Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues that the American obsession with "centrism" and "moderation" paralyses independent thought:

[T]aking the middle ground between the two parties is not a way of liberating yourself from dogma. It's simply a way of lashing your own judgement to the prevailing sentiments of the moment. Fifty years ago, the notion that the federal government should cover the cost of health care for all senior citizens was too liberal for even many mainstream Democrats to swallow. These days, even right-wing Republicans embrace it.

In the Guardian, David Marquand writes that Thomas Paine's arguments for the American Revolution should inspire David Cameron to support root-and-branch reform of the British state:

[T]here is more to the Whig tradition to which Cameron patently belongs than meets the eye. Over the French Revolution, Edmund Burke -- the greatest ornament of the Whig tradition -- differed bitterly with Tom Paine, the democratic republican par excellence. But they were on the same side over the American one. If Cameron wants to be a real progressive, instead of a phoney one in Blair's mould, he should start by reading Burke and Paine on the struggle between the American colonists and the British crown.

The Independent's Hamish McRae says that Barack Obama's recent speech on health care should teach British politicians how to discuss individual responsibility:

There is a string of areas where people throughout the developed world will have to take greater responsibility for themselves. Health care is one, because the great health issues of an ageing population will be more about people leading generally healthy lifestyles than receiving hi-tech medical interventions . . . President Obama gets all this and articulates it in a way that no European politician would dare do.

The Times's leader argues that David Cameron is wrong not to support higher salaries for MPs:

We, the public, are effectively MPs' employers. Like any employer, if we want a better staff, we must be prepared to pay a better wage. The alternative is a parliament made up of those who do not expect one, or those who do not need one. A smaller salary still risks limiting the House of Commons to toffs, trustafarians and retired hedge-fund managers, dabbling. A political class not closer to the people, but farther away.

In the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer writes that Alistair Darling may be vindicated as the economy begins to emerge from recession:

The apparent return to health of the economy does mean that Alistair Darling's rose-tinted promise of an upturn before the end of this year -- and in time for an election next spring -- does now seem a possibility rather than a forlorn hope.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.