Rumour has it that at least two Conservative MPs have pictures of Ayn Rand in their offices. Whether this is indeed true of Sajid Javid, there seems to be little doubt he is a fan, having admitted that he rereads the court scene in The Fountainhead every year. This is the scene in which Howard Roark is in trial for having blown up some social housing that he himself designed because he objected to some subsequent modifications made by the people who were actually paying to have it built. Roark was, of course, triumphantly acquitted, so this is an interesting comment on Javid’s dedication to seeing the public get value for money from their taxes. And to the levelling-up agenda. Roark seems to have been more inclined to levelling things down.
The other reported admirer of Ayn Rand is Javid’s university friend at Exeter, Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow. During his stint as a junior minister in the Department of Education, which began in 2016. Ayn Rand was made part of the A-level politics syllabus, which prompted the Ayn Rand Foundation to rejoice that “Although government has no legitimate business running schools, insofar as it does run schools, it should include Rand’s works in the curricula. Kudos to the United Kingdom for taking this big step forward.” Halfon is now Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee.
As dedicated Randians, one would expect these former friends to have very definite views on who should be the next person to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Curiously, though, while they may still be friends on a personal level, they have become political opponents. Javid has come out for Liz Truss, a move unkindly interpreted in some quarters as a bid for a return to the Cabinet, while Halfon remains loyal to Rishi Sunak. It is interesting to read their respective public reasons for the positions that have taken. For Javid, tax cuts are not only ideologically necessary but urgent. There must be no holding back just because cuts can be implemented only by embarking on a massive borrowing programme, in a period of steeply rising interest rates. Truss, according to Javid, is the candidate best placed to rise to ’the challenges of our age’, and is the person who will protect us from the dire prospect of a Sunak-led UK becoming ‘a middle income economy’ (wishful thinking. We seem to be hell-bent on becoming a low-income economy). Halfon, on the other hand, has called for a windfall tax to respond to the “massive” pain rising prices are inflicting.
So one of our two Randians wishes to plunge the country into debt in the pious hope that the economy will surge in response, and the other wants to see businesses heavily taxed when they make very large profits. Neither of these policies would, one feels, have appealed to Rand, but the fact that two of her most prominent disciples in the UK appear to have diametrically opposed ideas as to what to do in a real crisis, and that both their solutions would have been strongly condemned as ‘socialist’ by their former selves, suggests that her ‘philosophy’ is a very poor guide to anything. As Prospect magazine suggested some time ago, Libertarian theory does not long survive an encounter with reality.