It no longer seems controversial to say that the upper echelons of the Conservative Party have been infiltrated by a members of hard-right pressure groups, largely funded by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. They adhere to a quasi-ideology borne out of a bleak combination of the teachings of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, the unfettered egoism of Ayn Rand the nihilistic libertarianism of a section of the American ultra-rich, and the fanatic American religious right. They include amongst others, the European Research Group (ERG), the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Policy Exchange and the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Ideologically driven hard-right cabinet
Although not being a member (unlike most of her cabinet), Liz Truss is inextricably linked to the ERG. She founded the Free Enterprise Group (FEG), with the administrative support of the IEA which has received funding from the fossil fuel industry for years. Their stated aim is to “free individuals to create, innovate and take risks”. In reality, the FEG has been acting as, amongst other things, a lobby group for the tobacco industry to remove warnings from cigarette packaging etc. The members of this group include Kwasi Kwarteng, Therese Coffey, James Cleverly, Kit Malthouse, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others.
Like their American counterparts they are anti-state, anti-regulation, anti-net zero, and often very religious and anti-abortion.
The Heritage Foundation is another such think tank. Conservative MPs and cabinet members heavily rely on the foundation’s counsel. In the midst of the energy crisis, Nadhim Zahawi, then chancellor of the exchequer, instead of seeking advice from our own experts, flew to America to meet with Ryan Bourne of the Heritage Foundation. Bourne tweeted on 2 September 2022, that he provided our chancellor with some “sensible advice on inflation and fiscal sustainability”.
Believing in abortion rights is ‘woke’
This is the same Heritage Foundation whose executive director Jessica Anderson said on 31 August this year:
“American families and workers should not be forced to abide by the left’s radical opinions on gender ideology, climate change and abortion.”
She states that the left want to, “push woke policies onto private businesses to punish certain industries like oil and gas”.
The Heritage Foundation is much like other such think tanks and has expanded its definition of ‘woke’ to include believing in climate change and abortion rights. Truss seems happy to run with this to please Heritage.
There are several extremely religious characters in Truss’s cabinet. Among them are Rees-Mogg, staunch Catholic and anti-abortion even in rape or incest cases, and Therese Coffey, Roman Catholic and anti-abortion who advocates pregnant women be referred for mental health assessments. Just this year she voted to remove access to the early abortion pill for women in England and Wales and to recriminalise abortion in certain circumstances.
She’s our new health secretary.
In its capacity as the 2022 chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, and one month after the US Supreme Court ruling reversing Roe vs Wade, the UK played host to an event designed to draw up an official statement of gender equality and worked with 22 other countries to agree the wording. Once agreed, 22 countries signed the document only to discover that the UK had unilaterally amended the wording, with no warning, to remove commitments to abortion and sexual health rights. The other signatories were so taken aback at this behaviour that 18 of the 22 signatories have withdrawn their support. No one knows why the wording was changed without consulting any of the signatories, but the minister concerned was Liz Truss.
Believing in climate change is ‘woke’
Despite claiming to support renewable energy and commitments to the UK’s 2050 net zero target, Truss cut subsidies to solar farms when she was environment secretary. In 2019 as trade secretary, she hired advisors from the climate change denying Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies. The largest donation in her leadership campaign came from the wife of an ex-BP executive and she has appointed climate change sceptic Rees-Mogg as energy secretary.
Truss has just ended the moratorium on fracking.
This move was welcomed by interested parties such as Australian-owned Cuadrilla and the private company IGas Energy, whose share price has risen by 650% on the back of news of this reversal. But to make fracking viable, they say, a huge deregulation process has to take place as lengthy planning procedures hinder acceleration of the scheme.
“We are not saying get rid of all regulation”, reassures Ross Glover of IGas Energy. But they are clearly seeking a means to significantly reduce planning restrictions and to lighten seismic regulations, which require fracking to halt instantly if it triggers earth tremors of a magnitude of 0.5 or more.
Truss seems unlikely to refuse.
The areas of interest for fracking are heavily overlapped with this government’s flagship freeport scheme and light touch regulation is a common theme.
There is so little information freely available about this radical reshaping of our economy, that doubters might think there was something to hide. Private Eye has written some excellent articles on the dubious credentials of the Teesside Freeport interests.
In the absence of clarity, speculation is inevitable.
The new freeports in the UK are the subject of scrutiny by concerned onlookers. Many are asking why we have revisited this failed scheme.
The post-Brexit version of freeports allows for myriad hitherto-forbidden activities. Why do the freeports encompass so many of our areas of natural beauty? Could it be that they are home to highly valuable mineral deposits? Some, like the North York Moors, are of interest for shale gas, but others, like Dartmoor hold a different treasure.
In 2016, Jeremy Wrathall, ex-banker and South African gold miner, founded Cornish Lithium. He boldly announced that such was the bounty of this much-sought-after mineral, that Elon Musk would be tempted to assemble his electric cars in Cornwall. In 2019 Musk made a deal with Germany, snubbing British overtones because Brexit made exporting British assembled cars into the EU too expensive. But imagine a world where freeports exist and customs duties could be avoided.
What if lithium could be mined within a freeport zone, used to manufacture batteries for electric cars, then exported free of customs regulations?
The United States geological survey identifies “Dartmoor in the east to Isles of Scilly in the west” …as one of the top five lithium-enriched granite areas worldwide. Dartmoor is now a part of The Plymouth and South Devon Freeport.
The Dartmoor National Park wasn’t even aware of the fact it was incorporated in the freeport zone. Is Dartmoor to become a lithium mine?
Freeports, or as Truss likes to call them ‘full-fat freeports’, ‘investment zones’, ‘innovation zones’, or ‘special economic zones’, have absorbed a significant chunk of England’s areas of natural beauty, and all of them contain significant mineral resources.
What the future holds
In his most recent book Adventure Capitalism, Raymond Craib, professor of American history at Cornell University, examines libertarian efforts to “build market driven economies to replace the nation-state system”. He writes:
“Innovation zones would require that companies own at least 78 square miles of under developed and uninhabited land, away from an urban center or taxed area.” Companies would be permitted to “form governments carrying the same authority as (US) counties, including the ability to impose taxes, form school districts and courts and provide government services”.
Our government appears to be rapidly applying policy from an American right-wing libertarian playbook, including accepting that religion can influence female health rights (whether you’re a believer or not), that corporations should be free of regulations put in place for the national good, and maybe even replace the role of elected government. And, of course, that profit is king.
Is this where we are headed? If so, shouldn’t we, in true libertarian fashion, have a choice?