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Lets Give Up On Political Promises

Joe Dunne, BA Politics

Why bother? Why bother investing emotionally sacrosanct political trust in those whom we elect to represent us in Parliament, knowing full well that this trust will be filed into the metaphoric paper-shredder when it becomes strategically convenient for the politicians who sought our support and promised so much to gain it?

Cameron pledged twice during this year’s election campaign that he wouldn’t cut tax credits on the basis that it would prove too damaging to lower-income families in the short term.

This election then resulted in Cameron finding himself in an unexpectedly comfortable position to further dismantle the state, reducing each targeted section of the public sector to the role of a cat helplessly watching another drown.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, tax credits were among the first of the litter to face the icy waters, and promises made were ignored as if never made at all.

Machiavelli’s assertion that the requirement of leaders to maintain an element of the fox about them and be deceitful liars, written in aid of a prince of an Italian city state five hundred years ago, maintains relevance today.

The difference in contemporary liberal democracies is that politicians are openly deceitful to our faces.

Over in the US, Obama has faced a witch-hunt from the right of the aisle on account of being at once a socialist and allegedly a Kenyan, while simultaneously facing derision from the left for failing to live up to the promise of hope that he emanated in his ’08 campaign. Yet, this in many ways seems more acceptable than Cameron’s dishonesty. Obama pledged to make positive chang es, and has been left both frustrated and impotent in the face of circumstances out of his control vis-a-vis the hostile partisan Congress he faces.

Paradoxically, the discourse from this Conservative government and the previous Coalition government, stems from the core ‘truth’ that austerity is the only response to the financial crisis of ’07.

The meltdown was caused by bankers and financial workers but our government’s response has ensured that the fallout has contaminated only the poorest and most vulnerable, with the given the perfect pretext to bring the state to its knees.

As austerity is a tricky message to sell to the masses of the British electorate, the easier alternative is to lie, or to pretend to be doing something different.

Thus Cameron knows that, despite the frankly ludicrous assertions flowing from the Conservative Party Conference that the Tories are the party of the working people, those crippled by the tax credit cuts are those least likely to vote Conservative in the first (or indeed, last) place.

But this is the nature of democracy. We prescribe to a system of government, which compels politicians to buy our support in the immediate short-term.

This of course has certain advantages: politicians are regularly held accountable and the focus always remains on serving the people not the state. Yet, by this system’s nature, politicians are predisposed to fabricate what is possible or to be as disingenuous as possible in their honest intentions in order to gain votes.

This is perfectly evident in both Cameron’s promise to ring-fence tax credits as well as the infrastructural, educational and welfare spending pledges made by the Greek government based on foreign credit.

Political betrayal should be neither unexpected nor derided. Yet that bizarrely was the overwhelming response to the Coalition’s tuition fee hike. Clegg’s pledge to not raise tuition fees was based on the premise that the Liberal Democrats would win a majority in 2010, as is every pledge in any manifesto.

Thus those angry at Clegg for the outcome are somewhat misdirected, particularly if they didn’t vote for his party in the first place, as both the Tories and Labour incidentally had pledged to raise tuition fees to the £9,000 at where it stands today. The fault lies with the electorate, not with Clegg.

There seems to be a contradiction in the way that the public interacts with politicians and the decisions that they make. The public widely condemned and derided Blair (and rightly so) over his decision to invade Iraq against popular opinion, yet the same public have rewarded the Tories for making the ‘hard but necessary’ economic choices over the past five years against the popular consensus by granting them a majority this May.

Similarly, with respect to U-turns, we at once lambast poor or ill-advised policy, call for it to be scrapped and then mock the government for its lack of spine if it dares listen to its opponents and those putting forward an alternative argument, and then dance upon the corpse of the policy.

Do we expect too much from our politicians? Cameron’s general election campaign threatened to derail when he surprised everyone and responded to a question with an honest answer as he told the public that he doubts he would again stand for the office of No. 10 in 2020.

Cameron was berated for responding with an unrehearsed, unadulterated honest answer, and not with a pre-recorded answer machine message.

Equally, Miliband was slammed by the supposedly neutral moderator Kay Burley during one of the leadership debates when he refused to make a pledge he had no guarantees he could keep if his party were to win the election. The poor man traded political safety for honesty and was once again, ridiculed.

Articulating a vision for what they wish the country to look like is a deal breaker for a charismatic modern politician in my books and it regularly comes hand in hand with success.

Irrespective of your views of the politician themselves, Thatcher, Blair, Churchill, Atlee and thus far, Corbyn have all been electorally successful and maintained a cogent vision for what a Britain under their stewardship would look like. Messrs Cameron, Miliband and co. believe this means talking to ‘the people’, shaking their hand (before quickly washing their own) and making hollow pledge after hollow pledge for what they can do to make their lives slightly less miserable.

But a winning vision doesn’t have to emanate from verbal pledges or from a plaque inscribed with them but rather, from a more natural consistent message. Such a vision cannot rely on rehearsed soundbites, nauseatingly crafted picture opportunities and contrived stunts; but through conviction and belief in a set of values that will help people.

What pledges do achieve is only to sap the engagement of the younger generation of voters in particular who place faith in those making the pledges, and they often destroy the political careers of those who do in fact articulate a better vision for the country. Nick Clegg I’m looking at you.

So maybe it’s high time we start laughing at politicians making pre-election ‘pledges’, and start electing politicians who we know to share our same set of values instead.

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