Writing for right-of-centre think tank Parliament Street, Paul Nizinskyj speaks to Matthew Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, about Tony Benn, eurocrats and the future of the House of Lords.
I should probably declare an interest here. As well as being a member of Parliament Street I also wear hats for Conservatives for Liberty and the Friends of the Hereditary Peerage. So, as a libertarian and sitting hereditary peer, Matt Ridley is more or less my ideal politician. Elected to the House of Lords following the death of Robert Shirley, 13th Earl Ferrers in 2012, Ridley stands out among his 91 hereditary peers as something of a radical, which is not a common attribute among the generally more conservative nobility.
Another radical viscount, however, was the recently departed Tony Benn – otherwise known as Anthony Wedgewood Benn and, between 1960 and 1963, the 2nd Viscount Stansgate. Their similarities end there, however, as Benn’s radical socialism and Ridley’s classical liberalism could not have been further apart. Which is a shame, Ridley says, given Benn’s ideological pedigree.
“I was fascinated that his uncle, Ernest Benn, was a strong libertarian and a very influential one,” he says. “But Ernest and Tony Benn’s father, William, went in completely different directions. In those days, being a Liberal meant being a liberal, but after the Second World War, one joined the Labour part and became a socialist while the other became a passionate advocate of (Frédéric) Bastiat, (John Stuart) Mill and (Richard) Cobden, writing biographies of these people.
“It’s a fascinating personification of the different roads taken by Liberalism. In the 19th century, we were well to the left, against the state in social and political affairs. But, in the 1880s, there were reverses and people began to say they liked the state because it could do things for them and the free market perspective died out. From then on, the only people involved in free markets were social conservatives.”
Read the rest of this article on the Parliament Street website.