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Historic newspaper endorsements

Here, copied from LabourList, is a summary of the endorsements Britain’s daily newspapers have given before each of the post-war elections.

Which party they’ll each case will not in most cases be a big surprise, though it will interest which endorsements the Lib Dems will manage to get. The Independent seems likely to endorse them, The Guardian may withhold that honour given Clegg’s recent talk of a post-election arrangement with the Tories, however ridiculous it would be to prop Labour up under such circumstances.

For those interested, here are the endorsements The Economist gave:

Election Endorsement
1955 C
1959 C
1964 L
1966 C
1970 C
Feb. 1974 C
Oct. 1974 C
1979 C
1983 C
1987 C
1992 C
1997 C
2001 L
2005 L

In 1992, The Economist endorsed John Major’s Conservative Party on the grounds that, “Mr Ashdown’s best long-term hope for a Liberal revival lies in overturning the past 92 years, so that the Labour Party and the Liberals rejoin each other. For that to happen, Labour must lose this election, and the bigger its loss the better. And that, given the depressing state of British politics, is the best reason for wanting the Conservatives to win next week.” I’m curious what extent the best long-term hopes for a Liberal revival will play in the endorsement they’ll offer in Friday’s issue.

British general election

Of all parties, the Liberal Democrats would be the party in Britain I’d feel closest to. Of course, this is not the 1920s, this is not a three-cornered contest, and there is no immediate prospect of any Liberal Democrat becoming prime minister.

So it is between David Cameron and Gordon Brown for prime minister. I would not always naturally support one of Labour or the Tories over the other. At the moment, I do feel that after thirteen years in which they oversaw the onset of recession, a slow recovery and a deterioration of public finances, the Labour Party do not deserve another five years in office, and certainly not under Gordon Brown. But in any case, this election campaign has not been as exciting as perhaps it could have. Despite the dissatisfaction with the government, there has been no strong public wave behind the opposition, as there was in 1979 and 1997, in part because the expenses scandal hit both large parties in near equal measure.

But there are cultural reasons I’d be cautious to support the Conservatives. I think their decision to leave the Group of the European People’s Party, the European Parliament group of most conservatives and Christian Democrats like Nicolas Sarkozy or Angela Merkel, to form the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, was misguided. They confined themselves to an alliance that does not blend well with David Cameron’s attempts to portray the Conservatives as a more modern party, with parties with reservations about homosexuality. I don’t doubt that the Conservatives have changed as a party, on this and other issues, but the votes of their MEPs show the dissonance within the party and how Cameron himself has difficulty maintaining the more progressive image.

Having said that and despite his previous adamant opposition to repeal of Section 28, which forbid promotion of homosexuality in schools, I don’t believe gay people have any serious reason to concern from a Conservative government under David Cameron. I would not consider it the most unlikely thing if legislation to allow gay couples to marry was introduced by the Conservatives. On the most recent gay issue in the campaign, I would actually have to agree with the substance of Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s comments. I think there is less freedom in the country if a private B&B owner is told he must rent his rooms out to a gay couple against his wishes, even if such an owner shouldn’t be let anywhere near a major party ticket.

As The Economist wrote a few weeks ago, the Conservative approach to social issues is misguided and often presumes the most dire and exaggerated situations. Their marriage incentives seem well intentioned, but the wrong approach; it is true that children generally fare better if their parents are married, but funding married couples, including many who are financially secure, seems a strange waste of resources, and it discriminates against those children who have had the misfortune to be born to parents who have since moved apart. It was a small mistake in the course of the campaign, but the fact that the party got the figure of teenage pregnancies wrong by a factor of ten earlier this year shows how out of touch they can be at times.

On the North, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force banner has come to little, with Ladbrokes currently predicting no Tory or Ulster Unionist candidate to be elected (The Times is using their predictions in each constituency on a great gadget on their site). Their strongest chance is in Strangford, the seat left vacant by Iris Robinson, but even there they give the DUP’s Jimmy Spratt a 50% chance of victory. And in Fermanagh–South Tyrone, both Unionist parties stood aside in favour of an independent, Rodney Connor, ending David Cameron’s hope of a Tory-backed candidate in every constituency. Overall as yet, Ladbrokes predict no change in Northern Ireland. Depending on the balance of the major parties in Westminster, the seats here could be of importance.

