Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Chartism (2)

It had not been my intention to post under this heading so soon after that of the first, however a news item today voided my original intention. Apparently today Boris Johnson had a slight difference of opinion with Ken Livingstone, in the process calling him a 'procreating' liar. Andrew Gilligan, Daily Telegraph, posts on the lies it is alleged Livingstone told, including 'evidence' to show that they were indeed lies - who is right matters not in this case.

For so long have politicians lied to us or, in the words of Alan Clark, been 'economical with the actualité', we have become inured to that which they tell us - especially when they are campaigning and/or presenting us with manifestos. This is illustrated by Cranmer in his post today on the subject of the surveillance of emails and telephone calls; a post in which he recalls the manifesto promises made by both the Tory and LibDem parties in the 2010 General Election, coupled with that subsequently issued by the Coalition. If we go back to 2005 further examples of broken promises were illustrated in this post from January 2009.

Some hold that it should be possible to legally challenge political manifestos, yet where this has been attempted courts have held that an elected member ‘ought’ to give considerable weight, when deciding whether to implement policies put forward in a pre-election manifesto. However elected representatives must not treat themselves as irrevocably bound to carry out pre-announced policies contained in election manifestos. Moreover The Court of Appeal held that to hold that the pre-election promises bound a newly elected Government could well be inimical to good government. It was one thing to say that an administration properly and morally ought to have regard to its pre-election promises. It was another to say that it must have regard to them and a yet further thing to say that it must ordinarily act on them. The law went nowhere near that. The Court of Appeal emphasised that it did not wish any encouragement to politicians to be extravagant in their pre-election promises, but when a party elected into office fails to keep its election promises, the consequences should be political and not legal. (source So we see that pre-election promises are not legally enforceable, which begs the question why do politicians make pre-election promises that they cannot keep? This may be because it is easy to promise dramatic changes to the law when not in Government, but more difficult to make them work in practice. Also, when elected, the party may have more information available to them and realise that the pre-election promises are not very practical. On that last point I would contend that if the required research had been carried out properly then politicians would be aware of the point about practicality. This is especially so where this country's membership of the European Union is concerned and when politicians promise action in an area that is a competence of the EU. 

However - bearing in mind the foregoing - the question has to be repeated, namely why cannot a political manifesto be legally challenged - it is, after all, a contract twixt a political party and those they are asking to elect them. In all 'unions' involving people and their relationship with one another two words must be included in those relationships: 'honesty' and 'truth'. Without those two 'basics' any relationship is bound to be fraught with suspicion - which is probably why politics has reached the nadir it has.

Obviously I know not what the 'Old Swan Manifesto' will produce and whilst I am a firm advocate of direct democracy I am only too aware that that system is not everyone's cup of tea. However, if we are to have 'Referism' in respect of the need for taxation, then should we not have that same ideal where the introduction of policies is concerned? Should not there be a statutory period between a Parliamentary Bill passing its final reading and receiving Royal Assent - one that allowed the people to challenge said Act, through the use of referenda, prior to it becoming law?


Anonymous said...

This manifesto business throws up a problem regarding our present situation WfW - a coalition government between two very different parties with two very different manifestos.

I do believe that members of governments should be held responsible for the results of bad government - running up massive debt should be one such area that MPs should be held accountable for.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

BJ: Agreed politicians should be held accountable - but the question is how? Unfortunately we cannot make them personally liable - were that we could. If we could, I suspect we would still be faced with that we have today, where the electorate would welcome the last lot back with open arms - if opinion polls are to be believed.

A massive re-education of people is needed - how many have any idea how government 'works'? How many have heard of Common Purpose, NWO, Agenda21? How many could name just one other form of democracy?

TomTom said...

Look at the Manifesto of The Pirate Party - the German chapter is now on 12%

Anonymous said...

Well WfW if a manifesto publication is not a legally enforcable contract, it must be something else.

Perhaps merely advertising?

We all know that adverts are supposed to give a good impression of a product and so usually over-egg the pudding, however, if one deliberately sets out to mislead, there is something called the ASA to deliberate.

The two big parties definitely manage to persuade people to vote for them on the basis of extracts from their manifesto's being published in the MSM. Which beggars a couple of further questions:

Do these parties pay the MSM to have these adverts aired/published? If not, what exactly is the nature of their relationship?

Do we have legal redress against the MSM for this type of misrepresentation?

Peter S said...

Likening the contract between electorate and party to a marriage is a good way forward. After all, an election - like a wedding - is enacted upon the understanding that the vows being exchanged at the time will be mutually valued and kept.

In the modern world, if one party in a marriage subsequently acts as if the vows it made are worthless, and if it intends instead to be absent abroad, profligate with the dowry, and disinterested in holding the authority required to protect the partnership... then the other party can sue for divorce. What we need is an equivalent mechanism in the political contract.

I suggest that all ballot papers used in a General Election have the following:
1) A section to be used at a later date
2) A duplicate copy of the marked paper for the voter to keep.

1) The section (on the duplicate copy) would be used to express a legally-binding decision - at a subsequent 'Half-Term' ballot - on the voted-for party's commitment to the manifesto upon which the contract was entered into. Options to vote on in this section would include 'No change', 'Top Tear Replacement' and 'Cancellation (forcing a new General Election)'.

2) Would prove that the voter had originally voted for the party and is therefore entitled to participate in the Half-Term evaluation of it.

A 'majority' in the Half Term ballot would be over half of the total votes cast nationally for that party at the General Election. If a majority is not reached for the most severe censure (ie Cancellation), the votes cast for this would be added to next one down (ie Top Tear Replacement). If the cumulative votes failed to reach the majority, the ballot would be declared for 'No Change'. The result of the ballot would be effective immediately.

Anonymous said...

Before the last election Cameron entered into a contract with voters in which he said:

"We go into the general election on 6 May with trust in politics and politicians at an all-time
low. And I can understand why: the years of broken promises, the expenses scandal, the feeling that politicians have become too remote
from the people – they’ve all taken their toll."

"Politicians must be made more accountable,and we must take power away from Westminster and put it in the hands of people – individuals, families and neighbourhoods."

I wonder what a judge would say about Cameron's manifesto described as a contract.



Stuart said...

The answer to your question was given by the court. A failed manifesto commitment should have political consequences, not legal. Should we suffer the remaining term of a government if it has seriously breached trust if that is what is deamed by a significent portion of the electorate? I guess we are talking not about recalling an MP but recalling a government. This is not something we would want to do at the drop of a hat so a good sized petition would be necessary, but think about the effect such an ability would have on such written contracts as manifestos and a sitting government. Just a thought.

Stuart said...

Sorry to bang on but might not another way be to stagger elections between the Prime Minister and the legislature if those institutions were separated. Not sure if such an arrangement would help with reneged manifesto commitments but by the electorate voting in a stronger opposing force in the legislature, the executive would not get its own way much.

Tarka the Rotter said...

Am at a loss to now why we cannot hold politicians personally accountable for the decisions they take. If you or I can be held criminally negligent then wy not politicians?

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Thanks to all for your comments, included in which are one or two valid suggestions, although I feel the 'mechanics' of that offered by PS requires simplification. Stuart's suggestion is worthy of consideration and further thought. Thanks to Anon for spotting the 'contract' element with those two links.

I will raise these at the Old Swan meeting and on a separate note, it will be intriguing to see what demands result.