My view is that the newspaper should continue to advocate support for both Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates, as their table shows they have often done not just in recent elections, but across much of the post-war period.
There was a very good Guardian editorial yesterday, arguing that Labour was not arguing strongly enough for its own distinctive progressive arguments and policies, going on to highlight areas where the party has a strong claim to have a more radical and egalitarian agenda than the Liberal Democrats, and which ought to be a stronger part of its argument in a contest for progressive votes:
This diminishes the wider public debate as well as Labour's prospects. There are values, notably solidarity and regard for the poorest, which are as distinctive to the labour tradition as freedom is to the liberal one. What is more, the government could lay a decent claim to these on the basis of both its record and its manifesto. Where the Lib Dems had originally wanted a variable minimum wage which was lower in poorer regions, Labour introduced a national rate which it now pledges to peg to average earnings. Over rights at work and in its understanding of the proper role of trade unions, Labour has made the running. And whereas the Liberal Democrats are proposing a super-size cut to income tax, a levy not paid by the poorest, Labour's fiscal stimulus last year came through VAT, so the benefit trickled right the way down to the bottom of the heap.
Mr Clegg, like his Conservative counterpart, may hint that Britain's social democratic experiment has failed, yet there are still voters keen to see the frontiers of the welfare state advanced. Some, if not all, of what the right decried as New Labour meddling has worked – targeted efforts to cut road deaths in poor areas being a good example. In a reasonably spirited weekend interview, Gordon Brown attacked Lib Dem plans to trim tax credits for those on decent incomes, and to axe the universal child trust fund completely. But when everybody knows money is tight, what was needed was a principled case for continuing to spend on these particular things
On other issues, most notably civil liberties, The Guardian has been closer to the Liberal Democrats and critical of Labour's approach.
Anyway, here's my suggestion, taking into account how the pre-election editorial could reflect the newspaper's editorial positions.
The Guardian should ask what outcome would bring about the New Politics it has been advocating, and provide an effective and fair approach to the economy.
Given the current polls, it should argue that the Guardian progressive voice would be much stronger if the Conservative party does not win a majority with 326 seats, and argue that the best outcome would be a non-Conservative government, ideally with Labour and the LibDems working together on the economy, the deficit and political reform.
It might conclude that its readers should support the best placed centre-left candidate (especially where this would help to prevent a Conservative gain), including for the incumbent party in most current Labour and LibDem seats. That might mean choosing between their local parties and candidates where more than one of Labour, the LibDems and Greens are in contention.
While the paper has been warm towards the Conservatives when they have been more centrist, it should surely assess that the case is not proven as to how far the policy platform or party have moved away from Thatcherism.
It has rightly been on Labour's side of the argument over the big economic decisions, and broadly with the LibDems on political reform, while making progress in pushing Labour to deepen its agenda on electoral reform and the Lords.