To judge by the jumble of promises in the manifestos, more than any party is offeringby Bronwen Maddox / April 23, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Has the United Kingdom finally become “Little Britain”? You’d think so from this election campaign. The parties have largely avoided the big issues facing the country, producing micro-policies they hope will grab a day’s headlines and a few more votes, although there has been more care taken than in previous elections to make sure those make arithmetical sense. “Fully-costed” is the banner under which the parties now claim to march.
The real cost of seven years of crisis and austerity is now clear. It has given us the politics of the cash register, and politicians who struggle to explain their parties’ inspiration or to set out their vision for 2020, never mind beyond.
The Conservatives, under the slogans of “security” and “long-term economic plan,” have not made it clear what they think the point is of being Conservative. Is austerity a necessary discipline or an ideological retrenchment of the state? Only in his manifesto speech did David Cameron find the words for aspiration for Britain (and he focused more on those in work, not those without it). He also avoided talking about the referendum on Europe to which the manifesto commits him, although that could change the fortunes of the UK more than anything else in the text.
Labour has made inequality one of its big themes, although Tony Blair said so more directly than Ed Miliband. But it is uncomfortable with the constraints of the budget deficit, muddled on the conditions that foster growth, and Miliband fails to understand how he is seen as part of an unlikeable Westminster elite. Nor has it explained what it would concede to the Scottish National Party if it needed its support to govern—again, with potentially immense significance for the UK as it now is.
“The jumble of panicky promises that has emerged has left the parties in a muddle on important questions”
While Nick Clegg deserves the title of bravest man in politics, turning up every day when commentators had pronounced his political death (and colleagues had manoeuvred to achieve it), the LibDems have struggled to position themselves both to the left and right of Labour. Clegg’s pledge to inject “heart to the Tories and brains to Labour” keeps all future coalition options open (by insulting all partners equally) but blurs the party’s identity; there are still liberal policies there, such as curbs on state surveillance and the passion for education and environment, but too few.