Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A promise Kept, a Promise Broken, and ???Pledges...

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.


  1. Yes, I agree with all that, and am waiting to see how LibDem MPs actually vote before deciding whether I can continue my party membership.

  2. I agree that it is difficult to offer any defence of the Lib Dem pledge fiasco except the mitigating circumstances that opposition parties take potentially embarrassing populist positions, all the more so when they've been in opposition for 60+ years.
    I am struck by the media consensus that the LibDem debate on this issue is a bad indeed irresponsible and pathetic thing. This seems to me to be a deeply undemocratic point of view. Not long ago it was common for parties to have sharp internal debates in public (think of Labour pre-New Labour). Issues were ventilated. Leaders really had to defend their positions. The public was informed. Now parties have to be monoliths, obsessively on message, to satisfy target voters who feel uncomfortable with political disagreement and the media pack fixated with 'splits'.
    One good outcome of the LibDems 'indiscipline' (and the differing opinions within the other two parties too) has been that the issues have been seriously debated and clarified. That is how democracy should work.

  3. Mitigation? Embarrassing populist positions? What nonsense. Jaime is squirming to justify an untenable position.

  4. I agree with you, Jaime, that parties ought to be able to air their disagreements in public, that if they did our democracy would be healthier, and that we should not pander to the media's obsession with potential splits and attacks on leaders. However, I can't agree that this particular debate has clarified the issues.

    1. There has been little discussion of alternative methods of funding universities and their students, such as Caroline Lucas's suggestion of a 4% business education tax, or an increase in the level of Corporation Tax to the G7 average, (also advocated by the UCU) which, if hypothecated to higher education, would raise enough to abolish fees altogether and provide adequate funding for the universities.(see Guardian letters, 5th November, 2010)

    2. I have sen no discussion in the media (I have not had time to listen to the parliamentary debates) of the fact that, since fees are not paid up-front, then the government presumably pays them, so the cost to current funding is increased by higher fees. Hence the excuse of the "current parlous state of the finances" is clearly nonsense, as any stream of income from higher fees will not start to flow for many years. I have raised this issue in a previous post and asked for a contradiction if it is untrue, but no one has responded

    3. Ed Milliband, and belatedly Alan Johnson, have come out in favour of a graduate tax, but there has been no explanation of how they would deal with the difficulties and anomalies (outlined in my earlier post "No Graduation without Taxation.") which would arise.

    In support of greater openness, I've picked up somewhere that two motions about tuition fees were submitted for debate at the Liberal Democrat special conference to endorse the coalition , and neither was allowed. So party managers and their attempt to quash discussion and achieve a spurious unity are partly to blame for our present predicament.