Let ’em hang? Not so fast

A hung parliament is still likely to result in a Tory government led by David Cameron, an economic i

Anthony Barnett's services to the cause of democratic renewal and open debate are second to none. I admire him hugely, and I usually agree with him. But I am afraid I passionately disagree with his diatribe. Here's why.

He says he wants a hung parliament, not a David Cameron-led government. But even in a hung parliament, full of the vibrant "new forces" he expects to flourish, there would have to be a government of some kind. Given his exaggerated loathing for Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, and his explicit belief that the Labour Party can "sort itself out" only in opposition, a fair-minded reader is bound to assume that he would prefer a minority (or even a majority) Cameron government to any sort of Labour one.

I think this is profoundly dangerous. I am not a bigoted Cameron-basher. I've gone out of my way to argue that he is a Burkean Whig in the mould of Harold Macmillan, not a Thatcherite retread, and have been deluged with lumpen abuse for saying so. But you don't have to be a Thatcherite to be economically illiterate and globally frivolous. Despite his good qualities, Cameron is both.

In economics he is a pre-Keynesian Neanderthal. He has failed to grasp the elementary point that deficit finance in the midst of what would otherwise be a deep depression is a good thing; and that the best way to prolong the depression is to cut the deficit prematurely. I know that this is what Brown and Alistair Darling keep saying; and I also know that Brown was grievously wrong during the worldwide bubble. But this time he is right; he is supported by every serious economist I can think of. To let Cameron and George Osborne loose on the economy now would be like letting a freshman medical student loose on delicate brain surgery.

Far worse than Cameron's economic illiteracy is his frivolous, potentially disastrous flirtation with xenophobic anti-Europeanism. Here, too, New Labour's record is not exactly golden. Blair was the most Europhile prime minister since Edward Heath, but his disastrous messianism over Iraq split the European Union in two; Brown's ungracious behaviour over signing the Lisbon Treaty signalled (and was meant to signal) an arm's-length approach to the rest of the continent to which we belong when we desperately need to engage properly with it. But to jump from Brown's tepid frying pan into Cameron's scorching fire would be an act of the higher lunacy - above all for the left. Populist Europhobia is the ugliest single political force in present-day Europe. It is the enemy of everything the social-democratic left stands for. It is bilious, mean-minded, ungenerous, intolerant and implicitly racist.

It is not exclusively British, as Barnett seems to think. It is hugely present in Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark, and has a lesser presence in France and even Belgium. If it is given its head it will destroy the whole European venture, the most hopeful political project of the second half of the 20th century. It and the Islamophobia associated with it are the true 21st-century equivalent of the anti-Semitism of the early 20th. It should be confronted, not conciliated. In truckling to it, Cameron is truckling to the heart of darkness. Anthony half recognises this when he describes Nigel Farage's attack on Herman van Rompuy as "loathsome". But the point about Farage is not just that he is loathsome. It is that his views put him beyond the pale of pluralist democracy.