Alex Massie

The Guardian Comes Out for Clegg

Text settings

As so it has come to pass: even the Guardian has abandoned Labour and endorsed the Liberal Democrats. I expect the Independent will do the same and that the Mirror may be the only (London) blatt to support Gordon Brown. Meanwhile and for the first time since 1992 the Times is backing the Tories.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Guardian's editorial is not its decision to support Clegg (this was predictable) but its repudiation of Labour's central charge against the Conservatives: that they have not changed. The paper disagrees:

This election is about serious choices between three main parties which all have something to offer. David Cameron has done what none of his immediate predecessors has understood or tried to do: he has confronted the Conservative party with the fact that it was out of step with the country. He has forced the party to become more diverse and to engage with centre-ground opinion. He has explicitly aligned himself with the liberal Conservative tradition which the Thatcherites so despised during their long domination of the party. He has promoted modern thinking on civil liberty, the environment and aspects of social policy.

Mr Cameron offers a new and welcome Toryism, quite different from what Michael Howard offered five years ago. His difficulty is not that he is the "same old Tory". He isn't. The problem is that his revolution has not translated adequately into detailed policies, and remains highly contradictory. He embraces liberal Britain yet protests that Britain is broken because of liberal values. He is eloquent about the overmighty state but proposes to rip up the Human Rights Act which is the surest weapon against it. He talks about a Britain that will play a constructive role in Europe while aligning the Tories in the European parliament with some of the continent's wackier xenophobes. Behind the party leader's own engagement with green issues there stands a significant section of his party that still regards global warming as a liberal conspiracy.

The Tories have zigzagged through the financial crisis to an alarming degree, austerity here, spending pledges there. At times they have argued, against all reason, that Britain's economic malaise is down to overblown government, as opposed to the ravages of the market. Though the Conservatives are not uniquely evasive on the deficit, a large inheritance-tax cut for the very wealthy is the reverse of a serious "united and equal" approach to taxation. Small wonder that the Cameronisation of the Conservative party sometimes seems more palace coup than cultural revolution. A Cameron government might not be as destructive to Britain as the worst Tory regimes of the past. But it is not the right course for Britain.

Well, that's about as nice to Dave as you would expect the Guardian to be. The significance of this endorsement lies not in votes but in affirming and adding to the sense that Labour is done. Sure, many people reached this conclusion long ago but it's still useful to have it confirmed in this fashion.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.