Free Life 36, April 2000, Editorial: Vote for Peter Tatchell, by Sean Gabb

From Free Life, Issue 36, April 2000
ISSN: 0260 5112

Editorial: Vote For Peter Tatchell!
by Sean Gabb

It is, perhaps, rather early for Free Life to be endorsing any candidate for the London elections. But I have been asked by Peter Tatchell to carry his Manifesto for London. Mr Tatchell has decided to run not for Mayor, but for a seat in the London Assembly, from which he can support Ken Livingstone as Mayor. He takes this election very seriously, so far as his manifesto contains what I presume to be a detailed programme of what he and Mr Livingstone intend to do in London.

I could have carried Mr Tatchell’s manifesto without comment, or with a brief note explaining that I disagreed with much of it but had promised to include it in the current issue before reading it. On reflection, I have decided not merely to carry the manifesto, but to endorse Mr Tatchell as a candidate in the Assembly elections – and therefore to endorse Mr Livingstone as Mayor of London.

Doubtless, this will spoil breakfast for most of my readers. Indeed, if the Sean Gabb of 1983 could be brought forward to read the above words, he would rub his eyes with astonishment. I campaigned against Mr Tatchell on the Conservative side in the Bermondsey by-election; and though I am glad to say I made no comment on the doorsteps about his sexual preferences, I made much of his hard left credentials. At the same time, I denounced Mr Livingstone as the living incarnation of evil. Indeed, I still deplore his support for the armed terrorists of the IRA. But I reply now to my readers, as I would to my earlier self, that times are altered.

In the first place, I have reconsidered my views of Mr Tatchell. While he retains much of the silliness and bad economic thinking of Old Labour, he is a man of honour and decency. It is easy nowadays to be liberal about homosexuality. It is even fashionable. But Mr Tatchell has been campaigning on the issue since he was 17 and is by far the most sensible and persuasive of the gay rights advocates. It was his deliberate flouting of the law that stopped the Metropolitan Police from using the public decency laws against homosexuals – and therefore also from wasting the taxpayers’ money, It was his tireless campaigning that did most to bring the lowering of the gay age of consent onto the political agenda; and when the age of consent is equalised at 16, this will be very largely his achievement. I do not wholly agree with his call for a further lowering to 14, but I am not shocked by this; and I am impressed by his honesty in saying what he wants.

Unlike most gay rights advocates, Mr Tatchell is also a libertarian on other issues. I note, for example, how his manifesto calls for a Royal Commission to look into the decriminalisation of recreational drugs. This is not the same as legalisation – not at all the same as calling for heroin to be as easy to buy as alcohol. But it is further in the right direction than any candidate from the main parties will dare advance. Equally, his proposal to shift the local tax burden from small to large firms should be welcomed. After all, small firms are nearly always private in the genuine sense. Large ones are usually incorporated under the Companies Acts, and are little more than semi-autonomous agents of the State.

In the second place, the rank socialism of much else in the manifesto should no longer be seen as a threat to civilisation. A minimum wage of £4.50 per hour would make it illegal to employ anyone whose labour is – for whatever reason – worth less than this; and it would drive tens of thousands of women and non-whites and young people either out of the work force or into the informal economy. But I doubt if the money or regulatory power would be available for the Government of London to enforce any of this. As for the rest, I cannot imagine that Frank Dobson and his team would “promote renewable energy with an avenue of power-generating windmills on the forecourt of the GLA headquarters”. But neither can I imagine that either Mr Tatchell or Mr Livingstone would sit smirking quietly in a Cabinet that was prating about its “ethical” foreign policy while murdering Serbian and Iraqi civilians by the thousand.

Which fact brings me to the strongest reason for this endorsement. Libertarians have no permanent friends or enemies in politics. Our ultimate loyalty is to freedom. We opposed Messrs Livingstone and Tatchell in the 1980s because their victory would have been more harmful than helping the Conservative Party to stay in government. But the battles of the 1980s are over, and the hard left was defeated. To echo John Morley’s words on Burke, we must periodically shift our front if we wish to defend the same ground. The greatest danger to freedom comes now from all that Tony Blair represents. We have seen ancient landmarks smashed into dust, and a style of government that owes more to Mussolini and Juan Peron than anything in the English tradition.

Only Ken Livingstone can defeat Frank Dobson in the mayoral election. He therefore deserves the support of everyone – regardless of what he did and said in the 1980s – who wants to give Mr Blair a bloody nose. If he is not to be a virtual prisoner, his budget and other administrative decisions overridden by a Labour and Conservative pact, he needs supporters in the London Assembly. Mr Tatchell can be trusted to give that support.

Sean Gabb

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