Some More Notes on the UK Libertarian Right: Then and Now

A couple of weeks ago I offered a few modest observations concerning the “libertarian” right’s involvement in Southern Africa in the 1980s, taking a British perspective but noting certain trans-Atlantic links. Various bloggers offered kind words (e.g. here and here), and so I’d like to present a brief sequel.

Last year, a prominent right-libertarian was accused of having proposed a strategic alliance with the far-right British National Party during the 1980s. I have no comment to make here about that particular case, but I was interested in the way the story provoked discussion about how the radical libertarian right related to other strands of the right at the time.

Most famously, there were a number of crossovers in 1980s between the right-wing Conservative Monday Club (which was generally opposed to immigration and “premature” decolonisation) and the right-libertarian Federation of Conservative Students. David T at Harry’s Place has offered a bit of commentary on this:

My impression was that the Tory Libertarians were basically pulling the wool over the eyes of the Monday Clubbers who were too thick to realise that the libbies were using them to gain power in Tory studentdom, so they could push their minimal statist agenda. The politics of the Libertarian faction was the polar opposite of that of the Monday Clubbers. What the Monday Clubbers got in return was a bit of nasty right wing rhetoric of the “Hang Nelson Mandela” variety: which was essentially a sop to their bigotry.

It should be noted that not all of the libertarians adopted “Hang Mandela” posturing, and incorrect assumptions in this area have in the past led to libel actions and payouts. However, it should also be noted that among those libertarians who did take this line, some are not keen for it to be known about now: the case of David Hoile and the Guardian is an example of this.

The same posting at Harry’s Place includes input from a second writer:

The libs ditched the MCers as soon as they could, and outmanoeuvred them, effectively taking control of the FCS at a semi-annual conference in Leicester in 1986 (I think it was Easter ’86 – my memory is getting fuzzy). Such was the lib strength that they didn’t need even those…who were part of the Thatcherite coalition but neither MC or hardline lib.

As the FCS came under attack from the mainstream Tory Central Office (which eventually shut it down), the libertarian perspective migrated to the Greater London Young Conservatives, displacing the GLYC centrists. The Guardian reported at the time:

The Greater London Young Conservatives duly continued their lurch to the right at the annual conference at the weekend. The Moat House at Stifford, near Grays in Essex, was decorated with posters supporting the Contras and Unita, and standing ovations were given to Ian Gow, MP for his denunciation of the Anglo-Irish agreement, Sir Alfred Sherman for his advocacy of market forces, and Teresa Gorman of the Alliance of Small Firms and Businesses for recommendations like privatising the fire brigade. The name of Norman Tebbit was mud following his withdrawal of Tory Central Office support for the Federation of Conservative Students last week, and some members refused to stand for a toast proposed to him by the handful of wets [i.e. centrists]…the GLYCs looks increasingly like the chosen haven for refugee[s]…from the FCS.(1)

GYLC activists included Andrew VR Smith, who does not appear to have been a libertarian himself but who worked closely with libertarians in the Monday Club and GYLC such as Adrian Lee (Private Eye magazine covered their antics regularly, and gave both men nicknames: Smith was “the stick insect”, while Lee was “Podge”). In 1985 Smith led a Young Monday Club delegation that included libertarians to Washington D.C., to liaise with Young Republicans and to meet Jesse Helms. (2)

Another organisation which saw “libbies” and more traditionally conservative strands work together was Western Goals (UK), the British end of an American anti-Communist outfit which had links with the World Anti-Communist League. An American book on WACL published in 1986 gives some background about the American origins:

…Western Goals is open about its mission: it seeks a return to the internal surveillance practices of the 1950s. One of its “documentary” films, The Subversion Factor, details the internal security problems that in their view have beset the United States since the late 1950s. It also operates a weekly radio program that is carried over seventy stations throughout the country and publishes a newsletter and such monographs as D’Aubuisson on Democracy and The War Called Peace, “a startling account of those who are actually financing the nuclear freeze movement.” (3)

It was founded in 1979 by Representative Larry P. McDonald, the former John Birch Society chairman who died on a Korean Air Lines flight that was shot down by the USSR in 1983. Various conservative Congressmen were involved with Western Goals, along with Joe McCarthy’s old sidekick Roy Cohn and General John Singlaub, who headed WACL (“D’Aubuisson”, of course, was Roberto D’Aubuisson, the El Salvadoran leader who terrorised his own country with death squads, and who was likely responsible for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero).

Western Goals (UK) was established by a group that included Andrew Smith and young Tory libertarians such as Mark Haley. Of course, we should not assume that the UK branch subscribed to all the views of the US parent organisation, which collapsed during the Iran-Contra scandal (one of the group’s directors, Linda Guell, had assisted Oliver North). Western Goals (UK) continued as the Western Goals Institute, but the libertarians dissociated themselves from it as it became increasingly right-wing; WGI eventually forged links with Jean-Marie Le Pen and with the Conservative Party of South Africa (I may write more about Western Goals in a future blog entry, although UK libel law makes it a tricky subject.). These moves were particularly denounced by the libertarian Marc Gordon, who ran the British branch of Jack Abramoff’s International Freedom Foundation. (4)

While most libertarians were and are opposed to racism as a matter of principle, it should be remembered that libertarianism is not itself inherently “anti-racist” – as I noted in November, for instance, the libertarian Antony Flew (another one-time Western Goalie) is an enthusiast of the eugenicist Richard Lynn. Further, the right-libertarian obsession with economic libertarianism can sometimes be at the expense of civil libertarianism. More than once now, I’ve noted the views of Prof David Marsland on how to win the “War on Terror” (emphases added):

Halt or segregate air flights into or out of Britain by Arabs.

