In his speech at the Liberal Democrat Party conference yesterday, energy secretary Chris Huhne declared: “we need no Tea Party tendency in Britain”. My view is completely different – I would argue that a Tea Party tendency is precisely what Britain needs. But let’s be clear about terms. As Daniel Hannan wrote on his blog yesterday:
The Tea Party, perhaps more than any other contemporary movement, brings out the 'Yeah, but what they're really saying…' tendency. The 'tea' stands for 'Taxed Enough Already' but, if you relied on the BBC and the Guardian for your information, you might not know it. Many Lefties pretend – or perhaps have genuinely convinced themselves – that the Tea Party is clandestinely protesting against immigration or abortion or the fact of having a mixed race president; anything, in fact, other than what it actually says it's against, viz big government. The existence of a popular and spontaneous anti-tax movement has unsettled the Establishment. They'd much rather deal with a stupid and authoritarian Right than with a libertarian one. Hence the almost desperate insistence that the Tea Partiers have some secret agenda…
Essentially then, what I’m saying is that Britain would benefit enormously from a popular movement against big government. There are two reasons why such a popular movement is sorely needed. The first is that big government is leading us to ruin. The second is that the vested interests in favour of big government are so powerful and pervasive that it will take an awful lot to counter them. My blog yesterday touched on both these points.
The interesting question is why no such movement has emerged in Britain, when it has become so prominent in the US. One possibility is that Britons are simply less individualistic and more inclined towards socialism than their American counterparts. Sadly, and for whatever reason, there may be some truth in this.
Another possibility is that since our broadcast media regulations prohibit British equivalents to Fox News and US talk radio existing, it is much harder to spread the ‘Tea Party’ message, and much easier to maintain the statist status quo.
A third reason might be the complete dominance of the party hierarchies in British politics: candidates are carefully screened for conformity; party lines are strictly enforced in parliament; and anyone displaying too much independence is liable to be deselected and, to all intents and purposes, excluded from public life. Again, this makes it extremely difficult for prominent ‘Tea Party’ voices to emerge.
All this makes me suspect that Chris Huhne can relax: sad as it makes me to say it, British tea parties are likely to revolve around Earl Grey and dainty little sandwiches for the foreseeable future.