Let’s cut to the chase
No doubt Gordon Brown feels aggreived – he did the right things over the financial crisis, and was right in allowing the deficit to rise to accommodate private sector dissaving. LeftOutside has a collection of quotes from leading US economists wondering aloud about why we would ditch a premier, when ‘the Tories have managed to get pretty much every important call of this financial crisis and recession wrong.’
So why ditch him on this issue? Because circumstances have changed, and Brown’s instincts – which took the right measures in the crisis – might be exactly wrong for a period of fiscal austerity, as his repeated denial of fiscal arithmetic sadly proved. Consider a comparison very flattering to Brown. Churchill’s instincts for fighting the War were perfect. But the moment the peace was upon us, it was right to get him out. His love of an unaffordable Empire, which motivated so much of his stubborn bravery in the 1930s and onwards, was precisely wrong for the new era.
Why not the Tories? After all, they could hardly be accused of having unaffordable big state instincts. Well, no, but neither have they shown exceptional judgment. The economic circumstances are changing rapidly, and Conservative economic pronouncements have illustrated an addiction to the 1980s playbook, no matter what is going on in the economy. IF (big IF) we needed further fiscal support, or imaginative use of monetary policy, would they be able to do it? With their entrenched savers’ lobby, it is difficult to see them being bold and imaginative with the Bank.
They possibly have an edge over the Liberal Democrats in terms of having a pro-enterprise stance. But I see no proof that, for all their vaunted ‘instincts’, they have a better plan for cutting the deficit. Their ratio of spending cuts to tax rises is so high as to probably be unrealistic. How will they manage what Mrs T and John Major both failed to achieve? They won’t tell us.
On the subject of those instincts
You can’t have it both ways – reward for strong instincts, without a harsh light thrown on the other parts of Conservative DNA. And I don’t like them, and certainly don’t think they add up to ‘liberal’. Consider how low reducing the carbon footprint is on their list of important issues – or how little Affordable Housing is cared for. Consider how they think a higher inheritance tax threshold motivates enterprise!! Consider, too, their furious Euro-scepticism; nobody should think Europe is perfect, but we need to reform it from the inside, surely – particular as we go into an era where global issues need global solutions more than ever (financial regulation and greenhouse gas control the clearest priorities).
I also dislike their populism on prisons, and the ineffectual gesture politics of their immigration cap. Will we see mass deportations under the Conservatives? Is that what makes them proud to be British? Neither are liberal postures, and neither make much sense.
Labour’s approach on these issues is a mixture of in-government pragmatism, and triangulation of Tory policies on hotbutton tabloid issues. The latter is particularly unattractive, and helps explain why Left-Liberals have migrated across.
Anyone reading this blog should know I am critical of various Lib Dem policies – on tuition fees, on going overboard on the banks, perhaps, some of the more atavistic ‘nefish’ communal stuff. But their basic orientation is right for this era. Progressive, for a time when inequality continues to cause large social and economic problems. Internationalist, for a time when so many issues transcend national borders. Respecting of civil liberties. And liberal rather than statist, reflecting the practical and fiscal impossibility of solving everything through the government. Finally, above all, suspicious of concentrated, undislodgeable political power.