20th Mar 2017
How many people go to the bother of reading an election manifesto?
What evidence is there that those who vote for a candidate do so because they agree with his or her party’s manifesto commitments in full?
And what do the answers to these questions say about the state of our Parliamentary system of democracy?
These thoughts sprung to mind after watching the antics of Theresa May and Philip Hammond (May/Ham) in Westminster, coupled with Nicola Sturgeon’s theatrics at Holyrood.
In London, May/Ham caused mayhem for the country because they failed to read, or understand, their own manifesto.
Up in Edinburgh, Sturgeon tried to cause mayhem for May/Ham on the basis of a commitment in her party’s manifesto, but failed spectacularly.
Philip Hammond ascended to the grand office of Chancellor of the Exchequer on the back of a reputation for being fastidious.
Fiasco Phil will now be remembered for the National Insurance debacle.
And it is not simply because of his humiliating climbdown. Had the taxation changes gone ahead his reputation might have suffered anyway.
May/Ham tried to argue the changes were necessary in the interests of “fairness”.
This presented them with two problems.
First of all, taxing the self-employed in this manner was clearly unfair because millions of people who work for themselves are already disadvantaged.
If things go wrong in their lives they are not entitled to the array of state benefits available to those employed in a secure job, or, for that matter, asylum seekers and refugees.
In the interests of fairness, Mr Hammond’s first step should have been to extend those benefits to the self-employed. Had he done so, his NI increase would have been more palatable.
The second problem is one of principle.
If these proposals are fair, as May/Ham argued, then by backtracking on their introduction they are deliberately perpetuating an unfair system.
However, as we frequently find, principles and politics are strange bedfellows.
Which brings us to Nicola Sturgeon.
The commitment to another independence referendum is in the SNP’s manifesto for the Holyrood elections of 2016.
But it is not easy to find, as the wording is buried deep on page 23. It specifically says that if Scotland is dragged against its will from the EU this would be grounds for a new referendum.
However, opinion polls show that many SNP voters were among the million plus Scots who voted to leave the EU.
In other words, people voted for the SNP despite disagreeing with its most important manifesto commitment.
So now we know the answers to the first two questions posed at the start of this article.
Not everyone bothers to read an election manifesto and not everyone who votes for a party agrees with everything in the party’s manifesto.
Which leaves manifestos not worth the paper they are written on.
What about the third, and most vital question?
Clearly, the lack of respect political parties show to their manifestos and the electorate highlights the basic flaw in the current system.
It is a system in which the party leadership wields almost all of the power, while party members are whipped into toeing the party line – even if they disagree with their masters or mistresses.
Of course, there are instances of rebellions within the ranks but they are too few and far between to make a substantive difference.
If, as we advocate, our elected representatives were naturally independent, and act on what they believe are the voters’ best interests, we would live in a fairer and more equitable society.
But so long as political parties use their power to seek more power for extended periods, while flouting manifestos and breaking promises, we’ll remain in the dark ages of true democracy.