GE2015 minus 06: maybe we need manifesto codicils…

Posted: 1 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

Codicil isn’t a word that’s bandied around much, and certainly not during the election campaign. If you don’t know what a codicil is, I’m saying you’re not alone. Here’s the definition:

The manifestos of the parties were released a couple of weeks back. Their election pledges are in the pages of the manifestos. When you vote for the candidate of your choice, you know on what platform they’re standing: the party manifesto, or in the case of an independent, their personal one.

Except these days, you can’t rely on the manifesto. Despite the fervent and passionate denials by both Miliband and Cameron last night, some of the manifesto just won’t be enacted into legislation. For a start, there are the post-election deals that will have to occur; not necessarily formal deals, but deals nonetheless. Then there are the bits that fall by the wayside during the normal course of legislative events; some things won’t work in practice, some things won’t be affordable, and some things you’ll get MPs rebelling on. And finally, there’s the rather inconvenient fact that even a majority government can’t possibly enact their entire manifesto; there simply isn’t time in the parliamentary timetable. Even if the timetable was changed so that MPs worked five days a week, 52 weeks a year, there still wouldn’t be time to enact every bit of legislation, not without abandoning proper parliamentary scrutiny. (That’s not a recommendation against increasing the time MPs are at Westminster; I think it’s a joke that they only spend as little time in the House as they do.)

So, you’ve got the mainfestos and you know that at least some of the manifesto will be put into legislation. After all, they’re not going to pass any legislation that’s not in the manifesto, are they? Well, yeah, the thing is, they will.

Firstly, there are Private Members’ Bills that might attract government support. Then there are MacMillan’s “events, dear boy, events”. Sometimes things happen that require legislation that weren’t – or couldn’t have been – foreseen at the time of the election. That’s fair; things happen… to every government.

And then there are the things that really should require codicils to the Manifestos. They’re the things that an increasingly desperate party leader promises in the final days of an election campaign. They’re things that, no matter what they say now, weren’t considered in any way part of the offer to the electorate twenty-four hours before they were delivered in a speech. Because, obviously enough, had they been thought of – and thought important – when the manifesto was developed and created… they would have been in the bloody thing. 

But here’s the thing: we elect candidates based upon the platform upon which they’re standing for office. And it’s utterly plain that the platform is that which is in their manifesto. Any government’s mandate gets its moral authority from it’s manifesto, not from things that aren’t in the manifesto, and that includes the last minute promises.

So, because it’s not in their manifesto, the Tories are not standing for election on a platform of not cutting child benefit, despite Cameron’s pledge today not to do so.

And the same applies to new policies announced since manifesto publication for any other party.

So, maybe yeah. Maybe we do need manifesto codicils, something that allows the parties to claim – with justification – that they have a mandate for these last minute promises. And maybe, just maybe, that would allow the voters to know what the fuck they’re voting for.

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