CentreForum Liberal Hero of the Week #46: The Economist

by Stephen Tall on September 8, 2013

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf lib hero the economist

The Economist

The weekly news and international affairs newspaper
Reason: for sticking up for classical liberalism for the past 170 years

The Economist is 170 years old this week. I’ve read it for the last 10 of those. I don’t always agree with it — take, for instance, its advocacy of the war against Iraq in 2003. But it remains the best, sharpest, quick-fire analyst of what’s going on in the UK and around the world.

To mark its anniversary, the magazine-which-still-call-itself-a-newspaper this week set out its political stall. It might have been explaining itself; it actually did a pretty good job of explaining my political philosophy too. Here’s an excerpt from its opening couple of paragraphs:

SOME readers, particularly those used to the left-right split in most democratic legislatures, are bamboozled by The Economist’s political stance. We like free enterprise and tend to favour deregulation and privatisation. But we also like gay marriage, want to legalise drugs and disapprove of monarchy. So is the newspaper right-wing or left-wing? Neither, is the answer. … it opposes all undue curtailment of an individual’s economic or personal freedom. But like its founders, it is not dogmatic. Where there is a liberal case for government to do something, The Economist will air it. Early in its life, its writers were keen supporters of the income tax, for example. Since then it has backed causes like universal health care and gun control. But its starting point is that government should only remove power and wealth from individuals when it has an excellent reason to do so.

And its concluding paragraph could be the mission statement for this Liberal Heroes series (NB: I promise I will never give this series a ‘mission statement’):

When The Economist opines on new ideas and policies, it does so on the basis of their merits, not of who supports or opposes them. Last October, for example, it outlined a programme of reforms to combat inequality. Some, like attacking monopolies and targeting public spending on the poor and the young, had a leftish hue. Others, like raising retirement ages and introducing more choice in education, were more rightish. The result, “True Progressivism”, was a blend of the two: neither right nor left, but all the better for it, and coming instead from what we like to call the radical centre.

The ‘Radical Centre’, eh — now, where have I heard that label before?

Here’s to the next 170 years (market competition permitting).

nick boles

Honourable mention: Nick Boles

Conservative MP, Grantham and Stamford
Reason: for sticking up for the rights of adults to enjoy freedom as they choose

There’s been a gap of three weeks since Liberal Heroes was last published. As a result, a few Hero-ettes have been omitted.

One such is Nick Boles, the Conservative planning minister, for suggesting it’s not necessarily the place of governments to lecture to individuals about what they can and cannot do in private.

“As a Conservative, my starting point is that people should be free to live their lives as they choose,” he said. “And I am not going to start lecturing consenting adults about their private enjoyment of legal pornography.”

Shouldn’t be that controversial a statement, but with David Cameron increasingly allowing his censorious populism to over-ride his skin-deep liberalism it’s good to hear at least one MP from his party make such an obviously liberal point.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.