I argued the case for the ideological clash of opposing political parties as essential to the effective functioning of democracy. The pursuit of consensus, therefore, was fundamentally subversive of popular choice. It was wrong to talk of taking the big issues ‘out of politics’ or to imply that different approaches involved ‘playing politics’ … The fraudulent appeal to consensus would return again and again, both as Leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister.

—Margaret Thatcher. The Path to Power, 1995.

Liberty requires vigorous argument, whereas consensus is the mark of despotism. Whether it was the consensus of the Roman Senate under the emperors, the Reichstag under Hitler or the in the U.S. Congress today under the influence of special interests, it is always the mark of servile degradation. When Congress decided to bail out the auto companies against the wishes of most Americans, when Hitler decided to go to war against the wishes of the German people, or when the Roman Senate voted to deify the emperor after he had completed a fresh round of butcheries, whatever these occasions were, they were not examples of freedom.

It was the constant squabbles between the plebians and the patricians that gave the Roman Republic its freedoms. Their limited institutions and laws in favor of liberty all arose out of that conflict. Likewise, in England, it was the disputes between the nobles and the Crown that led to the Charter of Liberties and the Magna Carta. Later it was the Commons versus the Crown that produced the Bill of Rights. Likewise, it was the disputes between the British and American assemblies that resulted in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Debate and discord are the hallmarks of freedom, while European Union-style consensus or American-style bipartisanship is the mark of diminishing liberty.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove