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Sunday, September 26, 2004
Gladstone Slaps Down Mill for Controversial New Book

The Liberal leadership distanced itself today from the contents of a new policy document advocating minimal government and free speech.

The polemic, On Liberty, penned by one of the party's young turks John Stuart Mill, has been condemned by activists for its 'reactionary', classically liberal message. Embarrassed by his earlier overtures of support for the tract, the party leader William Gladstone publicly slapped down Mill for his ideas, and ordered him to cancel a fringe meeting planned for discussion and promotion of the book.

While On Liberty was welcomed cautiously by a number of senior Liberal figures, party activists reported they were hopping mad at some of its ideas. Recommendations that the state enable parents to choose private schooling for their children were derided as "privatisation by the back door". The second chapter, a spirited, unqualified defence of free speech, was seen as "licence for racists".

The central message of the book caused the most consternation. Repudiating nanny state liberalism, Mill's argument that the only legitimate role of government was the prevention of people causing others harm appeared to rule out a whole package of big government measures.

"Who knows if one day we won't want to support a gargantuan interventionist state, with bans on lottery scratch cards and goldfish at funfairs?" said one prospective parliamentary candidate. "Just as we are moving past the politics of the Tory years, we find some wanting to drag us back to the same old Tory agenda."

Another senior party activist agreed: "It is imperative that we do not make the retrograde step Mill recommends, and that we instead move on from nineteenth century classical liberalism to a big government social liberalism. That way we can be sure that the twentieth century will be dominated by Liberal governments."

A Conservative spokesman was upbeat and cheerful: "It seems cruel now to remind Mill that he said we are the stupid party!"

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