On the Economist’s ‘endorsement’ of the Lib Dems and the ‘radical centre’

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There were varying degrees of excitement amongst Liberal Democrats that the Economist had recommended a vote for the party this Thursday. Some were ecstatic at the idea of any sort of publication that people have actually heard of endorsing the party, while others actually read the piece in question and saw that the endorsement was, at best, half-hearted:

It’s not a vote for the Liberal Democrats as they are, more for some ideal version of the party and liberalism that exists in the head of an Economist leader writer. It’s the same thing that had people a couple of years ago claiming that Tim Farron isn’t a ‘strong liberal voice’ and is a shibboleth amongst certain people in and out of the party. The ‘true liberalism’ they speak of (and never trust anyone who claims they know what ‘true’ liberalism is, as thought the whole history of liberalism wasn’t a story of resisting absolute dogmas) is a vision that only appeals to a small number of people of whom a disproportionate number are writers for the Economist and newspaper comment sections. It’s a liberalism of ‘my life’s quite nice but not perfect, and I went to a same-sex marriage once, so why should I have to pay more taxes to help anyone else out?’ not one that wants to challenge or change the system.

Further, they’re not really asking people to vote for the Liberal Democrats, but rather vote against the Tories and Labour and in faovur of some new nebulous centre party:

(As an aside, out of the many explanations of voting behaviour a vote as ‘a down-payment for the future’ is a new one on me)

Here, they’re doing what many others have wistfully done over the past couple of months in looking wistfully over the Channel towards Emmanuel Macron and thinking ‘if only…’ but if your plan for resurrecting the British centre is nothing more than hoping for a Macron then you don’t have a plan, you just have political fanfiction. They’re hoping for ‘a new liberal centre party’ or ‘a party of the radical centre’ to miraculously emerge and subsume the Liberal Democrats as ‘one element’ of it. They always put ‘radical’ in front of ‘centre’ when describing this type of hypothetical party, but it’s a doth-protest-too-much move as the vision is anything but radical as it’s about those who’ve always had power in some form or another — and for whom the Economist is the in-house journal — wanting to ensure that no one scares the horses or damages their position. What liberalism there is in there is entirely coincidental to the cause and described with the smallest ‘l’ possible. When proponents of this form of centrism look towards the Liberal Democrats it’s not with any misty-eyed fondness for the party’s radical past or with any acknowledgement that’s what now consensus had to be fought for and won, over and over again, but rather with the eye of a predator wondering which parts of the party can be cannibalised and repurposed into a quick-fit infrastructure for the new ‘radical centre’.

All votes count the same in the ballot box, of course, and no one can tell which were cast for this election and which were down-payments on a future, but even in a time when praise for the Liberal Democrats is rare, we should be wary of the motives behind some of it.

Originally published at www.nickbarlow.com on June 6, 2017.

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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