they really want johnson to win, so this advises AGAINST tactical voting

Our election endorsement: Britain’s nightmare before Xmas
The Economist, Dec 5 2019

British voters keep being called to the polls, and each time the options before them are worse. Labour and the Conservatives, once parties of the centre-left and centre-right, have steadily grown further apart in the three elections of the past four years. Next week voters face their starkest choice yet, between Boris Johnson, whose Tories promise a hard Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour Party plans to “rewrite the rules of the economy” along radical socialist lines. Mr Johnson runs the most unpopular new government on record; Mr Corbyn is the most unpopular leader of the opposition. On Friday the 13th, unlucky Britons will wake to find one of these horrors in charge. At the last election, two years and a political era ago, we regretted the drift to the extremes. Today’s manifestos go a lot further. In 2017, Labour was on the left of the European mainstream. Today it would seize 10% of large firms’ equity, to be held in funds paying out mostly to the exchequer rather than to the workers who are meant to be the beneficiaries. It would phase in a four-day week, supposedly with no loss of pay. The list of industries to be nationalised seems only to grow. Drug patents could be forcibly licensed. The bill for a rapid increase in spending would fall on the rich and companies, whose tax burden would go from the lowest in the G7 to the highest. It is an attempt to deal with 21st-century problems using policies that failed in the 20th. Nor has Mr Corbyn done anything to dampen concerns about his broader worldview. A critic of Western foreign policy and sympathiser with dictators in Iran and Venezuela who oppose it, he blamed NATO for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Last year he suggested samples of a nerve agent used to poison a Russian former spy in Salisbury should be sent to Moscow, so Vladimir Putin could see if it was his. Under such a prime minister, Britain could not rely on receiving Pindo intel. Nor has Mr Corbyn dealt with the anti-Semitism that has taken root in Labour on his watch. Some Remainers might swallow this as the price of a second Brexit referendum, which Mr Corbyn has at last promised. We have long argued for such a vote. Yet Mr Corbyn’s ruinous plans at home and bankrupt views abroad mean that this newspaper cannot support Labour.

The Conservatives, too, have grown scarier since 2017. Mr Johnson has ditched the Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May and struck a worse one, in effect lopping off Northern Ireland so that Britain can leave the EU’s customs union. The public are so sick of the whole fiasco that his promise to “get Brexit done” wins votes. But he would do no such thing (see below). After Britain had left the EU early next year, the hard work of negotiating a trade agreement would begin. Mr Johnson says he would do this by the end of 2020 or leave without one. No-deal is thus still on the table, and a real prospect since getting a deal in less than a year looks hard. The best estimates suggest that leaving without a deal would make average incomes 8% lower than they would otherwise have been after ten years. Brexit is not the only problem with Mr Johnson’s new-look Tories. He has purged moderates and accelerated the shift from an economically and socially liberal party into an economically interventionist and culturally conservative one. Angling for working-class, Leave-voting seats in the north, he has proposed extra state aid, buy-British government procurement and a sketchy tax-and-spending plan that does not add up. Also, he has absorbed the fatal lesson of the Brexit campaign: that there is no penalty for lying or breaking the rules. He promised not to suspend Parliament, then did; he promised not to extend the Brexit talks, then did. This chicanery corrodes trust in democracy. Like Mr Corbyn, he has normalised prejudice by displaying his own and failing to investigate it in his party. Both men are thought racist by 30% of voters. For all these reasons, this newspaper cannot support the Conservatives.

