Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

Rachel Sylvester writes in the Times that the American fury over the release of the Lockerbie bomber marks the death of the "special relationship" and that the UK has not found a replacement.

For the Americans, this is not just about justice it is also about trust -- the White House sees the release of al-Megrahi as a blatant breach of an agreement given by the British government that he would serve out his sentence in Scotland. It is impossible to sustain a relationship, let alone a special one, if one partner can no longer believe what the other one says.

The Independent's Steve Richards argues that those who advocate public service reform ignore the increased costs involved.

The free market reformers argue that competition will raise standards and save costs. Perhaps it will over time, although the evidence in other fields does not suggest this will automatically be the case. After the privatisation of the railways the costs for the taxpayer soared, partly because so many more outsiders were involved, often making the delivery of the service much worse.

In the Guardian, Robert Reich says that the problem with the US budget deficit is that it's too small. The US government must reject the "deficit hysterics" and pursue the only reliable way to expand the economy.

Without large deficits this year and next, and perhaps even the year after, the economy doesn't have a prayer of getting back on a growth path. In that case, the debt-to-GDP ratio could really get ugly.

Gordon Brown should have defended the release of the Lockerbie bomber, argues the Daily Telegraph's Mary Riddell. As ever, his fear of unpopularity has led to him becoming even more unpopular.

The PM could have denounced the bullying American officials who implied that the US would never consume another dram of whisky or stick of Edinburgh rock. He could, and should, say that bringing Libya into the fold has not only been good for trade. Tripoli has also abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons, helped fight al-Qaeda and so made Britain and the world less dangerous.

The New York Times's columnist David Brooks writes that President Obama's popularity has fallen faster than any previous president. He must distance himself from the Democrats' liberal wing to recover.

This is a country that has always been suspicious of centralised government . . . Most Americans still admire Obama and want him to succeed. But if he doesn't proceed in a manner consistent with the spirit of the nation and the times, voters will find a way to stop him.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.