The Liberal Democrats' philosophy sometimes confuses those who like to apply left and right labels to political ideologies. Free trade is considered to be right-wing while drug legalisation is left-wing. Cutting tax is right-wing but defending civil liberties is left-wing.
However, all of these positions share the common principle of decreasing the role of government.
They differ from “left-wing” people who want the government to control the economy but not our social lives, and from “right-wing” people who want the government to control our social lives but not the economy.
The Liberal Democrats' philosophy is broadly described as classical liberal or libertarian, although those are not necessarily precise labels.
Libertarianism can be based on two very different philosophical starting points. Some libertarians believe that free markets and individual freedom should be preferred because, freedom being inherent, they are more moral political systems. Such people argue that it is immoral to take money from people by force and to tell people how to live their lives.
Utilitarian libertarians believe that a small government will lead to better outcomes than a big government. Such people argue that libertarian solutions will lead to greater wealth, less poverty, more diversity and will generally make people happier.
The first philosophical position is concerned with process, while the second is concerned with outcomes. In reality, most libertarians (and most people) care about both.
Acceptance by libertarians of the rights of individuals to pursue their activities, subject to non-coercion of others, does not indicate endorsement of those activities.
The Liberal Democrats stand for greater freedom, smaller government and personal responsibility. We promote the following principles:
1. Economic Principles
- Free markets and freedom of choice
- Low tax, limited public spending and minimal regulation
- Widespread ownership of private property
2. Social Principles
- Civil society and volunteerism
- Civil liberties and individual freedom
- Individual liberty and personal responsibility under the rule of law
3. Government Principles
- Constitutional liberal democracy
- Ethical and impartial government under the rule of law
- Devolution of power including decentralised government and competitive federalism
4. International Principles
- Free trade in goods, services and capital
- Free trade in ideas and culture
- Freedom and human rights