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Is it time to ditch the Manifesto?

HP sauce bottle showing the Houses of Parliament

I cringe every time I hear or read of a politician saying, "When we get into power we will pass legislation to do x, y or z. " Besides the fact that often legislation is not required, this is why I cringe.

The tendency of proclaiming detailed manifestos often exaggerates the reliance on legislation as a remedy for political, social and economic problems whilst also underestimating the importance of both public and private debate that should precede legislation. This means that any new government is, as a result of detailed manifestos, committing themselves in practise to a surfeit of legislation on matters far from the central requirements of a stable and progressive government. This effectively puts it in disrepute by creating expectations beyond the possibility of fulfilment.

Rishi Sunak has possibly fallen into this trap with his five pledges to acheive by the end of 2023 that few members of the public can recall more than two of them. To jog your memory they are: halve inflation, grow economy, reduce national debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats. Of these five "stop the boats" has become the most memorable as the government has struggled to get its legislation passed. Ironically, if appropriate resources were put into asylum claims processing to make it fair (to both the UK and the immigrant), rapid and effective there would be no need for this legislation. Of the five pledges reducing inflation and waiting lists in the NHS are possibly the two areas that have the most impact on ordinary people.

Meanwhile we see Kier Starmer condemned for not committing to promise actions should he get into power. This has seen Unite threaten funding because of Kier Starmer's lack of making promises as he is seen as lacking ambition. Monday 17th July saw the headline, "Conservative Starmer faces backlash over refusal to scrap child benefit cap." Yet Tuesday's paper had a survey of over 4000 adults with 60% supporting the retaining of the child benefit cap at two children!

Perhaps if we are to herald a new era of democratic politics that promotes the freedom of the individual to fulfil their potential in a free and fair society whilst meeting the external challenges of our time we should take comfort from the one policy Kier Starmer has committed to, the promotion of "oracy" the ability to speak publicly and express yourself coherently. The reason behind this is that we need to get away from slogan politics of "Stop the boats", "Just Stop Oil" or whatever banner you wish to wave and instead value public and private debate to explain and develop policy for our time. It is only in this way that we can decide key issues, like proper housing policy; what the NHS can and can't do; energy policy; freedom of individuals. Equally we need to answer people's fears and restore a democracy where the electorate are listened to rather than condemned as racists or any equivalent slur that dismisses the fearful. For if we do not do this we will increasingly be hearing the voices of the vocal minority of extremists over a reasonable majority.

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