That leaves a low bar for the Liberal Democrats, 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 hardleft 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. Mr Corbyn is preparing to govern with the Scottish National Party, 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 Brexitbacking 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.