That leaves a low bar for the Lib Dems, and they clear it. They, too, have become more extreme since we backed them in 2017. Under a new leader, Jo Swinson, they have gone beyond the idea of a second referendum for an irresponsible promise to reverse Brexit unilaterally. This has deservedly backfired. Yet their economic approach, a moderate increase in spending paid for by broad-based tax increases, is the most sensible of the main parties and is the only one to be honest about the cost of an ageing society. On climate change and social policy, they strike the best balance between ambition and realism. As last time, they are the only choice for anyone who rejects both the hard Brexit of the Conservatives and the hard-left plans of Labour. Yet they will not win. So why back them? The practical reason is to restrain whoever ends up in Downing Street. Voters worry that backing the Lib Dems plays into Mr Corbyn’s hands, but our modelling suggests that votes and seats would come fairly evenly from both parties (see below). Mr Corbyn is preparing to govern with the SNP, which would back most of his programme in return for another independence referendum. Having more Lib Dems would check his plans. Likewise, they would rein in Mr Johnson. Some Tories cling to the hope that if he wins a big majority he will drop the populist act and rediscover his liberal instincts. They are deluded. If he wins the Brexit-backing seats he is targeting with his promises of more state aid, do they expect him to switch back to the fantasy of building Singapore-on-Thames? The opposite is true: the bigger the Tory majority, the more drastic the party’s transformation. The principled reason is that the Lib Dems are closest to the liberalism on which this newspaper was founded. A strong Lib Dem showing would signal to voters who favour open markets and a liberal society that the centre is alive. The past few years have shown why Parliament needs good people such as Sam Gyimah, who left the Tories because of their extremism, and Chuka Umunna, who left Labour because of theirs. The course of Brexit has been repeatedly changed for the better by independent-minded mps making the running. If Britain withdraws from the EU in January, the Lib Dem MPs will be among the best advocates of a deep trade deal and the strongest opponents of no-deal. There is no good outcome to this nightmare of an election. But for the centre to hold is the best hope for Britain.

Voting Lib Dem could hurt the Tories as much as Labour
The Economist, Dec 7 2019

Perhaps the only view shared by Britain’s big parties is that backing the Lib Dems is a dire risk. The Tories claim:

A vote for the Lib Dems gets you Brexit. A vote for the Lib Dems risks putting Corbyn in Downing Street.

Both sides cannot be right. However, survey data of 100,000 Britons from YouGov imply that both parties are wrong. Because the Lib Dems have pulled votes equally from their two rivals, further growth in their support would probably cost both Labour and the Tories seats. With Labour neutral on Brexit, the Lib Dems are the main national pro-Remain party. Voters have noticed. YouGov’s data show that the few Leavers who backed the Lib Dems in 2017 largely plan to defect. But the party should pick up a fifth of the Remainers who voted Conservative last time, and 13% of Remain-supporting Labourites. This has doubled the Lib Dems’ vote share, from 7% in 2017 to 14% in YouGov’s poll. But it may not yield many new seats, because Lib Dem voters are spread out geographically. YouGov matched personal data from respondents with the demography of each constituency to estimate voting results in every seat. The Lib Dems come first in just 13. Jo Swinson’s party has fallen back in recent polls. However, late surges are common in British elections, particularly when tactical voting is widespread. How might the race change if the Lib Dems approach the 23% vote share they won in 2010? To find an answer, we scaled up their popularity in every constituency to reach a scenario in which their national vote share was 23%. First, we grouped Britons based on their Brexit vote and whom they supported at the last general election: for example, Leavers who voted Lib Dem in 2017. According to YouGov, just 30% of these people plan to stick with the Lib Dems. To get to a national share of 23%, the party would need its support in this category to double. Next, we estimated how many voters in each group (such as Labour Leavers) live in each constituency, to determine the seat-by-seat impact of a Lib Dem surge.

In terms of winning seats in England for themselves, the Lib Dems pose a serious threat only to the Tories. There are 13 seats in which those two parties are the front-runners and are separated by a single-digit margin. Between the Lib Dems and Labour, the only close fight is in Sheffield Hallam. However, the Lib Dems could still hurt Labour by taking votes from them and letting the Tories sneak through. This is especially likely in Tory-Labour marginals in the north and Midlands. Which of these two effects is larger depends on tactical voting. We explored two endings for our hypothetical scenario: one in which Lib Dems surge uniformly, and one in which they disproportionately rally in seats where their former supporters have reluctantly flipped to Labour, hoping to prevent a hard Conservative Brexit. If the swing is uniform, the Tories will lose out most, with perhaps 25 seats going from blue to yellow. If tactical Labour voters flock back to the Lib Dems, it will be Jeremy Corbyn who suffers more. But in both cases, late gains for Britain’s third party would leave the main two worse off.

