Financial Times backs Conservatives

LONDON (Reuters) - The Financial Times endorsed the Conservatives on Tuesday, giving them a boost before a general election to be held on Thursday.

The paper voiced concerns over the Conservatives’ hostility towards Europe and the inexperience of Conservative leader David Cameron’s team but concluded the party was the fittest contender for power.

“The problems facing the UK are daunting -- more so than any the country has faced since the 1970s,” the paper wrote in an editorial.

“They (the Conservatives) are not a perfect fit, but their instincts are sound. Their fiscal plans while vague, suggest they would do most to reduce the size of the state -- cutting more and taxing less than their opponents.”

“Britain needs a stable and legitimate government to navigate its fiscal crisis and punch its weight abroad. On balance the Conservative party best fits the bill.”

The FT, which has a circulation of about 400,000 in Britain, praised Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s response to the global credit crisis, but said his party had let the state grow too large at the risk of stifling the economy.

“As a crisis manager, Gordon Brown has been a better premier than his critics claim. But after 13 years, Labour needs a spell in opposition to rejuvenate itself,” the paper said.

Opinion polls show the centre-right Conservatives leading the election race, but suggest they may not have enough support to command an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament.

A strong showing in televised debates by Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has seen them overtake Labour in some polls.

While the FT found the Liberal Democrats’ policies on civil liberties and political reform appealing, it was unconvinced by their economic proposals.

“It is on the economy that doubts creep in. Their policy is an uneasy mix of sanctimony and populism.”

The newspaper, part of the Pearson media group, criticised all parties for failing to spell out in detail how they would resolve Britain’s fragile public finances and warned the next government could suffer from a “winner’s curse.”

Last week U.S. economist David Hale quoted the Bank of England governor Mervyn King as having told him that any incoming British government would need to launch an austerity drive so tough it would threaten its political survival.