How can a politician not break a promise? By not making one in the first place
Last night I was at the launch of the 8th annual Audit of Political Engagement report with Mark Harper MP, Hazel Blears MP and Lord Kirkwood as guest speakers.
One of the interesting results from the report was that satisfaction with Parliament has fallen (27% satisfied) and Lord Kirkwood and Hazel blears both addressed the anger and betrayal felt by many of the electorate.
Lord Kirkwood – a Liberal Democrat peer - has an interesting solution of how to restore trust in politicians and satisfaction with Parliament - do away with policy commitments and manifesto pledges during elections. After describing the solemn pledge on tuition fees signed by Liberal Democrats as “madness”, he argued that politicians and parties will have to be more disciplined in making promises in the future as manifestos can too easily be held as a noose around a government’s neck and hold them back.
It is an interesting argument and raises some important questions about our system of democracy. Should we be holding governments to their manifesto promises? Do we want political parties to produce a list of promises they think can win them the election?
As Lord Kirkwood pointed out manifestos can become quickly outdated and therefore implementing them may not always be the best thing to do. It also stokes feelings of distrust and betrayal when a promise is lot enacted - for whatever reason. Therefore, if politicians do not make promises then they can’t break them, and therefore cause public mistrust and anger.
In this new era of coalition politics and with coalitions potentially becoming more common should we become less sentimental about campaign promises? We surely have to accept that for a coalition to work there will have to be compromises - neither party won a majority meaning that no party’s manifesto convinced the public enough.
The flip side of course is a lack of accountability – what standard do we hold our politicians to? And how do we decide who to vote for? Although, of course, the vast majority of the public do not study manifestos closely before choosing where to place their “X” (or perhaps their “1”, “2” or “3”).
Perhaps it will free politicians up to be better legislators – which is after all their primary purpose – if they are not tied to a set of promises made up to five years previously?