First published in Clarity: May 5, 2015
Labour unveiled its policy stone over the weekend. Apparently, if Ed Miliband is elected Prime Minister, he’s going to have it planted in the garden of Downing Street. Of all the places to choose, they have to pick one that is away from the public eye. Will it form the centrepiece of a Zen garden, to which Ed will retreat for quiet contemplation? It’s a bit of a change from the 1997 pledge card. Even John Prescott would have trouble fitting this pledge stone in his wallet (Prescott still keeps his battered 1997 card in there).
In February 2013, The New Statesman asked whether the pledge card had had its day. The art of boiling down an entire election manifesto to easily marketed bite size chunks, which had reached its zenith in 1997, was becoming an anachronism. The 1997 card, Gavin Kelly wrote, was a series of modest policies that attempted to say something significant about the character of the incoming government. The 2005 card had been bigger, baggier, and blander. As for 2010? “There is possibly no one in the country, including the authors, who could recount Labour’s key promises.”
On that occasion, Kelly highlighted that the pledge card idea was a leitmotif for the nature of the relationship between the state, civil society, and individuals. And in the age of “broken promises” was it still proper for the government to attract voters by making offers with them over a basket of policies. He concluded his article by asking:
“Challenges abound for Labour (as with the other parties) as it contemplates its 2015 version of a “contract with Britain”. One is avoiding a patch-work of specific policy promises aimed at different sections of the electorate which fail to add up to a majoritarian agenda with wide appeal. Another pitfall would be to issue an entirely defensive and uninspiring set of pledges centred on areas of spending that would be protected from further cuts. And then there is the risk of feeding expectations of another phase of centrally-driven delivery commitments reliant on an increase in public spending that isn’t going to occur.”