You’ll know this – the Economist has backed David Cameron, though in a surprisingly reticent way: I can’t remember their New Labour endorsements being so coy as to leave a picture of an invisible man on the front cover.
For the first time I can recall, the Economist is forced to explain why they are NOT supporting the Lib Dems. That is a huge, implicit positive. They correctly acknowledge Clegg’s fine liberalism on immigration and civil rights, as well as electoral reform, of course.
But on the negative side some of their reasons are telling, for those of us who see themselves as Classical Liberals more than Social Democrats. You know my views on the tuition fees pledge, and I too am uneasy about rejecting nuclear power when the bigger threat is clearly climate change. I have also been open with my concern about their sometimes hostility to business – allowing a social justice agenda to foreever trump the needs of wealth creation is better electioneering than policy. I don’t think the right place to be is the Left of Labour on economics, no matter what outrages were thrown up in the financial crisis. The Lib Dems need to get rid of the impression that this is where they are.
But if the Economist is a little harsh on Lib Dem policies, it is way too forgiving of Conservative ones. Their basic premise is that the biggest problem is a ‘liberty destroying Leviathan’ that is now 50% of the economy. The Economist is right to identify the Conservatives as the party most determined to reform the public sector, and reform is what it needs. But as I have argued all over this blog, this ratio is a misleading measure of how ‘government dominated’ we are.
They are also right to give cautious praise to David Cameron’s attempt to make the Conservatives more socially liberal and environmental, although they could have asked how far this has extended below the Notting Hill set.*
The Economist notes many Conservative failings – the Europhobic fringe, their exaggerations about broken Britain – and are too kind about their monumental failure to understand Keynesian economics at a rather crucial time. This is not a minor caveat, and if it spells too much dogmatism in the near future, could turn into a monumental risk.
All in all, if you took the evidence from their column, the Economist should have endorsed a Hung Parliament. Each party’s policy failings (in the eyes of the Economist) might have been improved by contact with the other. But given Tory hysteria about that result, it would have looked like a vote for the Lib Dems.
I find the Economist’s survey of the years under New Labour interesting too. There have been great achievements in social legislation, the changing constitution (remember all those peers?), peace in Northern Ireland. The piece is interesting in how it reminds us that most revolutionary social changes are nothing to do with governments: Asian manufacturing, the budget airline, the internet, all these things are more significant to the long view of history.
They mention Labour’s sustained attempts to redistribute society into less inequality – a Brownian effort. But what I found most telling is that those unambiguous achievements of New Labour in social and constitutional policy are not mentioned by Brown very often. I can’t help thinking that his jealousy of his more charismatic predecessor has held him back from a fuller defence of Labour’s record, one that would make an even bigger nonsense of Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’ claim.
More predictably, though still with historical significance, the Guardian has backed the Liberal Democrats:
The Liberal Democrats were green before the other parties and remain so. Their commitment to education is bred in the bone. So is their comfort with a European project which, for all its flaws, remains central to this country’s destiny. They are willing to contemplate a British defence policy without Trident renewal. They were right about Iraq, the biggest foreign policy judgment call of the past half-century, when Labour and the Tories were both catastrophically and stupidly wrong. They have resisted the rush to the overmighty centralised state when others have not. At key moments, when tough issues of press freedom have been at stake, they have been the first to rally in support. Above all, they believe in and stand for full, not semi-skimmed, electoral reform.
You will notice that Labour is scarcely mentioned in this post. That, alas, is where things have got to with them. Who knows – they might well come second in both popular vote and number of seats. But they appear irrelevant (almost as irrelevant, it seems, as George Osborne is to his own chief of staff)
UPDATE: A third endorsement from Sunny is even more remarkable than the Guardian’s:
We have over 500,000 people in this country who are non-citizens; living in the shadows of society; living hand-to-mouth, on the breadline; open to exploitation because they have no legal status; earning less than minimum wage for shitty jobs because they can’t complain; and mostly no money even to leave the country. If the Labour Party can’t even have compassion for them, then it cannot claim to be a party of compassion and for the marginalised.
Superbly put: if it just the party of its own special interest that happens to be largely poor, it loses this mantle.
*The notorious ConHome poll of candidates is a curate’s egg in this regard: carbon counts for nothing, and reducing welfare bills quite high given we have a recession. But note too that Europe and marriage are not such obsessions as you might think.