Bernard Ingham: There is only one serious choice at the next election

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IT may come as a surprise to some readers that I have not been a member of any political party for nearly half a century. I left the Labour Party in 1967 when I became a civil servant and have not since been tempted to end my independence.

This does not stop me from bluntly warning anyone who intends to vote anything but straight Conservative at next year’s general election that they will be recklessly damaging both themselves and the nation. In short, they will act like idiots.

This is not because I think the average Labour MP is out to hurt the electorate any more than I regard the Tories as being the best thing since sliced bread.

Indeed, Labour desperately wants to reward at least 35 per cent of the electorate – the minimum calculated necessary to secure them a general election victory. They are generally the less well off and I have nothing against a political party that wants to give the poorer members of society a leg up.

Every time I see an underdog I want to support it.

This, needless to say, is not why I think everybody should vote Tory next May. They are supposed to be the dominant force in the current coalition, but they have not made political hay out of the last five years.

Rather, they are ending office fractiously, impatient with David Cameron’s suspected wetness and with far too many of them not with their eye on the main ball but on Europe and immigration – important though secondary issues that Labour will not improve.

That cannot be said of Chancellor George Osborne. His much too generous Autumn Statement spoke volumes for his aim: first, win the election so that he can continue to prescribe the medicine necessary for the restoration of the nation’s financial health.

Hence his intensely political spraying of a few billions we don’t have on measures calculated to dish the opposition – or, I should say, oppositions – next May.

This financial year, coinciding with an election, may stick out like a sore thumb when it comes to reducing an initial £156bn budget deficit that is still after 
five years far too close to £100bn for comfort.

Just think of all that dead money going in interest to our capitalist creditors.

The Chancellor obviously thinks it a price worth paying if the Tories can win the election outright. Labour curiously seems to be all too ready to thrust even more riches into the hands of the capitalists who keep us afloat.

After all, Ed Balls promised not merely to match increased Tory spending on the NHS but also to dole out another £2bn on top.

That is just the sort of weakness that helps to perpetuate Labour’s dodgy record in handling our finances. It is why we know now that a Labour government next year would end in a crash. It is what Labour governments do because they have to re-fight the class war at every opportunity instead of dedicating themselves to wealth creation to fund a better, stronger Britain.

Such a crash is all the more likely – and to come sooner – if Labour is elected in coalition with the Scottish Nationalists who seek to establish a socialist paradise, partly on English money, north of the border.

Similarly, voting Lib Dem, Ukip or Green is an indulgence that will almost certainly bounce back and bite them – and us – in the backside.

Which brings me to all those, notably in South Yorkshire and my now unrecognisably trendy native Hebden Bridge, who regard the Conservatives as the Devil incarnate.

Theirs is an astonishing moral superiority over “those rotten Tories”, given the Conservatives’ record across a century or more of financial rectitude and social reform.

They only went badly wrong when they briefly fell in with the post-war tripartite consensus and allowed the unions to run the economy. Margaret Thatcher stopped all that nonsense.

Time and again the electorate has had to call, however unwillingly as in 2010, on “those rotten Tories” to restore our economic fortunes. Time and again they have obliged with a repair job. An independent observer might be excused for thinking that it is time the penny dropped in an intelligent nation.

Well, in five months’ time we shall discover how intelligent – or how thick – we are.

I profoundly hope we show some common sense and that the traumatic effect will at last convert Labour into a creative and responsible opposition.

We need that almost as much as we need George Osborne for the next five years.