Where are the manifestos?

Submitted by Zac Muddle on 20 November, 2019 - 11:18 Author: Rhodri Evans
British Labour Party's leader Keir Hardie's electoral manifesto from the 1906 General Election

Labour’s manifesto is due to be published on 21 November, almost halfway through the election campaign which started on 6 November and will end on 12 December.

The Tories will publish their manifesto around the end of November, more like two-thirds of the way through the campaign.

The Lib Dems, too, have not published their manifesto yet.

From all reports, the delay is not because of last-minute wrangling, but a deliberate ploy.

It seems common sense that parties should publish their manifestos at the start of the election campaign. The manifestos should be crisp summaries of what the parties have discussed, decided, and proposed over the previous months and years. That was the norm until recently.

In 1964, for example, when Labour won an election to end 13 continuous years of Tory rule, the Labour manifesto was, and was well-known to be, really a dressed-up new presentation of a (poor) policy document debated and voted through Labour Party conference three years earlier, in 1961.

Now it is the going wisdom in the political wonk-world — the little social sphere made up of politicians, advisers, lobbyists, think-tank people, etc. — that policies should be “announced” on a drip-feed during the election campaign, and all the better if they are “surprises” with little connection to the party’s previous arguments.

This is good politics only if we see political progress as coming through giving power to clever people who will surprise us with the boons they cascade down to us.

But if we see change as being pushed through essentially by a movement built “from below”, then that going wisdom is not good politics at all.

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