Here’s the verdict of The Economist’s columnist on British politics, the pseudonymous Bagehot:
In some ways, miraculous to report, the Liberal Democrats have the most mature position on the deficit. Nick Clegg, their leader, this week demoted some of the party’s spending pledges (for example, on pensions and university funding) to aspirations, pre-emptively narrowing his manifesto to a few, affordable core themes. He has not promised to protect any departmental budgets. Vince Cable, his Treasury spokesman, has a longer list of items for the chop than Mr Osborne, including some cherished defence projects, but accepts that the axeman’s hand should be stayed for another year.
There is a sting in the tail:
Sadly, the chaotic announcement of one of the Lib Dems’ main revenue-raising measures—a new “mansions tax”, first directed at homes worth more than £1m, a threshold later doubled—hardly inspired confidence.
Which is harsh, but not totally unfair.
The Tories meanwhile come in for a battering from the Economist. Just as Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne gears up to cut budgets as soon as June, Bagehot accuses the party of being “hasty as well as timid”:
One explicit difference between Mr Brown’s plans and Mr Cameron’s is that the latter wants to start cutting this year, despite the risk of stalling the crawl out of recession. In that, he is probably mistaken, just as he was wrong to oppose Mr Brown’s fiscal stimulus. In both cases, the Tories may have subordinated sensible economic thinking to political positioning.