According to today's paper Ed Milliband is to honour the Labour Party manifesto promise to support a referendum on a reform of the voting system by adding his name to the leadership campaign. Good or him, and what a pity the rest of Labour's MPs, who all fought and were elected on this manifesto, haven't the same integrity.
At the same time Ken Clarke has decided to ignore the Tory manifesto promise to make imprisonment the automatic punishment for carrying a knife. Good for him too. Mandatory sentences are a nonsense. We have magistrates and judges to decide on the merits of each individual case. Come to think of it, that's perhaps why judges are called judges: they're there to use their judgment. You'd think even Daily Mail readers would understand that.
As you'll gather from the above, it is possible in my view to be fairly relaxed about the contents of manifestos, cheering when the bits of which you approve are implemented, and being relieved when the bits with which you disagree are abandoned, quietly or, as in this case, very publicly.
Can the same relaxed attitude be taken to pledges? I think not, especially when the pledges have been blown up to photographable size, personally signed and then hawked around the target electorate with maximum publicity. One of my dictionaries (Pocket Oxford) defines a pledge as a "public promise" and the other (Chambers) as a "solemn promise." In other words these pledges are not vague aspirations tucked away in the small print: they are solemn and highly publicised promises.
The greatest danger to our political system at the moment is cynicism. If our MPs do not stick to their pledges tomorrow they forfeit our party's claim to integrity and merely fuel public cynicism and the belief that "we are all the same and none of us is to be trusted." They do not herald the new, more honest, politics of which Nick Clegg spoke so effectively in the Leaders' Debates.