From a very early age I’ve been put off by sanctimoniousness; it’s why, I think, I’ve never been attracted to the political Left, which when I was growing up was heavy on the finger-wagging, and why I find a certain style of newspaper column irritating. They remind me of the sour-faced old guys we used to see at church all in competition to see who could look the most serious and disapproving. This whole idea that if you don’t support Labour and the Left you’re not just wrong or misguided but a bad person is what puts me off; this Daily Mash article is depressingly close to reality in my experience.
Yet this election has made me feel the same, for the first time; my area is flooded with Labour posters outside front doors and when I look at them I find myself shaking my head.
The extent to which Labour have done better than expected in polling is disappointing; they will certainly lose, but I hoped and expected that they would haemorrhage support from the start as people were put off by Jeremy Corbyn. Some seem to see him as a sort of Obi Wan Kanobi character saving the NHS; I look at him and see a man who has previously spoken of his admiration for the Venezuela regime which has brought such an economic miracle to that country; then there’s a shadow chancellor who appears alongside Soviet flags at a rally, and a director of strategy who quite openly laments that the Berlin Wall came down. Even if supporters of the three parties have disagreements, we tend to think of each other as being ‘wrong within normal parameters’, as P.J. O’Rourke said of Hilary Clinton – but these views seem so far beyond the bounds of normality I assumed most would be repulsed.
Instead huge numbers not just support him, but see Corbyn as a deeply moral man in a crusade; most troubling is the level of popularity among the young, estimated to be over 60 and maybe 70 per cent.
Sorry if I sound sanctimonious, but the Soviet Union was evil and if you stand beside its flag there’s something wrong with you as a human being; yet over two-thirds of the next generation want Britain to be Venezuela with Jihadis. Where has the education system gone wrong?
That’s why I’m voting Liberal Democrat for the first time today. The main practical reason is that I live in a two-horse constituency; I am also totally underwhelmed by the Tory party and, ideology aside, I’m not sure they are competent enough to do the job. But I also believe the Lib Dems have been unfairly maligned, and the lack of support for them is not just surprising, but also unjust. I’m not a natural liberal but they have been unfairly blamed for a coalition they had almost no choice to enter and in which they achieved much, as this Economist assessment points out.
The coalition has cut the deficit more pragmatically than it admits and more progressively than its critics allow. When the economy weakened, the Tories eased the pace (although not by as much as this newspaper would have liked). Though the poorest Britons have been hit hard by spending cuts, the richest 10% have borne the greatest burden of extra taxes.
It’s not a perfect record, by any means, but in real life there are only imperfect governments, and terrible governments. (John Rentoul also wrote a good defence of the Lib Dems in government here.)
The Liberals didn’t do enough to get their message across while in government, especially on the subject of cuts; a narrative seemed to emerge which went unchallenged, although I think that’s probably a perennial problem with those in the political centre. (Likewise I’ve come to appreciate the Blair government did lots of pretty good things but almost no one in the Labour party seems to defend them anymore.)
I thought that with Corbyn in charge the Liberal Democrats would become the natural home of Britain’s moderates, but it doesn’t seem to have worked that way; liberals don’t seem to support them, so I think it’s only sporting I should.