The anti-freedom party
The suggestion from José Manuel Barroso that Margaret Thatcher would have rejected Ukip and its arguments on Europe and immigration will likely raise a few hackles. After all, what right does the unelected head of the European Commission have to wrap himself in the cape of Lady T and claim her support for liberal immigration policies that so many of her admirers so strongly deplore?
Nor will Mr Barroso’s words go down well in Downing Street. David Cameron does not appreciate suggestions that he is dancing to Nigel Farage’s tune. Mr Barroso carefully did not name the Prime Minister when he spoke of Conservatives “surrendering” to Ukip’s arguments, but it is hard not to conclude that he had Mr Cameron in mind when he spoke.
But for all the spluttering outrage, Mr Barroso’s point is worth considering. In essence, he argues that the Conservatives are the party of free markets and free enterprise and as such, they should be standing up for the European internal market, a market predicated on the free movement of labour.I agree. I’ve often argued here that there is a good free-market argument to be made for liberal immigration policies. The Conservatives are the party of people who “get on their bikes” and go looking for work. Why doesn’t that include Poles, Bulgarians and others who get on their proverbial bikes and go as far as Britain to find that work? If you believe in free markets for good and services, why not for labour? If competition between suppliers of guns and butter deliver more economically efficient outcomes, why not also embrace competition between suppliers of labour (IE, workers)?
Of course, there’s a perfectly good response: this isn’t about economics, it’s about society. The economic benefits of a more liberal immigration policy are not enough to justify the social friction that comes with it.
Which is a respectable argument, but not one that many free-market Conservatives were making when the mines closed, when the print unions were broken, when council housing was sold off and utilities were privatised. In such cases, the Conservatives put the advance of the free market before the concerns of the communities immediately affected. Long-term economic gain justified short-term social pain, the party thought – and still thinks today. How many Tories now regret those reforms?
You Americans may have heard of it- the conflict went down in history as your War of Independence.