All this chat about how the Libdems have broken their manifesto promises leaves me a little cold. Or rather, in the modern parlance, “a bit meh”.
I think my failure to become outraged or agitated stems from a sense that the Liberal Democrats have fallen into a semantic trap. ‘Manifesto commitments’ are things that you promise to enact when you have Power to do so in Government.
But the situation that the Lib Dems find themselves in does not seem to fulfill the sufficient and neccessary conditions to merit such a desription!
A “U-turn” doesn’t really capture the essence of what has happened – It implies an agency and a mens rea that, by virtue of their Junior status, the Liberal Democrats simply do not possess.
This conundrum will have consequences for future elections. Now we have become used to the idea of coalitions (a prospect more likely if an AV or PR voting system is introduced), the way that political parties put their manifestos to the electorate could change.
The Liberal Democrats might present a ‘Two-Tier Manifesto’ to the voters (although they would never use such a crass term). First, they will present a more general statements of principles and ‘red line’ policies, which they would expect to be a part of any coalition deal.
Then they could present more detailed manifesto commitments, which they understand they may have to ditch if they were the minority partner in the Cabinet. The Greens, the Nationalist Parties and the Unionists might choose to do the same.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Labour could publish their own red-lines and general principles, signalling what is up for grabs in coalition negotiations and what would be out-of-bounds.
Such a convention would be a nightmare for those drafting the manifestos, and would lead to much factionalism within the parties around election time… but at least the voters would have a much better sense of what would happen in various coalition scenarios.