There has already been some discussion here, both by Tim and Melanchthon, of the findings of the annual British Social Attitudes Survey, but I think there is a broader trend than those they identify. Yes, Britain can be said to be moving "to the right" to a certain extent, but in this Survey we see yet another sign that the simplistic terms "right" and "left" are actually becoming defunct. In fact, it shows Britain is becoming broadly libertarian.
In the traditional, stereotypical view of what "right" means, a right winger would be for the free market and low taxes in the economic sphere, and strict and moralistic policies in the social sphere. This is the assumption that the BBC, for example, tends to make.
In recent years the word libertarian has been adopted to identify a distinct ideology that is separate from this. As a libertarian, I believe in free market, low tax economics but on the social side I believe in individual liberty, and freedom of choice in terms of lifestyle, sexuality and religion. (It should be noted that there are some self-declared "Left Libertarians", who are more economically controlling but supportive of social liberty. They are however very rare.)
I would quote directly from the Survey itself, but despite being extensively funded by taxpayers it can only be bought at an exorbitant cost of £50, so I'll have to use their executive summary instead. In essence, the public are more sceptical of higher taxes and higher spending, more sceptical of big government, enthusastic about liberalising working practices and broadly happy for people to live their lives as they wish, particularly when it comes to gay people and the question of cohabitation before or without marriage. On cannabis alone, their views seem to have become more prohibitive, which is unsurprising given the major Government PR and advertising campaigns warning against the drug's use.
The media reaction has been fascinating to watch, particularly in the audible sense of confusion at the idea of people becoming more economically free market and also more socially liberal at the same time. On the old Left-Right chart, such a set of views would be schizophrenic - and the economic Left traditionally assume that they have the monopoly on sexual and moral liberty. However, it is perfectly in keeping with the libertarian's view of the world.
There has at times been some controversy about the broadly libertarian bent of the vast majority of younger people involved in centre right politics, but these new results are reassuring.
Some of those who can remember the closing down of the Federation of Conservative Students in the late '80s are apparently fearful that the libertarianism of groups such as Conservative Future, Free Spirits, the Adam Smith Institute's Next Generation and others are a simple repeat of the FCS's radicalism. They remember well the risk that the FCS posed of alienating the wider public from centre right politics, due to its position as a radical outlier from general public opinion.
This latest Social Attitudes Survey suggests that the opposite is now the case - that the young right are in fact mirroring the general shift of wider society to a more libertarian position. This is good news, both for libertarians and the centre right in general. For libertarians, it suggests that we are winning the war (either by accident or design) and for the centre right more broadly it hints at a bright future in which the movement as a whole is in tune with the public. Libertarianism isn't scary any more - and it's becoming the norm.