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5 May 2015, 05:00
The Independent newspaper has backed the continuation of a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government if Thursday's General Election produces the expected hung parliament.
In a verdict that took many Westminster observers by surprise, the newspaper said a minority Labour administration reliant on the support of the SNP would be "a disaster for the country".
Not only did Ed Miliband's opposition appear "unready for government" in too many policy areas, there would be "justified fury" if nationalists seeking the break-up of the UK were to hold sway, it said in an editorial.
By contrast, it went on: "For all its faults, another Lib-Con coalition would both prolong recovery and give our kingdom a better chance of continued existence."
But in a stark caveat based on a glowing assessment of the contribution made by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, it concluded: "This title casts no vote.
"But we prize strong, effective government, consider nationalism guilty until proven innocent, and say that if the present coalition is to get another chance, we hope it is much less conservative, and much more liberal.''
"A hung parliament is certain this week. For all his talk of no deals with the SNP, Miliband is bound to rely on that party to get his legislative programme through," the editorial read.
"This would be a disaster for the country, unleashing justified fury in England at the decisive influence of MPs who - unlike this title - do not wish the Union to exist.
"If that were to be the case while Labour were the second biggest party either in terms of vote share, or seats - or both - how could Labour govern with authority? They could not."
Mr Miliband had conducted an "impressive campaign", the newspaper conceded, "yet in key areas his policy prescriptions suggest a party unready for government".
It cited the cut in tuition fees, rent controls and the mansion tax as prime examples.
Smaller parties received short shrift from the newspaper, the Greens described as an "economically illiterate" disappointment and Ukip said to "have contributed important ideas on freedom, but are essentially at war with globalisation and modernity".
While the SNP was "an agent of change, with impressive leaders in both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon", it was "a wrecking ball poised to hit Westminster".
"To splinter our country, either through Scottish independence or withdrawal from the EU, would be fatally stupid," it said.
Despite the "gnashing of teeth" that greeted its creation in 2010, the coalition had "governed competently", leaving the country "more indebted and less influential, but stable and growing".
It did not hold back in criticism of the Tories, declaring that "the young have been unfairly targeted to protect the old, the record on house-building is dire and the NHS mismanaged".
It said of David Cameron's record as Prime Minister: "Excessive austerity in the first phase of his reign, consistent failure to meet debt and deficit targets, and a worrying lack of productivity notwithstanding, Britain's economy is now growing reasonably well.
"Given the state of the eurozone, creating two million mostly decent jobs is an exceptional achievement. Plans to create a northern powerhouse are also welcome."
It also heaped praise on the party's education policies.
"The economy aside, in one vital respect Tories deserve tremendous credit: a million more pupils are now at schools rated good or outstanding. This title cherishes education. Such success cannot be ignored."
The politician who will be best pleased with the verdict on him will be Mr Clegg, who the paper described as "a principled, effective politician who could hold another coalition together" and said it hoped he retained his seat.
He had been "right" on tuition fees despite the fallout from his party's u-turn and should seek to be education secretary in any new tie-up, it suggested of the erstwhile deputy prime minister.
"On raising the income tax threshold, the pupil premium, early years learning and apprenticeships, the Lib Dems have been a force for progress."