Magazine article Public Finance

Winning Hearts and Minds

Magazine article Public Finance

Winning Hearts and Minds

Article excerpt

Promises, promises. The pseudo-launch of Labour's manifesto around last weekend's spring conference could not have been more aptly timed. How well the government's pledges chimed with those of the half-hearted lovers all around Britain whose Valentine's messages were more about saying what their partners wanted to hear than about expressing any real commitment.

Party manifestos are about as meaningful as those cards, and over the years, as the political landscape has shifted, don't they seem to get blander still?

Apart from the commitment to introduce ID cards, this weekend's opening gambits sounded pretty vague: 'modern schools', 'your family treated better and faster'. What does it all mean?

On the other hand, why wouldn't smart politicians play it this way surely the blander the promise sounds, the easier it is to keep?

It only takes a guick glance back over past manifestos to see why political parties like to keep their options wide open. Not many Labour ministers now talk about Robin Cook's ill-fated 'ethical foreign policy'. And what happened to 1997's promised referendum on the single currency, the 'greening' of every government department or the completion of House of Lords reform?

It's all a far cry from the grandstanding manifestos of the old days. The Attlee government's 1945 manifesto promised nothing less than public ownership of the Bank of England, as well as the fuel and power industries, inland transport, the iron and steel industry and the nationalisation of land. There would be 'jobs for all' and the government would undertake to buy and distribute free or cheap food to everyone who needed it.

It's a staggering reminder of just how much the role of government has changed in the past 60 years. Is the blandness of modern manifestos merely a sign that politicians recognise the limits of their power these days and that they realise policy priorities must change with changing economic and global circumstances? Partly so. But that's not the whole story.

The shifting of the political centre ground to delivery rather than ideology has left the three main political parties in a dilemma. They need to demonstrate enough concrete policy ideas to make them credible as a party which, given the chance, could push through effective public service reform. Give too much away, however, and you risk your best ideas being adopted by those already in power or else being ridiculed for being too unrealistic and ambitious.

It is no coincidence that, at a glance, the parties' proposals seem so similar - although the official manifestos have not yet even been published, of course. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.