“Get Brexit done”? It’s not as simple as Boris Johnson claims
The Economist, Dec 5 2019

As in 2017, this was meant to be a Brexit election. Also as in 2017, it has quickly morphed into one about the NHS, security and terrorism. Yet the pithiest slogan of the campaign is still Boris Johnson’s much-repeated promise to “Get Brexit Done.” And although his poll lead has narrowed, the odds are that this pledge will help bring him victory. The question is: what then? With a Tory majority, Parliament seems sure to ratify the Article 50 withdrawal agreement that Mr Johnson renegotiated in October in time for Britain to leave the EU by Jan 31. The European Parliament, whose consent is needed, should do the same. The psychological importance of Brexit formally happening will be profound, not least because it will kill the argument for holding a second referendum. Yet Brexit will still not be done. On Feb 1, Britain will move into a transition phase, when it must abide by all EU rules, that ends on Dec 31. Mr Johnson’s plan is to negotiate and ratify a best-in-class free-trade deal during this period. There is a provision to extend the deadline by one or two years, but this has to be agreed on before Jul 1. And the Tory manifesto declares in bold type:

We will not extend the implementation period beyond Dec 2020.

Both houses of Parliament must also pass a mass of other legislation to replace the EU’s laws and regulations when the transition period ends. These include bills on fisheries, agriculture, trade and customs, immigration and financial services. Several are both long and controversial, which is why they have made minimal progress in the past two years. More problematic will be the talks on future relations with the EU. These will be far more difficult than the Article 50 negotiations, supposedly an easy first stage. A new deal must cover trade, security, data, research, student exchanges, farming and fish, to name but a few areas. The list is so extensive that the result will be a “mixed” agreement, under Article 218, that needs unanimous approval and ratification by 27 national and several regional parliaments. The Institute for Government notes that less ambitious EU trade deals with Ukraine, Canada, South Korea, Japan and Singapore have taken between four and nine years to negotiate and ratify. That is why many are urging Mr Johnson to seek more time. But this will be tricky, and not just because of his manifesto pledge. In transition, Britain will be in a form of vassalage, obliged to apply all EU laws and regulations with no say in making them. Extending the time limit requires unanimous approval, and that may come with conditions such as access to British fisheries. It would also mean more money, as Brussels would expect a hefty contribution from Britain, probably without keeping its current budget rebate.

Mr Johnson’s team responds to such gloom with four arguments. First, he was told that he would be unable to reopen Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, and yet he did it. But this analogy does not work. His substantive change was to accept an original Brussels proposal to avert a hard border in Ireland by in effect leaving Northern Ireland alone in a customs union, implying border checks in the Irish Sea. Presumably Mr Johnson does not want to do a trade deal by a similar process of repeated concessions to the EU. The second line is that a good trade deal should be easy, because Britain and Brussels start in complete alignment. Yet Mr Johnson’s explicit plan is to diverge from EU rules and regulations. He has recently even said he wants more flexibility over state aid. Brussels has reacted badly: the EU fears being undercut by a deregulated offshore competitor. Without what it calls a level playing-field, it says it must limit access to its single market. Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group consultancy says that negotiating a trade deal that erects barriers will always be harder and take longer than a normal deal that does the opposite. A third claim is that setting a deadline is the only way to galvanise trade talks. With enough political will, a deal can always be done. Yet Sam Lowe of the Centre for European Reform says the sole practical option in such a short time would be a bare-bones deal that covered goods trade alone. Such a deal might avoid the need for parliamentary ratification. But it would do nothing for services, which make up 80% of Britain’s economy and half its trade. It would not cover security, data and much else. And the lesson from the Article 50 experience is that a tight deadline forces Britain to make concessions, which might range from fisheries to Gibraltar. Fourth, many Tories maintain that if no trade deal can be done in time, leaving on WTO terms would be fine. The withdrawal agreement would still cover EU citizens, money and Northern Ireland. Yet reliance on the WTO is dodgy when the system is under threat from Donald Trump. It would imply extensive tariffs and non-tariff barriers. And it would bring back all the fears of lorry queues, shortages of medicine and food, and problems for airlines and energy supplies that led both Mrs May and then Mr Johnson not to press for a no-deal Brexit. The damage of no deal would be severe, cutting 8% off income per head after ten years. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests the budget deficit would hit 4% of GDP and the public debt would rise sharply. Far from getting Brexit done, as Mr Johnson says, next year promises to repeat 2019’s experience of missed deadlines and cliff-edges to no-deal.

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