UK general election endorsement


On Thursday, Britain will go to the polls to choose a new Parliament and – perhaps – Prime Minister and government. After the disastrous vote to exit the European Union last year – which, in my view, infused life into the populist campaign of Donald Trump in America and to nationalist populism across the West –, Britons find themselves having to choose among two prime ministerial candidates and parties who appear brought back from the mid-20th century. Long gone are the days of the centrist liberal Coalition government, when globalization, market liberalism, and openness seem to rule the day. Instead, Britain finds itself immersed in tribal politics, reminiscent of a bygone era.  

May vs. Corbyn

On one side, Theresa May’s Conservative Party appears to have erased all the image (and policy) changes of the Cameron era. But, perhaps, more worrisome is the ideological path where May wants to take the Tories. May’s manifesto, by denouncing “untrammeled free markets” and “the cult of selfish individualism” while proclaiming “a commitment to country and community” is a radical departure from the philosophy which has defined British political life since 1979: Thatcherism. While Margaret Thatcher opened the door to globalization and a free and open economy, which then led the way to Tony Blair’s open society, Theresa May is closing Britain’s doors and retreating into isolation. While she preaches under the banner of a ‘global Britain’ after Brexit, her policies, priorities and manifesto scream of a closed, inward-looking country.  

On the other side, the Labour Party is being led by a man more fit to be exhibited as a relic of the 1970s in a London museum than prime ministerial material for the 21st century. Remember when we thought Ed Miliband was “Red Ed”? If only we could bring Red Ed back now! In comparison to Jeremy Corbyn, Red Ed has neoliberal potential. Even 1980s Michael Foot seems like a moderate Blairite in front of el comandante Corbyn. If Theresa May’s communitarian, inward-looking nationalism is a threat to Thatcherism, imagine what a chavista-loving, terrorist-sympathizer, economy-nationalizing Jeremy Corbyn would do to the political consensus that made Britain a vibrant and open place to live?     

So what to do when the Thatcherite-Blairite consensus – which made Britain’s economy and society open, exciting, and free – is being abandoned by both main parties? What one must usually do in politics anyway: choose the lesser evil. Although this time both evils are truly, deeply awful. But there’s always one choice which is even worse. And make no mistake: despite her inward-looking, communitarian, and sometimes nationalistic mentality, Theresa May is unquestionably better than an extremist like Jeremy Corbyn. While May has been in the mainstream of British politics her entire career, Corbyn has been a perennial fringe figure.

Conservative vs. Labour policy  

On actual policy, May is also better. While the Conservative manifesto proposes a competitive tax rate for businesses, a balanced budget by 2025, an increase in the personal tax allowance, support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent and NATO, new free schools and academies, an end to the pensions’ ‘triple lock,’ and an expansion of Heathrow; Corbyn’s Labour calls for a 1970-style nationalization of energy, rail, water, and Royal Mail. Moreover, the Labour manifesto ends fiscal austerity, increases taxation on businesses and individuals, abolishes tuition university fees – effectively transferring money from the poorest in society to the upper-middle class –, proposes rent controls, suspends the Right to Buy scheme, bans fracking, and reverses privatization of the NHS. There’s no doubt the Conservatives are better on all these issues.

But what about Brexit?

I had the naïve hope that Brexit would play a much bigger role on this campaign and that people would start to realize the terrible choice made last year. My hope – and that of the Liberal Democrats who based their entire campaign proposing a second Brexit referendum – appears to be just that, hope. Many remainers believe Labour would pursue a softer version of Brexit than May. But is that really the case? While May’s Conservatives promise to both take Britain out of the Single Market and end freedom of movement, Corbyn’s Labour promises to keep Britain in the Single Market while ending freedom of movement. As anyone should know by now, there is no Single Market access without accepting the four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, capital AND people. So basically, the Labour manifesto is lying to your face. Both main parties propose a hard Brexit, so there’s no difference here. Plus, can anybody believe that a far-left socialist who has spent his entire life fighting and voting against free trade and free markets will suddenly fight for access to the Single Market in Brexit negotiations? Corbyn is even more Eurosceptic than May herself!

And the Liberal Democrats?

It is particularly sad to see the Lib Dems doing so poorly in opinion polls. They have come up with a sensible manifesto (perhaps more left-leaning than I would like to see, but sensible anyway), but are being led by a hapless leader in Tim Farron. On Brexit, they are no doubt the option for a liberal globalist like me. They are the only party which proposes continued access to the Single Market and freedom of movement, which would by far be the best possible outcome for Britain and Europe. They propose a sensible second referendum on the final Brexit deal so Britons can decide if they want to accept the new conditions or choose to remain within the EU. Unfortunately, this position is not shared by most in Britain today (even a sizable number of those who voted remain). By focusing exclusively on this issue under a lackluster leader, the Lib Dems have not gained traction at all during the campaign.  

Who to vote for?

In the 9 seats held by the Liberal Democrats, vote Lib Dem. Furthermore, in marginal seats where Lib Dems are the main opposition to either Labour or the Conservatives, vote Lib Dem. In sum, wherever the Liberal Democrats have a chance to win, vote for them. The best possible result at a time when liberalism and openness seem on the way out in Britain is an increased presence of liberal voices in Parliament. In Conservative-Labour marginals, vote Conservative to make sure Corbyn is nowhere near Number 10. In Labour-SNP marginals in Scotland, vote your conscience. I only recommend voting Labour in those seats where there’s a Blairite (Liz Kendall-style) MP, unless in competition with a Lib Dem.

Britain has enough problems lying ahead with Brexit to add into the mix a government led by a Corbyn-McDonnell-Abbott troika. The best we can hope for in this sad election is an increased Lib Dem presence, a Conservative Prime Minister, and a Labour Party which loses and kicks out Jeremy Corbyn as leader. In this election, I choose the Liberal Democrats as a party and Theresa May as Prime Minister. It is what it is.