Obituary by Sean Gabb
of Dr Christopher Ronald Tame
(20thDecember 1949-20thMarch 2006)
Founder and President of the Libertarian Alliance
(Published in The Independent, 23rd March 2006
Scholar, bibliographer, writer, political strategist, martial artist and fan of Elvis Presley, Chris R. Tame will be best remembered as the Founder of the Libertarian Alliance. In this capacity, he worked tirelessly for over 30 years to recreate a British liberal tradition that had disintegrated, and to establish clear title for those of his own views to the word “libertarian”.
Chris was born at 7:36pm on the 20thDecember 1949 in Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, Middlesex. He was brought up in Godalming in Surrey. His parents, Ronald Ernest and Elsie Florence Tame, had met and married just after the end of the Second World War, and Chris was to be their only child. They loved him dearly and he was a happy child, though his health was often poor.
After attending a Church of England primary school and the local grammar school, he went up to Hull University, from where he graduated in 1971 with a degree in American Studies. From his school reports and his examination certificates, Chris succeeded in his education partly by a natural taste for learning and partly though unremitting hard work
He settled in London at a time of great and continuing political excitement. High inflation, rising unemployment, unsustainable levels of taxation and state control, had raised doubts over the legitimacy of the mixed-economy-welfare-state settlement of the 1940s and of the political and social order that presided over it. Allied with trade union bosses, a generation of radicalised students was plotting to replace the old order with some socialist utopia. They were resisted by various conservative and free market policy institutes all more or less funded by big business. The boundaries of debate had never been so wide. Even so, the limits of debate were soviet socialism at one end and at the other a restored Establishment that had read some economics.
Though he worked for a number of these policy institutes – mainly the Institute of Economic Affairs and the National Association for Freedom (now renamed the Freedom Association) – Chris was concerned that an older and more traditional voice should be heard again. This was the voice of English classical liberalism – the liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer among others. This was a voice that spoke of freedom not simply as a set of incentives to raise the gross national product, nor as some vague call to liberation in all matters but economic. It was a voice that spoke of freedom in the social, political and economic aspects of human life. The right to make money as a private landlord rested on the same grounds as the right to inject heroin or to attend sado-masochistic orgies in the open air.
The Libertarian Alliance emerged from a series of discussions among friends. In these, Chris distinguished himself by his speculative boldness and his organisational ability. When the time came to formalise the structure of the Libertarian Alliance – in 1979 – there was no serious dispute that Chris was to be its leader.
His strategy as Director – and later as President – of the Libertarian Alliance was to avoid the mistakes that had come close to wrecking the much larger and richer American movement.
British libertarianism would not be sectarian. In all the usual debates – natural rights or utilitarianism as a foundation, or anarchism or minimal statism as an object – the Libertarian Alliance would take no collective position. Nor – though Chris was himself a committed follower of Ayn Rand – would it copy the arbitrary intolerance of the official Objectivist movement. It would instead provide a forum within which the debates could be held between friends.
At the same time, British libertarians would not put up candidates for election. Without huge funding, political parties were a waste of effort. They encouraged disputes over trifles and between personalities. They almost demanded a softening of controversial opinions. Above all, they never led to political success.
Instead, Chris saw the work of his Libertarian Alliance as the waging of a long range battle of ideas. He saw through the optimism of the late 1970s and early Thatcher years. Where others saw a rolling back of the state, he saw in privatisation only a more rational – and thus a more efficient – type of state control. “These new markets are never free” he once said, “and they are always dominated by the ruling class”. He believed that the second half of the 20thcentury had seen a collapse of the moral and social and intellectual foundations of English liberty, and that there was no short term strategy for its restoration. The Thatcher years might bring a more sophisticated statism that involved greater use of market incentives. They would not produce or herald a smaller state. The political and intellectual classes and the various special interest groups would not give way to a government that had won a couple of elections – especially a government run by people who were no more libertarians than they were Buddhists. Nor was there any obvious demand for liberty among a population anaesthetised by a century of statist propaganda and increasing levels of welfare. This being so, British libertarianism was not in the same position as socialism in 1945. It was in the same position as socialism in 1845.
Therefore, it was necessary to work a step at a time towards some future intellectual hegemony. Rather than propagandise the masses, libertarians had to win over the intellectuals to the point where they would do the propagandising. All else would be as effective as writing on water. This meant a programme of scholarship and intensive publication. Radio and television appearances were useful, but were as nothing compared with a well-referenced pamphlet setting the case against compulsory seatbelt laws or limited liability laws that turned free markets into corporatist playgrounds.
And so Chris worked hard and without respite to advance a long term agenda of intellectual change. He worked on in the face of scorn from all those who thought they had a more direct and speedy road to the libertarian paradise. He worked on in the face of frequently bitter hostility from those who should have opened their wallets to him. He worked on in the face of personal and professional disappointments. During the 1980s and 1990s, he gathered around himself a diverse circle of writers and activists who shared his commitment to putting the libertarian case. Among these were Brian Micklethwait, David Botsford, Sean Gabb, Tim Evans, and many others. They wrote and published for a small audience. They spoke at meetings sometimes attended only by each other. They took whatever opportunities came their way to appear in the media. It was a big event if a Libertarian Alliance spokesman was invited onto Newsnight or The Midnight Hour. The usual invitations were to contribute to call programmes running at midnight on BBC Radio Cardiff.
