Could an Austrian Win the Battle to Replace Theresa May?
Following the incredible success of Brexit in 2016, British politics has become a tragedy. Theresa May has been rightfully ridiculed for her remarkable incompetence in striking a Brexit deal, but her greatest sin was her ideological commitment to preserving and growing the very sort of government interventionism that has long hindered the UK.
As George Pickering noted earlier this year:
It would…be tempting for Brexiteers to place the blame entirely on policies inflicted by the EU bureaucracy, but the truth is that harmful post-Brexit policies are equally likely to be imposed by the UK’s own government. This is particularly true for the issue of ‘regulatory harmonization’. Although UK policymakers had initially been considering significant deregulation as a possibility in the case of a no-deal Brexit, this option was taken off the table due to Theresa May’s commitment to transpose the bulk of EU regulations into British law. This would mean that, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK consumers would miss out on the economic boost and quality of life improvements that could otherwise have resulted from abandoning burdensome and unnecessary EU regulations. Again however, the key point is that the true culprit is the policy of regulation itself, not Brexit, and Brexiteers should be no less quick to point this out simply because the source of the harmful policy is the UK government, rather than the EU.
While a Prime Minister with the will to follow through on Brexit would itself be an important blow against political centralism, the UK needs a bold change in ideology to truly take full advantage of the opportunity breaking away from the EU offers its people. Luckily it seems that the Conservative Party will have the option to do just that.
Former Brexit Under-Secretary Steve Baker, a favorite of our friends at Mises UK, has publicly announced he’s considering jumping in to the race to replace May. Baker’s appointment at the time was particularly noteworthy as he was perhaps the strongest EU-skeptic in parliament. His support of Leave, for example, was not simply grounded in the name of British national sovereignty, but correctly identified the EU itself as a dangerous project that should be destroyed entirely.
I think Ukip and the Better Off Out campaign lack ambition. I think the European Union needs to be wholly torn down….It was meant to defeat economic nationalism, it is therefore a failure in its own terms. If we wish to devolve power to the lowest possible level, make it accountable and move on into a free society, then it’s clearly incompatible. What I want is free trade and peace among all the nations of Europe as well as the world and in my view the European Union is an obstacle to that.
While he lacks the same degree of name recognition that is enjoyed by others like former-London Mayor Boris Johnson, Baker has created a strong following of his own among Brexiteers due to his principled stand on Brexit. He has also argued that his distance from May’s past failed deals – which were backed by not just Johnson, but other potential rivals such as Domick Raab – gives him greater credibility.
While Baker’s principled stance on Brexit is itself deserving of praise, what truly makes Baker fascinating is his familiarity with Austrian economics. As I noted when he was originally named Under-Secretary, as a Member of Parliament Baker often referenced economists such as Ludwig von Mises, Jesús Huerta de Soto and F.A. Hayek in the House of Commons. A co-founder of the Cobden Centre (named after the great Richard Cobden), he has long been a vocal opponent of the “monetary socialism” of central banks and the IMF.
As is always the case with any decent politician, Baker remains a longshot in the race to replace May. Still, the fact that his name has emerged in the conversation is a strong sign for his political future. We shall see what emerges in the coming weeks, but if there is one thing we should learn from recent Tory history – one should never rule out an underdog.