In his memoirs, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable talks of trying out the various parties when in Cambridge. Of the Conservatives, he writes, “Whilst there was a liberal veneer, I knew, because I had seen it first-hand, that their activist base depended on the energies and prejudices of bigoted people like my father, whom they were only too happy to use.” This is still true of the Conservatives. They appear more nice and friendly, but there is still the lingering tolerance for groups like the Young Britons’ Foundation, as long as they stay in the background.

A tight Conservative majority would give inordinate power to such fringes of the party, as John Major found after 1992, so I think if they are to have a majority, better it be higher than the four seats currently predicted on the Times site. But I would still look forward more to a hung parliament, where the Liberal Democrats could exert influence in their more sensible social policies and approach toward the European Union. Depending on their strength, they might even manage to secure electoral reform, which Gordon Brown talked of this week, presumably in the hope of their support. Which party should lead, will then depend very much on the division of seats.

Harper’s Index

25 January, 2010 Leave a comment

I came across a fun internet tool, Harper’s Index. Put in any term and it will try to find some interesting statistics.

I found that

  • West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd quoted all 37 of Shakespeare‘s plays in both 1995 and 1997.

  • In November 2001, The Economist apologized for implying that President George W. Bush had been elected.
  • The Oscars love tragic stories: the last year in which no film, screenplay, or performance relating to mental illness was nominated was 1953.
  • 22 of Thomas Jefferson‘s slaves fled to join the British Army during the American Revolution.
  • There were ten page references to ‘vanity of’ under Kissinger in a 1992 biography.
  • 28 of the brands mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses were extant at the Bloomsday centenary in 2004.
  • Mary, Jesus‘ mother, is mentioned 19 times in the Bible against 34 times in the Koran.
  • Child injuries declined by an average of 46% on the weekend of the release of books in the Harry Potter series

The conventional opinion on Obama vs McCain is right

27 October, 2008 2 comments

Originally posted on Facebook
IN its November 1st issue, The Economist will endorse a candidate for the election the following Tuesday to the position of 44th president of the United States, as they have done most years since 1980. For the record, they endorsed Governor Ronald Reagan in 1980, had no equivalent article in 1984, refused to endorse either Vice President George H. W. Bush or Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988, endorsed Governor Bill Clinton in 1992, Senator Bob Dole in 1996, Governor George W. Bush in 2000 and Senator John Kerry in 2004. So while we could assume that they would have endorsed President Reagan had they written such an article in 1984, they did not in any of these cases choose the incumbent party. Not merely on the basis of this trend, but on their coverage to date, I expect that they will and hope that they do endorse Senator Barack Obama this year.

In putting the case for Mr Obama, I’m aware that an endorsement of his candidacy has gone beyond the point of being notable and needing much explanation. In the past few weeks, among the articles I’ve posted on Facebook were endorsements by Christopher Buckley, a former writer for the National Review, a conservative magazine and son of its founder William Buckley, one of the icons of American conservatism, by Christopher Hitchens, who has supported the Iraq War from the beginning and has been strongly critical of Democrats including Mr Obama for their opposition to it, and by Colin Powell, former Secretary of State who argued for the legitimacy of the invasion of Iraq before the United Nations. Others in a similar vein, dubbed Obamacons in this week’s issue of The Economist, include Kenneth Adelman who worked for President Reagan, and Senators Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar, who have all but endorsed Mr Obama.

I am also aware that of potential readers of this note, I came to support Mr Obama relatively late, having been a supporter of Hillary Clinton for most of the time before and during the primaries (I dropped that support after her liberal definition of “sniper fire” became clear). I was skeptical about Mr Obama’s true abilities outside the context of an election, in the proverbial 3 a.m. situation, and other situations that would similarly call for judgment. Even recently enough in two notes here, I outlined some complaints I had with him. But in the 20 months since he declared his candidacy, Mr Obama has been tested and has shown himself to capable. Certainly hanging around Washington, D.C., for another four to eight years would not have added to those abilities.