But Chris and his circle pushed steadily on. They were assisted by the rise of the Internet, which allowed an audience of perhaps hundreds of thousands to be reached – and without cost. A little at a time, their profile improves. By the end of the 20thcentury, there was no doubt that the Libertarian Alliance had become part of the furniture of political debate in this country. This was evidenced by the fact that radio presenters no longer asked its spokesmen “Tell me, John – what is the Libertarian Alliance?” The only question for presenters and researchers alike was what wildly controversial position would its officers advance today with polite but forceful eloquence.
Chris also advanced the cause in a number of separate but similar ventures. As Manager of the Alternative Bookshop between 1979 and 1985, he provided a physical base in Central London for libertarians from all over the world. This was particularly important in a world not yet blessed with the Internet. Even today, American libertarians arrive in London and make their way to Covent Garden in search of the Bookshop. He also managed to sell large numbers of books about liberty.
As Director of the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (FOREST) between 1988 and 1995, he was able to put his ideas about winning the battle of ideas to memorable effect. Before he took over, the strategy of FOREST was a populist appeal to the then majority of smokers, coupled with a smooth public relations approach to those in power. Chris saw this strategy as useless. With the death of orthodox socialism, he saw that the campaign against smoking was part of a new ideology of legitimation for the ruling class. It was not to be countered with a few public rallies or a meeting with a few transient politicians. If it was to be turned back, it had to be defeated first at the level of abstract ideas. As Director of FOREST, Chris was as likely in giving interviews to the media to talk about Gramsci and Foucault and discourse theory as about the latest set of claims about the relationship between smoking and the Great red Spot on Jupiter.
In his time, he wore out three Directors of the main anti-smoking pressure group. And he forced the anti-tobacco movement to stop complaining about the alleged harm of tobacco to those who smoked it and instead about those exposed to the smoking of others. It is also said that he hired private detectives to follow the Conservative politician Alan Amos, who was campaigning for a ban on tobacco advertising. When Mr Amos was photographed in an act of intimacy with another man on Hampstead Heath, Chris is said to have rejoiced horribly before telephoning the newspapers. Chris always denied any role in the downfall of Mr Amos, but never with the vehemence of a man who believes his character to have been impugned.
Chris left FOREST in 1995, after the managers of the big tobacco companies had done what they thought was a deal with the politicians that would allow them to save on funding any campaigns of defence. There followed several years of financial and moral hardship, during which Chris moved from friend to friend, learning with much distress after a lifetime of cultivating a wide circle of contacts who his real friends were.
He moved in finally with Rebecca Baty, then living in Tottenham. When she followed Sean and Andrea Gabb to the Kent coast, Chris followed. In Ramsgate, his life moved to a slower rhythm than it had in London in his days of success. He would spend his days in various coffee bars, discussing the newspapers and working on his gigantic Bibliography of Freedom. In the evening, he would sit with Rebecca watching videos. Or he would sit in one of his rooms, working on his e-mail correspondence, or he would run or cycle over to Deal for dinner with the Gabbs. All at the time wondered at how he seemed retired from the world. But he was happy by the coast. He often said it was like being a child again, but with no need ever to get on the bus home at the end of the day.
Even so, Chris continued to work as a consultant in various projects. One of these involved uncovering a corrupt property deal between local politicians. While out in the town one evening with David Carr and Sean Gabb, to inspect the property in question, he came upon some painted girls, none of whom looked more than about fourteen.
“Excuse me, Mister” one of them asked David, “but could you spare one of your cigarettes?”
Without a pause, Chris interposed himself into the conversation. “Little girls” he replied with a leer that Sid James might have admired, “I have no cigarettes to give you. But I do have some very nice sweeties in my pocket.”
The girls ran off shrieking with laughter, Chris and his friends went into a restaurant and passed a convivial evening. With his circle of friends old and new, Chris had become as much a part of Ramsgate life as if he had lived there decades rather than years.
In July 2005, Chris was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of bone cancer. Though only 55 at the time, and though he had avoided all those vices commonly believed to be dangerous, he took this diagnosis with great calmness. During the next eight months, he faced his approaching end with a fortitude and good humour that was an inspiration to those around him.
To the very end, he retained a keen interest in public affairs and in the welfare of his friends and loved ones. On his last day, he made sure to check his e-mails.
Chris died peacefully in his sleep at 3:37pm GMT on Monday the 20th March 2006. He was never alone during his last six days. Mrs Helen Evans and Dr Sean Gabb were by his side at the end.
Chris was married and divorced twice. He left no children.
The work of the Libertarian Alliance continues.
© 2006 – 2017, seangabb.
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