+++ Holy crap, the Guardian endorses Lib Dems

Not content with publishing a letter from leading progressives, the Guardian tonight brings to an end its journey to a decision about which party to support.

The article is here.

General election 2010: The liberal moment has come
If the Guardian had a vote it would be cast enthusiastically for the Liberal Democrats. But under our discredited electoral system some people may – hopefully for the last time – be forced to vote tactically

We can certainly commend them on their decision, and my headline shows my surprise at them taking this bold step. I think many people were expecting the paper to resurrect its “clothespeg” stance from 2005. But let’s not forget the paper ultimately almost endorsed the Liberal Democrats in the European elections last year.

Those who comment beneath the articles waver between enthusiastic endorsement of the paper’s stance, criticism at the length of time it has taken to take a decision, and appalled horror from the remaining Labour stalwarts in the comments thread.

On the Conservatives

The article takes some considerable time to praise efforts from the Conservatives to re-align their party with a British mainstream, to diversify and speak to the many people in this country who aren’t extreme right wingers, and most importantly of all, to ditch Thatcher’s legacy. But they conclude the process is far from complete:

[David Cameron’s] 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.

On the Labour party

The Guardian acknowledges – like many of us – that the Labour party has significant achievements from its time in office. But as the years go on, their failings become more apparent until they tip the scales away from Labour being a positive influence on our nation.

Invited to embrace five more years of a Labour government, and of Gordon Brown as prime minister, it is hard to feel enthusiasm. Labour’s kneejerk critics can sometimes sound like the People’s Front of Judea asking what the Romans have ever done for us. The salvation of the health service, major renovation of schools, the minimum wage, civil partnerships and the extension of protection for minority groups are heroic, not small achievements.

Yet, even among those who wish Labour well, the reservations constantly press in. Massive, necessary and in some cases transformational investment in public services insufficiently matched by calm and principled reform, sometimes needlessly entangled with the private sector. Recognition of gathering generational storms on pensions, public debt, housing and – until very recently – climate change not addressed by clear strategies and openness with the public about the consequences. The inadequately planned pursuit of two wars. A supposedly strong and morally focused foreign policy which remains trapped in the great-power, nuclear-weapon mentality, blindly uncritical of the United States, mealy-mouthed about Europe and tarnished by the shame of Iraq – still not apologised for.

On the Liberal Democrats

And as expected in an endorsement article, the paper reserves its warmest words for us.

[T]here is little doubt that in many areas of policy and tone, the Liberal Democrats have for some time most closely matched our own priorities and instincts. On political and constitutional change, they articulate and represent the change which is now so widely wanted. On civil liberty and criminal justice, they have remained true to liberal values and human rights in ways that the other parties, Labour more than the Tories in some respects, have not. They are less tied to reactionary and sectional class interests than either of the other parties.

The Liberal Democrats were green before the other parties and remain so. Their commitment to education is bred in the bone. So is their comfort with a European project which, for all its flaws, remains central to this country’s destiny. They are willing to contemplate a British defence policy without Trident renewal. They were right about Iraq, the biggest foreign policy judgment call of the past half-century, when Labour and the Tories were both catastrophically and stupidly wrong. They have resisted the rush to the overmighty centralised state when others have not. At key moments, when tough issues of press freedom have been at stake, they have been the first to rally in support. Above all, they believe in and stand for full, not semi-skimmed, electoral reform. And they have had a revelatory campaign. Trapped in the arid, name-calling two-party politics of the House of Commons, Nick Clegg has seldom had the chance to shine. Released into the daylight of equal debate, he has given the other two parties the fright of their lives.

Thank you, Guardian.

Welcome aboard.

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