Just finished two very interesting pieces in the Economist, one particularly so.
First, Bagehot's April 28 hit piece on the Liberal Democrats, Not As Nice As They Look. When I first read it, I was more inclined to give the piece more credit than I now think it deserves. Thinking about it, it is a much more polemic piece than The Economist's normal fare, showing that perhaps pulling back the curtains a bit on its paymasters (is this the right word? Probably not) Basically, it adopts Murdoch/tabloid talking points on the party, accusing it of being purely opportunistic, fiscally and socially "irresponsiblity," and anti-American (!) Here's some of the key grafs:
Mr Sedgemore appears delighted to be joining a party that is well to the left of Labour. And in some ways it is. The Lib Dems' affection for high marginal rates of taxation, unreformed public services controlled by producer interest groups and a foreign policy with a strongly anti-American edge all sit comfortably with Mr Sedgemore's world view.
Where the Lib Dems fail to qualify as a party of the left is in their lack of interest in reducing poverty and inequality. The money raised by higher taxes is to be spent saving the middle classes from having to fork out for their children's university education and their elderly parents' long-term nursing care. As with the Lib Dems' policy to abolish council tax because of its impact on pensioners who own expensive houses, what seems to matter most to the Lib Dems is allowing people to keep windfall gains from high house prices and inheritance.
That reflects well on neither Mr Kennedy nor his latest recruit, the old socialist, Mr Sedgemore. But then being angry about Iraq takes a lot less effort than developing a coherent programme for making life better at home.
Ah, so Brian Sedgemore now represents the "real" face of the Libs?
The first paragraph is pure unsubstantiated polemic at best, slander at worst. Basically, because the Lib Dems don't play ball with transnational capital (as in a way the WSJ/Economist types like) and doesn't seem committed enough to the "special relationship", they aren't worthy of support--anti-American if you will. Just like Democrats hate Christians. Can Bagehot show us anything from the Liberal Democratic platform or from Charlie Kennedy's campaign appearances that suggest as such? No. The real problem is that Kennedy does not distinctly lean to the US does, unlike the Blairites. This is the key consideration for the Economist, as it is Murdoch. But at least the Sun has topless women and 10 pages of football coverage.
The second paragraph is more fair. Indeed, one of my criticisms of the Lib Dems is that there decision to hike top marginal rates to 50% as well as replace counsel property taxes with income tax is that it seemed to be doing so for no especially compelling reason. To me, it just seems like a short term opportunism, a decision to occupy some of the left flank Blair left exposed. But the "unreformed public services" jibe is more slander: because they oppose "top up fees"? Not to say that "top-up fees" are necessarily a bad thing: but opposition to them doesn't exactly make one a "Bennite" (unless, I supposed, you are at base a Thatcherite, as "Bagehot" surely is)
Indeed, I think if the Libs want to move forward as a party, they can't afford to propose the kinds economic policies they put forth in this election. Basically, they should stand on Blairist economic policies (which will make more sense after Blair resigns), cultural and socialism liberalism, and (a measured) pro-Europeanism: this would be a party I could support wholeheartedly. Yet while the Lib Dems surely need to do so policy rethinking (as they seem to realizeBagehot's criticism is unserious.