With both parties competing over spending, the strategic calculus for the election alters: whether or not spending is a good thing matters less than where the money is spent, who it will benefit, and whether the parties can be trusted to keep their promises. Serious questions await the Conservatives on how sustainable their spending can be without raising taxes on the wealthy, or with the economic dislocation of a hard Brexit. It’s difficult, too, for them to resurrect 2010’s attack lines on the economy when austerity has vanished from the policy lexicon; Harold Macmillan warned his party in 1959 not to talk of Labour ‘spending sprees’ – for people who have lived through a straitened decade, spending may sound rather appealing. The last true disciple of Coalition-era doctrine turns out to be Vince Cable, grumbling about a ‘raid on Santa’s grotto’.
Metternich is supposed to have once said that ‘Asia begins at the Landstrasse’ (or ‘the Balkans begin at the Rennweg’). The idea that the Balkan peninsula and its patchwork of nations are somehow not part of Europe lives on. Last month, Emmanuel Macron vetoed the opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. Angela Merkel said the EU should ‘keep its promises’ and begin the negotiations. Jean-Claude Juncker described the French president’s irresponsible decision as a ‘historic mistake’. For once, the phrase may be an understatement.
In the latest episode of the Talking Politics podcast, David Runciman, Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Mike Kenny ask if this is one election or many. Do national vote shares mean much any more, given all the regional variations? How is the Remain Alliance meant to work? Is this a Brexit election? And is 2015 or 2017 (or neither) a better guide to 2019? They also discuss the recent election in Spain and explore parallels between gridlock there and possible gridlock here.
Nigel Farage announced last night that the Brexit Party would stand down its candidates in 317 Tory-held seats across the country, promising instead to concentrate his fire on Leave-voting seats with Labour incumbents. Having last week lambasted Boris Johnson’s deal as the ‘second-worst in history’, he now claims to be satisfied with the prime minister’s commitment to leaving on 31 January, and seeking a Canada-style free trade agreement. However he tries to disguise it, this is a capitulation: there had been enormous pressure on Farage from senior colleagues – including the Brexit Party chair and candidate for Hartlepool, Richard Tice – to moderate his opposition to the Tory deal. Farage has found a Surrender Act all of his own.
Three weeks ago I wrote about the deaths of the 39 people found in a container in Grays, Essex on 23 October. Initial speculation had been that the victims had come from countries in the Middle East, but the police quickly announced that they were Chinese nationals. Now we know that this too was incorrect, and that the dead all came from Vietnam. The parents of Pham Thi Tra My, a 26-year-old woman from Ha Tinh province, released her last text message, fearing she might be among the victims. Other families came forward. The police published a complete list of the dead on Friday.
The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru have made an electoral pact under the rubric ‘Unite to Remain’. The three parties have agreed to stand down candidates in sixty constituencies: in 43, only a Liberal Democrat will stand, ten will have only a Green candidate, and seven only a candidate from Plaid. The purported aim is to return the maximum possible number of pro-Remain MPs to parliament; the parties’ self-interest is an unspoken factor. The lash-up may help Plaid and the Greens win one or two target seats, but the chief beneficiaries – if it succeeds – will be the Lib Dems, who are looking to retake a slew of Tory-held seats in the south of England.
In the latest episode of the Talking Politics podcast, David Runciman and Helen Thompson talk to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Esther Duflo about better ways to do economics. From investing in left-behind places to helping people adapt to change, they discuss good and bad economic ideas about some of the biggest challenges we face, and how it all connects back to politics. They also talk about what some of the world‘s richest countries can learn from some of the poorest.