We need to ask ourselves what are the things which a government must deliver in order for a nation to function effectively because we cannot do them for ourselves, what are the things which it may be able to deliver better than anyone else, and what it should not do.
First of all, for a nation to exist and to enjoy the benefits of its homeland territory, its government must be able to defend its borders against any unwelcome intruders. We simply cannot do that for ourselves. It is first the first duty and priority of government. Second, the government must preserve “the Queen’s Peace”. That is more than just law and order. It is the right of the subject to go about his lawful business in peace. That requires a system of criminal law and the means of enforcing it, including the judiciary and the police. Third, the government must provide a system of civil law for the settlement of disputes between individuals or groups.
From here on we begin to move from the absolutely mandatory towards the highly desirable. At the top of that list is the provision of a stable currency to be used as a medium of exchange and a store of value. Then there follows a structure of commercial law and regulation, and the provision of infrastructure, or the facilitation of that provision by others.
After those comes a long list of desirables which are increasingly not absolutely necessary for a state to exist. Indeed there was a perfectly viable state and an effective government before they began to be provided by the state.
Universal education is highly desirable, but it does not have to be provided by government. The same is true of health care. Ignorance and disease can both be threats to a society or nation. So too can be poverty and policies to reduce poverty are highly desirable too.
What has happened in recent years is that the state has tended to monopolise the provision of these desirable goods and services in its own hands, freezing out alternative models, even if they may be better or less expensive, on the spurious grounds that uniformity matters more than quality, choice or variety. At its extremes this infantalises the citizen and increasingly baroque, overmanned and high cost structures are designed to give an illusion of choice.
In contrast, in the provision of food, the retail trade and food producers continually extend choice and drive down prices, in a manner adjudged impossible in the state sector. As ever, those who find managing their own responsibilities too difficult turn to displacement activities, principally the bossy intrusion into the rights of free speech and personal responsibility.
It must be said that I entirely agree with Tebbit's assessment, and that I also agree with the method by which we determine what the state should do; and it will come as no surprise that I also agree with his assessment of the risks of government providing services, especially as regards the "freezing out" of better—or, at least, varied—options.
As I keep on emphasising, we cannot continue with our present model of state provision, not least because we simply cannot afford it—something that Call Me Dave is at pains to highlight in his interview with The Times today.
We move on to an issue that will prove a greater challenge to his leadership skills: the draconian public spending cuts needed to balance the £163 billion budget deficit. Cameron is keen to soften up the public for a budget in a fortnight’s time that he admits will cause “pain” to many, but he insists will be “pain for a purpose”.
“The problem of the deficit and the mounting debt is huge. The simple matter is that the more we borrow the more we have to pay back; the more we borrow the more the danger is that interest rates get pushed up; and the more we borrow, the more debt interest goes up. If we don’t do anything about it, it is going to be £50-£60-£70 billion. We will be spending more on debt interest than on educating our children and defending our country.”
There are many who maintain that libertarianism is some unreachable Utopia: but most of these same people would carry on as we are, providing all of the services that the state currently provides, at the same levels (or higher), because it's the "right thing to do".
To maintain this attitude is utterly unrealistic—we cannot afford to carry on as we are. No one can. Almost every one of the Western democracies is up to its eye-balls in debt and it cannot continue indefinitely. Just like the banks which they criticise, too many governments have just carried on racking up huge debts in the hope that something might just turn up.
Something will turn up eventually—and that something is called "bankruptcy".