In general terms, between the two parties, I would feel more inclined towards the Democrats for what are termed cultural reasons, being strongly opposed to any breakdown in the wall of separation between church and state, concerned with infringements on civil liberties and supporting the decision of Roe v. Wade. Like any good reader of The Economist, however, I disagree with the suspicions that a lot of Democratic politicians and supporters express for the market and while I initially opposed the Iraq War, I believed that it was going well for a while after the time of the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square early in the proceedings, and that with elections there in 2005 it was a worthwhile invasion, even if like many others I would now be less enthusiastically supportive of it. Overall then, it would not be impossible that I could be swayed by a Republican. But while the statements by Mr McCain that he would appoint Supreme Court Justices like Samuel Alito or John Roberts might on its own send me toward the Democrats, in this election my decision does not come down to the single issue of secularism.

Still the economy
Beginning with the most important current issue, the economy, Mr Obama seems far more capable than Mr McCain. By his own admission, Mr McCain needs to educated on economics. I give him credit for understanding the benefits of free trade and globalization and for arguing in its favour even when this stance has occasionally cost him politically. As a worldwide concern, and as it affects Ireland, free trade is a major issue for me. However, I don’t believe Mr Obama is as opposed as he has suggested publicly. While he attacked Ms Clinton for supposedly supporting NAFTA, this was probably no more than posturing and the real Obama was the one who contacted the Canadian Ambassador to let him know that they should not be worried and who later described his language during that time as overheated. It is by no means unusual for a Democratic candidate to swing left during the primaries to secure the nomination, but there is no reason to suspect that as president his administration would be less supportive of global trade than those of Clinton or Bartlett. The fact that Congress is also expected to be heavily Democratic has been raised particularly on this question, so that for the sake of balanced government it would be better to have a Republican president. But Mr Obama does have the ability to carry the Democratic party with him on this issue, particularly as a declared skeptic on trade policy.

On the more pressing concern of credit crisis, Mr Obama has taken a far more organized and cool-headed approach. Mr McCain had to suspend his campaign to get his head around the crisis, while Mr Obama stressed the fact that as president he would have to deal with more with more than one concern at a time. In the last few weeks, Mr McCain has acted much more erratically, so that for all his emphasis on experience earlier in the campaign (at least until the choice of Sarah Palin for vice president, of whom more later), he seems the riskier candidate. Neither candidate has iterated clearly how he intends to deal specifically with the credit crisis, knowing that it would make more sense to suffer any political disaffection only when in power. But we can tell something of what their approaches would probably be from what they have said so far. Mr McCain is right when it comes to trade, but the hands off approach does not work across the economy as a whole, something he and others who promoted widespread deregulation are now realizing. While my instincts in economic terms are towards less regulation and lower taxes, it it better that the president not take this view as a matter of ideological conviction. It is very much to Mr Obama’s credit that he is winning votes on his tax policies, something Democrats have failed for years to find support for. He would be more pragmatic and plans to readjust the tax burden is part of a general plan to reduce the deficit, where Mr McCain seems to be following the supply-side Republican line of Presidents Reagan and the Bushes, that taxes should be cut at the top rates at all costs, and to hell with the budget line. It is one reason we need a full change in party control in the Washington, in the White House now to follow the change on the Capitol in 2006, so that Republicans suffer for reversing the budget surpluses that they inherited from President Clinton to a massive deficit.

Appearances abroad
Mr McCain ran believing that his strong foreign policy credentials, rather than the little he can say on the economy, would serve him well. This was clearly not the year for him then. According to Gallup, voters still trust Mr McCain more on the war in Iraq (50% to 46%) and on terrorism (55% to 39%), but they have ceased to be priority issues. Mr McCain deserves credit for advocating the surge policy, which is working reasonably effectively since its adoption in 2007 (on January 10th, the same day as a Hist debate on Iraq). However, that does not mitigate the fact that it was relatively late in the proceedings of the war that he began to criticize it, and Mr Obama’s strong attack in the first presidential debate was apt. Mr McCain was wrong to believe that they would be greeted as liberators, to believe that they knew where weapons of mass destruction were or that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. I have always held that there should not be an untimely withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, as that would leave the situation much worse, but there is no chance of that happening on a serious scale regardless which candidate is elected. Both have indicated that depending on events on the ground, troops can start to properly withdraw from within 18 months of the new administration. There is no reason to believe that Mr Obama will be soft on international terrorism, given the emphasis he has put on fighting Al-Qaeda both in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan if necessary.

