Liberal Renaissance

It has been a beautifully clear day today; no sign in the blue skies of any of this volcanic ash that is blanketing the country. It’s slightly unnerving to think that a big chunk of our transport infrastructure can be paralysed by invisible dust high above our heads. Maybe this will give a boost to the idea that we should give up going out of the house, and do all out travelling in virtual worlds instead.

Back on the ground, the media is digesting the performances of the main party leaders in last night’s televised election debate; there seems to be a consensus that, while nobody landed a knockout blow, Gordon Brown did as well as was expected (that is, not very), David Cameron’s vague promises of change were unconvincing, and Nick Clegg stole the show with his honest straight talking.

The positive reaction to Clegg is interesting; he and the Liberal Democrats have made much of the fact that they are willing to spell out in detail exactly how much pain we are going to have to endure to get the economy back on track, while the other parties promise to cut the deficit but don’t want to scare us by revealing what that might entail. The Lib Dems are banking on the hope that the respect they win from the electorate by treating voters as responsible adults who can face reality, and not children who have to be shielded from the truth, will outweigh the aversion caused by the cuts they are proposing. The initial poll results might seem to back this up, but I wonder if people really are ready to be that stoic, and if over the course of the campaign there might be a swing back towards the “Trust us, we’ll sort things out, you don’t have to worry” message coming from Labour and the Tories.

I found the event more illuminating than I was expecting. There is a tendency on the left to characterise the main parties as differing only in the degree of their support for capital, and it is true that on one level the debate was three rich white men arguing over how hard they have to hit the workers to make sure there is enough money left in the state coffers to keep the bankers happy. However the bulk of the electorate don’t look at things this way, and for them it would have been clear that their day-to-day lives over the next few years are going to be significantly different if the vote goes one way rather than another.

My personal assessment is that Brown did enough to plant seeds of doubt about how grim things could get under the Tories to start people thinking that perhaps five more years of Labour, or a Lib-Lab coalition, might not be so bad after all. There are still three weeks of campaigning, and two more TV debates, to go of course, so everything is still to play for, but the election isn’t going to be the Tory landslide that looked inevitable even a few months ago.

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