People are rude about the Economist. The covers aren’t funny in the way they were, they say. It is a publication totally baffled by Brexit and much else that is happening in the world, and it shows it week after week.
Some of these criticisms are unfair. There are many good journalists on The Economist. It is stylish and has great reach in its reporting. And the political column Bagehot is back being brilliant.
But my goodness The Economist is playing to type, vindicating its critics, with its pre-election leader backing the protectionist, soft-left Liberal Democrats, a party which it acknowledges is going down the pan. This is weird endorsement is the behaviour of a rootless publication so global – the source of its commercial strength – that it lacks sufficient feel for the country of its birth where it is still, notionally, based.
Fine. Brexit was a shock to the globalist class of executives, consultants, central bankers, continent-straddling politicians, IMF junkies and Davos attendees. But it was a year ago. Grow up. It’s not the apocalypse. It’s the unwinding of a relatively new political set-up in which the UK was never comfortable. Yet the Economist makes it sound as though this is the end.
There are other weird aspects of The Economist view of Britain. It says that the Union, with Scotland, is “fraying.” Eh? The SNP has had a terrible campaign. The majority of Scots want nothing to do with a second referendum. Nicola Sturgeon may go backwards on June 8th. Unionist tails are up, thanks to the work of Ruth Davidson, Scottish Tory leader, and other Unionist politicians. Of course that might change in time – anything is possible – but Brexit makes life more difficult for the SNP, not less. Scotland’s main trading partner by far is the rest of the UK.
The worst misreading of all, which causes The Economist to throw up its hands and say we’re all doomed, including the Lib Dems, therefore it must back the Lib Dems, involves its call for a new “radical centre” force to emerge. They have clearly missed what has happened in this election .
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Two party politics is back. The minor parties are crumbling. Talk of forming a new centre party is hilariously out of touch. Residual Labour tribal feeling is strong. The Tory tribe now seems to be a 43-45% party. The question for a publication with the Economist’s heritage is which of those two major parties is the best vehicle for free-trading ideas. Which has the best hope of being converted to such thinking? Where are there signs of pro-market life beyond the leadership? Clue: the Conservatives.
The Economist’s confusion is symptomatic of disarray on the moderate centre-left and in the centre more broadly. If those moderates ever want to win they are going to have to stop moaning and get moving taking back Labour. Stop talking nonsense about new parties. Move beyond the EU referendum result, which the voters accept, and take back the Labour party properly, signing up hundreds of thousands of moderate Labour voters to help. Build a post-Brexit non-Tory agenda that might win 45% of the vote, without bankrupting the country, or at least give the Tories a proper challenge beyond young voters getting excited that Father Christmas in his white beard has found an unlimited source of government spending.
More of that on Labour’s future tomorrow in my weekly newsletter for Reaction subscribers.