May 24, 2017

Horse 2276 - Manifestos Are Pointless, So Let's Have A Manifesto

With the Labour Party's manifesto leaking early, the Tories' manifesto being as dull as dishwater, the Lib Dems' manifesto as credible as firing a fifteen inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it coming back and hitting you, and UKIP's manifesto being as sane as nineteen cats trapped in a hession sack, I wondered what the point of publishing them actually is.

In Australia, there generally isn't this phenomenon of publishing a distinct document which contains all of the policies upon which you intend to run on. The Australian Labor Party's 100 policies in the 2015 election counts as a manifesto and the Liberal Party famously said that they had a "plan" when what they really had was a grammatically terrible pamphlet. Due to many of these sorts of things over the years, the Australian public over many election cycles has been sufficiently trained by both major political parties that even if they were to have the Prime Minister stare down the camera on the eve of Election Night and make unequivocal statements, they will still be lies. We're also used to the fact that after spending six weeks critising the enemy, if they happen to win government, they will do exactly the thing which they've spent six weeks critising.
In the UK though, manifestos are actually still presented with sincerity and from the outside, that just looks plain daft. The tradition of publishing coherent manifestos by the political parties in the UK is definitely​ a thing.

In this election, Labour has been accused of publishing a manifesto which could have come right out of the 1970s, which includes renationalising the railways, and water companies and the electricity companies. I personally see a great deal of sense in there as ideas, considering that the largest electricity supplier in the UK is Électricité de France which is owned by the French Government and to be perfectly honest competition among the railways is a functional lie as the private companies basically have regional monopolies instead of a state owned national one.
The Tories on the other hand have walked backwards​ on previous promises and intend to extract the cost of care of the elderly from their estate, place a cap on energy prices whilst at the same time removing heating allowances, as well as removing the so called triple lock on pensions.
This comes after a series of Osbourne budgets have championed austerity.
Neither of the manifestos address any concrete plans for dealing with Brexit, because being handed a decision by the British people and as the result of a policy by a political party who has zero seats, by a Prime Minister who resigned, and with absolutely no idea as to how to go about it, renders making such plans impossible. Instead, the Tories are hoping that by repeating the words "strong and stable leadership" over and over again that they will fall over the line in a fait accompli as opposed to Labour who is too busy being in opposition to itself to provide any sort of resistance.
So why bother to produce a document which virtually nobody reads and which in this case is mostly like looking into a future which is as clear as the 1954 London Fog? Because manifestos aren't for the general public, they serve an entirely different purpose.

For a government which is being returned, the MPs already have a good idea of how the system of actual governance works. For them, the manifestos serve to provide a reminder of where they intend to be. For a newly installed government and especially one where the party hasn't had the benefit of the civil service to do their grunt work for them, it provides talking points and a list of objectives which are there to be chased.
In principle a manifesto says that "we intend to do this, that, this, some of that and less of that thing", and so looking at the numbers that are attached with a bunch of footnotes at the back is mostly bunk but that doesn't mean to say that they are useless. If a party has a political wish list on the other side of winning the election and government, then stands a better chance of properly writing the necessary legislation to make those things happen.

If you look through the history of manifestos, most of them tend to be incredibly timid, for having committed policy to publication there is the obvious outcome that a government will be held to it. An opposition party, even if it agrees with nothing in the newly elected government's manifesto always has the weapon of pointing out the supposed incompetence of the new government in not achieving what they intended to do despite the inherent hypocrisy of them actively trying to stop them from doing so. About the only memorable manifesto that ever made any lasting impact was the Labour Party's manifesto of 1945, which railed against the Conservatives in the inter-war period and intended to set out what they were going to do. Not that it made that much of a difference because it was, like any other manifesto, another piece of propaganda which was a wish list.
This election, like every other election since about 1992, has been about who intends to be a set of administrators of a slightly different flavour to the ones before them, set against a political climate where the Tories have ceased to be actually conservative and Labour has ceased to argue for the rights of labour.

You can go off and read the manifestos if you like but be prepared to be disappointed as they're not actually for the benefit of you. Unless there is an absolute major change in direction or outlook, as there was in 1979 when Ms Thatcher took the Tories to power, most manifestos are wish lists and tone documents. In this election there's nothing new to be gleaned.

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