From a wider international context, after the Bush presidency, it would America better for Mr Obama to be elected than Mr McCain. In the same way that there was a benefit in Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel to succeed as president of France and chancellor of Germany respectively, as both were much more Atlanticist than their predecessors, the strained relations between Europe and the United States will be far better served if the candidate who is in a better position to improve these is elected. Mr McCain would certainly be an improvement on President Bush, and the United States and the Republican Party would be in a better position had he been successful in 2000, but from where things stand someone who clearly shares and espouses the common values between the two continents would be a large benefit.

Worse than Quayle
The main constitutional role of the vice president, other than resolving ties in the Senate, is to succeed to the presidency in the case of death, resignation or other permanent incapacity of the president. Most presidential candidates presumably pick their running mate with the assumption that such an event will not take place, but nine times since 1789 has this taken place, with Presidents Calvin Coolidge, Harry S Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford completing a term in the 20th century. The choice for vice president is perhaps the only decision made during a campaign that a candidate must continue with into their term in office if elected. The choices of Messrs McCain and Obama have typified their respective approaches to the campaign since securing the nominations. Showing that he is by no means a risky choice, Mr Obama chose the strongest but also the safest of those mentioned with Senator Joe Biden. He is knowledgeable and experienced in foreign affairs, even if he does have a tendency towards verbosity and gaffes (e.g., “The number one job facing the middle-class is a three letter word, jobs: J-O-B-S”).

Whatever can be said about Mr Biden, Mr McCain’s choice of Governor Sarah Palin is probably the strongest mark against his campaign. Given Mr McCain’s age, his choice of vice president was a little more relevant than it usually must be. Further, under Dick Cheney the role of the vice president has increased, and while this may not be permanent, we cannot know this will develop under future administrations. In what may have been just a media stunt to kill the coverage of Mr Obama’s convention speech in the news cycle, Mr McCain chose someone who was vastly unsuitable. It was not simply a question of the length of her experience, or whether it was executive or legislative, these are not the sole relevant criteria who vice presidential candidate. She is representative of the wilful ignorance that has plagued the Republican party in recent decades as well as their alignment to the evangelical Christians. As mayor of Wasilla, she discussed removing books from the town’s public library, she could not isolate a newspaper she reads in her interview with Katie Couric and she recently denigrated scientific work, specifically on genetic research on flies, not appreciating that research in one area can have wide implications for our knowledge. She was raised a Roman Catholic, but joined the Wasilla Assembly of God in later life. It is often best to avoid bringing a candidate’s religion into discussion, but it is relevant when it has implications on policy. She is open to schools teaching creationism as well as evolution, she has an extreme anti-abortion view, that would also prevent stem-cell research. She is skeptical that climate change has been caused by humans, so she is out of touch with scientific thought on many of these current issues. That Mr McCain would choose someone of this nature as his running mate shows the length to which he would go to appeal to the worst sections of the Republican base. It shows poor judgement on his part, and if this is what his once-deserved claim to be a maverick now amounts to, it is damning indictment.

The choice for commander-in-chief
Ultimately, the choice between the two is one of leadership, and throughout the campaign Mr Obama has shown himself to be capable to take the reins on January 20th, 2009. To come from near nowhere on the political scene to be almost certain of becoming president next week is no small achievement. Eight years ago he could not even get a floor pass to the Democratic National Convention; this year he beat the strong Clinton machine, one of the most formidable in recent times. By organizing his campaign well, he ensured that the votes were where he needed them from the beginning, and all the time he managed to stay calm and in control. This contrasts sharply with Mr McCain, whose campaign has been erratic since the summer, and has not shown the leadership qualities he was supposed to have espoused. Mr Obama’s nomination was historic given his mixed race, but throughout the campaign race was rarely an issue. That was to his credit, and as president, he will not be there as a black president. But it will help to normalize race relations, for a generation of children to grow up with someone who is not white as their president. He has also managed to survive a worse charge in American politics, of being an elitist and out of touch. He would represent a real shift, and play a transformational role in American politics, and his victory would also represent a victory for meritocracy. He the brighter and the better candidate, and if I had a vote, would choose him.

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