Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Economist has endorsed the Liberal Democrats - and the Tories should be worried

I must begin by apologising to Stephen Tall for stealing his headline, but I have had it in mind to write a post on these lines from some time.

And today's news that the Economist has endorsed the Liberal Democrats has prompted me to do it.

The endorsement is grudging:
Many moderate Conservative and Labour MPs could join a new liberal centre party—just as parts of the left and right have recently in France. So consider a vote for the Lib Dems as a down-payment for the future. Our hope is that they become one element of a party of the radical centre, essential for a thriving, prosperous Britain.
But the fact that it has been made at all shows how far the Conservatives are estranging themselves from their usual business supporters.

Rather than aiming to satisfy those supporters, the party's leaders are flattering their own backwoods on Europe.

As I wrote in March:
I remember a Labour-supporting friend who was in North Devon during the 1979 general election campaign speaking with something close to awe of the acres of good suiting on the platform at the Conservatives' meetings. 
But the party does not look like or feel like that today. 
The Tories have discovered ideology and, even more, they have discovered grievance. They are less the party of people with an interest in maintaining the status quo than the party of people who believe they have been cheated. 
The culprits vary - immigrants, experts, the European Union, latte-drinkers, refugees, the BBC - but the feeling is widespread. 
Only radical action, those members and activists believe, can remove the hurt and see justice done.
The last time there was an outbreak of this feeling in the Conservative Party was after their crushing defeat by Tony Blair's Labour in 1997.

Rather than elect Kenneth Clarke to busk it and keep them cheerful while they worked out what the hell they were going to do, Tory members elected first William Hague and then Iain Duncan Smith as leader because they liked their right-wing views.

And the time before that was over Europe under John Major.

But I am reminded of an earlier incident, which I wrote about for Comment is Free some years ago:
I was a newly elected Liberal Alliance councillor back in 1986 when the Thatcher government began consulting over the introduction of the poll tax. 
Conservative members didn't want it phased in over 10 years: they wanted it at once. You could see the pound signs in their eyes as they calculated how much they and their neighbours would save.
If it had been phased in over a decade then the poll tax might well have stuck. But Margaret Thatcher made the mistake of listening to her own backwoods, and doing so ended her premiership.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
From all of which I conclude that the Conservative Party's estrangement from the Economist will end it tears.

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