Blah blah economy schools hospitals deficit crime jobs poverty blah blah. These are all vital issues. What Britain needs above all is proportional representation, so that in the future we can get governments that would do uncertain but wonderful things in all of these areas and others.
I caricature, but there’s a strong flavour of this to the Observer’s endorsement of the Lib Dems:
Nick Clegg's party offers the prospect of political renewal… There is a moral imperative to consider in this election, distinct from the old Labour-Tory contest. Opinion polls throughout the campaign suggest that the country wants the Lib Dems to take a place of equal standing alongside the other main parties. A grossly unfair voting system has historically deprived them of that right. It is vital this time that they win a mandate for real change expressed in the overall share of the vote, not just in the discredited distribution of seats in parliament.
There is only one party on the ballot paper that, by its record in the old parliament, its manifesto for the new one and its leader's performance in the campaign, can claim to represent an agenda for radical, positive change in politics. That party is the Liberal Democrats. There is only one way clearly to endorse that message and that is to vote Liberal Democrat.
Well, I’m not buying it. I’m sympathetic to constitutional reform, but this attitude skates too close to writing off this election, and the coming parliament, in favour of being able to have better ones in the future. But there’s a lot that needs doing now, in the key areas of blah, blah and blah.
This attitude seems akin to that in some Labour circles, of ‘Let’s take some time in opposition to sort ourselves out, let the Tories take the blame for all the cuts’. Bollocks. Yes, governing over the next few years will be pretty tough. But that means the decisions that would be made by the different parties matter all the more.
What would they each do differently? To be honest, it’s hard to say in much detail. The debates were interesting but not really enlightening (other than to people who didn’t know Nick Clegg existed). The manifestos contain some useful pointers but very often they’re written too vaguely to tell how any given policy would work in practice; and even at their best they’re only a limited guide to what a party would end up doing with several years in power.
I rely, as I suspect many do, on a judgement of the parties’ instincts. The Tories still really don’t like the state, and would cut public spending faster and deeper than Labour, with the Lib Dems somewhere in between. And what priorities will they have in deciding who bears the most pain and who gets whatever extra help is available? Here I do agree with the Observer:
Labour's historic instinct is to protect those most vulnerable in a harsh economic climate. Many voters will want to reward that instinct even if it has been poorly expressed by the party's high command.
And I agree with this from the Guardian’s own endorsement of Clegg:
The Liberal Democrats… remain in some respects a party of the middle and lower middle classes. Labour's record on poverty remains unmatched, and its link to the poor remains umbilical.
And the Tories?
I want to give David Cameron, whom I loathe, some honest credit. He has made more than merely presentational changes to his party. On several issues, the Tories are more to my liking than they were five years ago. But their movement towards where I’d a government to be is probably akin to ‘Essex man’s view of Labour in the late 1980s: closer, but still not very warm yet.
There are many things, not least of which is Gordon Brown, that madden me about this Labour government. But I still don’t doubt that it would, in its faltering and timid and way, continue to fight poverty harder and more effectively than the other parties. And while I’m not quite a single-issue nut, that’s the biggest factor for me.
The idea of a Lib-Lab coalition has some appeal; on the environment, civil liberties and the constitution, the Lib Dems are often more to my liking than Labour. And a coalition could be a way to breathe fresh energy into a fairly stale government. It might also be a way to have political reform and egalitarian redistribution.
But the mere sentiment that it’s ‘time for a change’ is empty, so while I can’t say with wild enthusiasm that Brown deserves to win, I am sure that we don’t deserve even a semi-reformed Tory government.