very opposite of what we stand for, and was the economic thinking that dominated the Thatcher years and beyond.  According to Encyclopedia Britannica, neoliberalism is based on a belief in laissez-faire free market economics, minimal state intervention, and that free markets are the most efficient means of distributing resources. Rather more Brexit Party than Liberal Democrat!

And what about those libertarians?  Sounds like a lot of fun, but let’s look at the definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary, “a person who believes that people should be free to think and behave as they want and should not have limits put on them by governments”. Probably more a viewpoint likely to be expressed in the Bullingdon Club rather than in the Lib Dem social. 

As these labels get thrown around social media, they get more and more confusing.  I was amused to see an online post from a right wing friend recently, complaining about the unfairness to Dominic Cummings of being ganged up on by the “anti-Cummings neoliberal elite”. And here was me thinking that the neoliberal elite were the very ones who put him where he is today!  Liberals, neoliberals, and libertarians – three names that have so little in common.

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