The Selsdon Manifesto dates from the Group's founding in 1973. Nearly fifty years on progress has been made in some areas, particularly in the balance between the public and private sector. Some sections however remain relevant today
Britain is today approaching a state of crisis. We are suffering the worst bout of inflation for a quarter of a century, with the pound depreciating and mortgage rates rising at an unprecedented rate. The political situation has become increasingly volatile and unfavourable to the Government with dramatic by-election swings being registered against Conservative candidates as a result of a tremendous upsurge of support for the Liberals.
The fact that the Labour Opposition has not benefited as it should from the Government’s unpopularity, because of internal divisions and the probability that the so-called “Liberal Revival” merely represents a simple albeit massive protest vote, does not in any way alleviate the seriousness of the situation in which the Conservative Party finds itself.
Electorally the situation is serious in that the continuing failure of the Government’s counter-inflation strategy will, if prolonged, lead to nemesis at the polls; and to the victory of a Labour Party committed to the most extreme socialist programme since 1945; but electoral considerations are not all-important. What is of far greater moment is that the Government’s apparent abandonment of its previous electoral commitment to the free economy invites the question ‘whether the Conservative Party is at present fulfilling any meaningful function in British politics.’
As long as the Labour Party remains committed to a policy of state Socialism in education, welfare, and industry, the Conservative Party cannot afford to renege on its commitment to free enterprise and personal choice. To do otherwise is to hand Britain a one-way ticket to a state-controlled society and to destroy any significant distinction between the major Parties, in which case elections and the whole paraphernalia of democracy become a hollow mockery.
The Government’s about turns in economic policy are, alas, bringing this situation about. At a time when the Labour Party is moving strongly in a more socialist direction, the Government’s aid to industry (with the extension of political interference that entails) is vastly greater than under the last Labour administration. Public expenditure has soared, helping to produce the largest public Sector deficit in our financial history. Government controls over prices and incomes, once derided in opposition, have so ministers tell us, become essential weapons in the fight against inflation. Finally, the Government has done next to nothing to reduce the size of the public sector or to do anything really radical about extending the private sector in welfare and education. If present trends continue, the electorate will only have a choice between two brands of collectivism at the next General Election: Socialism v The Tory Corporate State.
To those of us who believe that genuine choice between the Parties gives politics its meaning and dignity, this state of affairs is intolerable and must be changed: hence the formation of the Selsdon Group. As members of the Selsdon Group we wish to see a change in the direction of Government policy. We want the Conservative Party to devote itself to the cause of personal freedom and to embrace economic and social policies which extend the boundaries of personal choice. We want the Government to abandon its present ragbag of authoritarian collectivist policies which have so often been discredited in the past.
It must be emphasised that however critical we are of the present course of Government policy, we are only concerned with issues not personalities. It is not our intention either to initiate or to engage in any struggle with the Conservative leadership as such. We merely wish to start a serious discussion within the Party about its goals and the direction in which we want to see it move. To that end we submit the following policy statement for public consideration.
In this statement we outline our views on economic policy in a number of important and related fields. The subjects covered include: government spending and industry; regional policy; taxation; foreign commercial policy; the evolution of the European Economic Community; foreign aid: housing and planning: social policy; education; the rule of law; and prices and incomes. In all of these areas of policy we advocate radical changes and the abandonment of conventional shibboleths.
The common theme that runs through this policy statement is our conviction, as Classical Liberals, that only a policy of economic freedom can give the individual the degree of choice and independence essential to his dignity. We do not for a moment believe that the search for efficiency is the be-all and end-all of economic policy. The fundamental purpose of our economic liberalism is the protection of individual rights and the widening of opportunities upon which the achievement of all our non-economic ends depend.