Mark Littlewood

Finding a narrative of hope

Finding a narrative of hope
Text settings

In these grim dark days of austerity and cuts, the coalition urgently needs to find a compelling political narrative of hope and optimism. David Cameron's Big Society rhetoric occasionally threatens to contain some philosophical depth, but suffers from the same problem as most new fangled analyses of the world. Namely, it is so fluffy that it becomes bewildering.


To the government's credit, they have managed to prepare the public for the upcoming belt tightening. This achievement is all the more remarkable given the woeful refusal of either coalition party to admit the scale of the fiscal problem facing Britain during the general election campaign.


But softening up public opinion for wide ranging cuts is only a short term tactic, however necessary. To hold itself together through the choppy waters ahead, the coalition needs to paint a rosier picture of the future. They shouldn't be cutting back the state because they have to, but because they want to.


For an uplifting vision of a Britain with a much smaller role for government, David Cameron and Nick Clegg should revisit the works of Friedrich Hayek. His magnum opus, The Constitution of Liberty, was first published fifty years ago and the IEA is marking the anniversary by publishing an account of its argument this week.


Hayek's view of a free market world is light years away from the lazy and ugly caricature, so often trotted out by the left, of a relentlessly selfish, merciless and atomised society in which individuals have no sense of the greater good and trample all over each other in pursuit of their own narrow ends.


Hayek had a much more optimistic view of our nature. Individual men and women are essentially social beings. We benefit from others exercising their freedom as much as, perhaps more than, using our own. Left to their own devices, people would create vibrant communities and social institutions. Big government is not a driver of social cohesion, but a barrier to it.


Hayek was neither a Tory nor a Liberal; he described himself as a Whig. But his ideas should appeal to all strands of philosophy on the coalition benches. If this government wants to create a lasting legacy, rather than merely being remembered for conducting emergency fiscal surgery, they should embrace Hayek. And they need to make a moral case for the free market, not just a technical one.


Mark Littlewood is Director General of Institute for Economic Affairs