The Brexit referendum has revealed the existence of a deep polarization in British politics. Apart from the public faces of the opposing campaigns, there were also undisclosed parties with a vested interest that few heard about, and yet have been instrumental in transforming British society into democratic socialism. This happened when new ideas such as liberty, self-determination, the rights of man, parliament and constitution threatened the old order. Unfortunately, liberalism and capitalism did not succeed; instead, a “third way” was adopted, a notion developed and promoted by the Fabian Society.
In the academic circles, the group established a strong foothold by creating and funding the London School of Economics, while they also had their voices heard in the media and press. All these steps were necessary to shape the mindset of future generations. On the political front, the Fabian Society was among the socialist groups that formed the UK Labour Party in 1900. The party’s constitution was written by Fabian Sidney Webb and was heavily influenced by the founding documents of the Society. Thus, the group’s growing political power and popularity enabled it to promote its leftist ideas in parliament. In the Labour victory of 1945, 229 Fabians were elected, many of them ministers under, fellow Fabian, Prime Minister Clement Attlee. In the 1990s, the Fabians made their way again into No. 10 Downing Street, with the victory of Tony Blair, with the Society’s backing and support playing a decisive role in the outcome. The Fabian society was instrumental in forming the ideological platform of New Labour, later influencing heavily the party’s tax policies (also planning the political strategy of the staggering tax increase for NHS spending in 2000), and has successfully manipulated government institutions and policy-making processes, promoting statism and government intervention in multiple levels of society. Even today, with 200 of members of parliament belonging to the Fabian society, we can clearly see which ideology has inspired British politics over the past century.
Britain’s chance to revive Gladstone’s liberalism
That brings us to the new UK Prime Minister, Theresa May. Tory socialism reflects the spirit of British politics, ever since it was formulated by Benjamin Disraeli back in the 1800s. The Fabians, generally described it as “the belief in reformist-minded activist government, at once appealing to political sentiments commonly associated with both conservatism and socialism.” In a way it can be understood as the philosophy of “big government conservatism”, or in other words “neo-conservatism”.
The primary opponent of Disraeli was William Ewart Gladstone. He was a strong proponent of classic liberalism and stood alone against organized societies pushing for their collectivistic agenda. But Gladstone was a strong fighter for the general public and believed true social justice and prosperity could only be achieved if the government loosened its restraints on social and political life, and through laissez-faire economics. His ideas, it would seem, fell on deaf ears, as we saw which direction the UK took over the past decades; and it was far from a success story. Now, however, Brexit is a chance for a new start for Britain: the question remains if they will follow the old doctrine of British imperialism in accordance with Disraeli or if they will explore Gladstone’s path which will provide the best moral way for individuals to thrive within society. In his own words: “Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.” As a historical side-note, that couldn’t be more relevant today, it is worth mentioning that even back then, Gladstone showed the right attitude towards the challenge London was facing from Ireland and Scotland. He believed in the right of the people of Ireland and Scotland to enjoy more autonomy from England.
When Gladstone launched his campaign at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall he made the famous statement: “At last, my friends, I am come among you “unmuzzled”.” In that respect, I believe we should look positively and optimistically at Britain’s prospects, as there are plenty of great individuals with the potential to shape the future, as positive leaders that would challenge the old socialist establishment. I believe that with a little bit of luck, we might see the rise of individual spirits and free-thinkers, with a much-needed, healthy dose of political incorrectness, that will remember this great statesman and bring back voluntarism, self-responsibility and free-trade, the principles Gladstone was committed to and defended all his life.