…Strengthen anti-terrorist legislation to allow on suspicion indefinite secret imprisonment (without appeal, without visits and without any privileges), tough interrogation, and where necessary summary execution by authorised agents.

Reduce the need for prisons in Iraq by authorising summary execution of known enemy. Throw journalists, servicemen or anyone else who seek to file lying and negative reports about conditions in terrorist prisons in Iraq or elsewhere into these same prisons for an indefinite term.

Censor prejudiced and negative reporting of the war against terrorism by British media. Neutralise by military means any Arab media providing a propaganda outlet for terrorists.

This was after Marsland had received a “Liberty in Theory” award from the Libertarian Alliance activist and theorist Timothy Evans; the Libertarian Alliance became the best-known libertarian organisation in the late 1980s and 1990s, and is still going.

Marsland and Flew were both patrons of the now-defunct Right Now! magazine, which brought libertarians and more authoritarian-minded strands together in the 1990s. The magazine folded at the end of 2006; Searchlight magazine published a predictably scathing obituary a few months later:

Right Now! was founded in 1993…[It] swiftly became a forum for the remnants of the old Powellite [i.e. followers of the notorious anti-immigration MP Enoch Powell] right fused with a smattering of radical Conservative activists drawn from the ranks of the Federation of Conservative Students and the Revolutionary Conservative Caucus, not to mention a number of National Front and British National Party members.

…Ideologically Right Now! was almost a mirror of American Renaissance edited by Jared Taylor. [Editor Derek] Turner and Taylor maintained close contact with Taylor speaking [at] a Right Now! readers’ meeting. Turner reciprocated and most recently addressed the seventh American Renaissance conference in the company of Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, and…David Duke. (5)

Searchlight also reported on a conference in 2006, held in central London:

Although it was advertised in advance the conference took place in comparative secrecy. Only when the tickets arrived did delegates find out the venue, Mark Mason’s Hall, 86 St James Street, the same salubrious setting as last year.

…The usual suspects were there in force. They included Allan Robertson (London Swinton Circle), Gregory Lauder-Frost (Traditional Britain Group)…[and] Dr Sean Gabb (Libertarian Alliance)…There was a large British National Party contingent too, numbering around 20. (6)

The BNP attendees included the absurd Rev. Robert West, whom I blogged here. One BNP member

…sat in from his colleagues nestled between Mike Smith of the Conservative Democratic Alliance (CDA) and Right Now! columnist Robert Henderson…

Many delegates were extremely well disposed to the BNP contingent, who in turn were clearly delighted to be hobnobbing with figures such as Gregory Lauder-Frost and an array of individuals from the Freedom Association and UKIP, all of whom knew exactly whom they were talking to.

The conference covered such subjects as racial IQ differences (Prof Richard Lynn), the “multicultural pestilence” (Dr Frank Ellis), and the “biological basis of patriotism” (Prof Philippe Rushton of the Pioneer Fund).

Perhaps we should conclude that all these right-wingers were, like the non-libertarian Monday Clubbers of the 1980s, “too thick to realise” that the libertarians in their midst had another agenda?

UPDATE: More here.


(1) Stephen Cook, “People Diary”, in The Guardian, 14 November 1985.

(2) Stephen Cook, “Diary”, in The Guardian, 20 March 1985.

(3) Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson, Inside the League, New YorK: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1986, p. 156.

(4) Marc Gordon, “Le Pen visit”, in The Times, 4 December 1991.

(5) David Williams, “Right Now! calls time”, in Searchlight, March 2007, pp. 16-17.

(6) David Williams, “Right Here, Right Now!“, in Searchlight, Dec 2006 pp. 14-15.

15 Responses

  1. […] Posted on February 25, 2008 by Richard Bartholomew I couple of my recent blog entries (here and here) have made reference to the International Freedom Foundation, a right-libertarian political […]

  2. […] the United Grand Lodge of England near Covent Garden. Mark Masons’ Hall has featured on this blog before, as the venue for the right-wing Right Now! […]

  3. […] in a number of groups: in the mid-1980s he helped to found the British branch of Western Goals (see here), which had links with the World Anti-Communist League and with the John Birch Society. After the […]

  4. […] on the FCS here. Hat tip to Chris Paul and Lib Dem […]

  5. […] superiority over blacks can be inversely correlated to size of genitalia – as I blogged here, in 2006 he spoke on the “biological basis of patriotism” at a Right Now! conference […]

  6. […] intellectual superiority over blacks can be inversely correlated to size of genitalia-as I blogged here, in 2006 he spoke on the “biological basis of patriotism” at a Right Now conference […]

  7. […] Now! conference held at Mark Mason’s Hall in Central London – I’ve also blogged on this event before . Searchlight also reported that she wasn’t much of a hit among other attendees: True […]

  8. […] intellectual superiority over blacks can be inversely correlated to size of genitalia-as I blogged here, in 2006 he spoke on the “biological basis of patriotism” at a Right Now conference […]

  9. […] blogged more on this subject here. Of course, I should make it clear that some FCS libertarians (and some Monday Clubbers) rejected […]

  10. Larry MacDonald,not John.

  11. […] (1986), which involved infiltration of the organisation. In the 1980s he was associated with the radical libertarian strand of the Young Conservatives and became a local councillor; along with his friendship with Lewis, the […]

  12. […] Lauder-Frost should have been easy enough for one of Rees-Mogg’s staff to check out; his name is distinctive, and for many years he was a leading light of the anti-immigration Monday Club. In 1984 he successfully fended off an attempted libertarian take-over of the Club by a group of radicals (“the Camberley Group”) associated with the Club’s only black member, Derek Laud, although for a while after he worked with conservative libertarians through the Western Goals Institute (more on that here). […]

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