GE2015 minus 04: red lines and blatant lies

Posted: 3 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

To describe a limit beyond which you can’t go as a ‘red line’ has been part of the English – and surprisingly, Hebrew – language for quite some time, longer than you might think. No, for once, it wasn’t Shakespeare who came up with the phrase, but a journalist covering the Battle of Balaclava, who used it to refer to the appearance of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment and parts of the Turkish army as they stood before (and repelled) a vastly superior force of Russian cavalry, with the words: “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel”. This action was later described by Rudyard Kipling in the poem Tommy as “the thin red line of ‘eroes [heroes].” But in the intervening years, and particularly the past decade or so, it’s entered the political vernacular, and – in the UK at least – never moreso than in the current election campaign.

I’ve mentioned before how I think manifestos in their current format are past their sell-by date, and really don’t apply in a situation where any and all of the policies can be bartered away in order to at least ensure that some of your policies do get enacted. Although Ed Miliband and David Cameron have done everything but swear on a stack of bibles that they won’t negotiate away their manifestos in order to gain, or continue in, respectively, power, no-one with any political nous believes them. Like all political promises that can’t in the end be lived up to, they rest on a belief that… “people understand.” And the sad thing is that people do understand… most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, were Labour to gain power and then not repeal the hated ‘bedroom tax’, or The Conservatives continue in power, but with the support of the SNP, people wouldn’t ‘understand’. Not at all.

But, say, if the Tories can’t once again increase the inheritance tax threshhold to a million pounds, or Labour didn’t enact legislation to end time-limited visits for older people in social care to take an example from their manifesto, people probably would understand, to be honest.

What’s interesting this weekend though, is that the parties, while the Tories and Labour maintain that they’re going for a majority, have started setting out their ‘red lines’ for any negotiations. The Liberal Democrats are being as plain as they can be; I suspect they’ve learned from 2010 and are now putting out their demands in advance in a way that lets the other parties know what the price of their support will be. But both Labour and the Conservatives are slipping out their own red lines.

Kind of reminds me of what I suggested for manifestos, doesn’t it?

The full piece is in that link but basically, I said that manifestos should have three parts:

(I) The dealbreakers:;Six items that WILL be in any coalition agreement; these are the items that will be translated into statute. If another party has a contradictory item in their list of dealbreakers, those parties cannot form a coalition.

(II) The aspirations: the intellectual backbone of the party’s agenda, limited to twenty separate points. Policies that the vast majority of the party’s supporters (and potential voters) would like enacted in a world where the party has a secure working majority and “events, dear boy, events” don’t get in the way. But – and it’s an important but – everyone understands that if a coalition is formed, these are the things that may have to go by the wayside. These are the negotiable points for a coalition agreement.

(III) The wishlist: the policies that don’t form any part of a coalition agreement, and are the first chucked overboard in negotiation.

Thing is, we’re kind of getting the dealbreakers now, but after the manifestos have been printed and published. And, as I said the other day, any such promises or pledges are meaningless, given that parties derive their moral authority to govern by the votes they’ve received for their manifestos. And there’s nothing in the manifestos saying what’s a red line.

I mentioned a moment ago that both Cameron and Miliband keep saying that they’re going for a majority. As Steve Townsley has pointed out, what else would you expect them to say? One problem with this is that virtually no-one believes a single party working majority is achievable in this election. The bigger problem however, is that the public, the voters, the electorate… know the party leaders know this as well.

Just over ten years ago, when Tony Blair was forced to a commons vote about higher education funding, I wrote the following:

I’m getting worried about Tony Blair.

No, seriously.

He went on television this morning and when asked whether he’d call a confidence vote if MPs voted against the government’s reforms for higher education funding (which include ‘top up fees’), replied “I haven’t contemplated defeat”.

Now either he’s lying or he genuinely hasn’t contemplated what happens if he loses the debate. And if that’s the case, then he’s obviously mentally unwell. Every poll of MPs shows that there are far more than the required 81 members of his own party ready (some might say ‘eager’) to vote against the proposals.

And Tony Blair hasn’t contemplated defeat on the issue?

Either he’s lying or he’s mentally unsound.

I know which I’d go for.

Well, I’m getting the same feeling about both Cameron and Miliband. Nick Clegg was absolutely right when he picked up on their common use of the phrase ‘darkened room’* to indicate where deals would take place to suggest that if they truly believed that no negotiations post 7th May would be necessary, they should go into that same darkened room for a much needed rest. That’s the politest way I’ve ever heard of saying that they’re talking bollocks.

(* Isn’t it interesting that they used “darkened room” instead of what used to be the common phrase – “smoke filled rooms”? I guess they both thought that the idea of a smoke fllled room is now inconceivable…)

Either the two party leaders with a shot of being Prime Minister after Thursday truly believe that they can achieve a single party working majority, in which case they’re deranged and should stand down immediately, or they’re lying, wilfully attempting to mislead the very people upon whose votes they rely.

As with Blair, I’m pretty sure which it is.

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