GE2015 minus 33: “Do THIS! Oh, you’ve done it. Well, do THAT then…”

Posted: 4 April 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

I was listening to last night’s Any Questions on Radio 4, the first since the election campaign period started. Of course, the moment the first question was asked, both the Labour and Tory representatives took aim at the other for not ruling out a deal with other parties post-election. Labour were after the Conservatives to rule out any kind of deal with UKIP, and of course, the Tory politcian was trying to get Labour to rule out any kind of deal with the SNP. And both undertook verbal gymnastics to avoid giving any such assurance. You can’t really blame them. As one of them said – and it really doesn’t matter which one –  the moment a major party rules out any kind of deal, as opposed to a formal coalition, with one specific party, then the ravenous need to know wants confirmation about another party and another… and another. And so we end up with the usual “weasel words”, forms of wording used by politicians to avoid speaking the truth.

A common relatively recent form of words used is “we have no plans to…” do whatever the hell the politician has been asked about. Doesn’t matter what it’s about, it’s “we have no plans to” or “our plans don’t include…” It’s right up there with that classic “we understand that”, being rolled back later with a “we misunderstood…”

Sometimes – rarely, but sometimes – it’s entirely justifiable. Back in the days before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, no Prime Minister with the power to do so would ever have admitted to planning to call an election before he actually called it. It would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; similarly, until it’s announced, no one’s going to admit to planning for ‘bad news’ events, i.e. tax rises, or specific spending cuts. 

And there are some things where you’d castigate a politician for answering a straight question in an interview with a straight answer, either because the politician obviously doesn’t have the authority to answer on behalf of the party or when he or she does have that authority, but just can’t answer honestly; national security springs to mind.

And leaving aside, for now, the further cuts that are coming our way, none of which are being identified before we go to the polls, what really irritates me about the latest attacks by Labour saying the Conservatives will raise VAT again is the sheer, rank hypocrisy. One would think that the Labour government have never promised one thing and done the other. Yes, let’s get it straight: David Cameron, during the last election campaign, said

We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT.

Couldn’t be clearer. And George Osborne in his first, ’emergency’, budget raised VAT. Did he backtrack? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some folks think that Cameron blatantly lied, that he knew when when he said it that his government would have to or choose to raise the rate of VAT.

Thing is, that “we have no plans to” was also said by the great election winner for Labour, Tony Blair on behalf of the labour party, in 1997:

Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education.

Not only that, but in 2001’s manifesto, the Labour party said:

We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them.

And what do you know, they went ahead and introduced tuition fees, and top-up fees. And that was with a majority government, and in the last example, after they’d already been in government for four years.

Alan Johnson, the former Shadow Chancellor has said:

There will be occasions when politicians do have to do something different to what they said they’d do because circumstances change.

Precisely. Sometimes, conditions change, and it’d be a fool who clung to previous assurances which were made under entirely different conditions.

I know the old saying “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Combine that with the even older comment that “A week is a long time in politics” and that foreign country is a lot nearer than you realised.

Every party attacks other parties for breaking promises, whether or not the assurances were in their manifesto. And even when the change of mind has been called for, pleaded for, by the other party… the latter still attack the former, but this time for the dreaded U-turn. But attacking them specifically for breaking promises would just carry so much more weight if it wasn’t coming from politicians who (a) have broken promises before, and then lied about doing so, and (b) have admitted that sometimes you have to do so. 

Sometimes I think I just honestly don’t know enough – or maybe know too much – to be able to judge fairly all such accusations. 

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