Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An end to pledges

Much of the trouble the Liberal Democrats face over tuition fees comes not because the party is voting against the policies on which it fought the last election, but because many Lib Dem candidates signed personal pledges saying they would not support a rise in fees.

Whatever your view on the tuition fees issue, there are good reasons why candidates should not get involved with such pledges.

Because they are often signed out of fear. A campaign group asks candidates from all parties to sign a pledge and they sign it, often regardless of the importance of the issue or the coherence of the group's ideas, because they are afraid of bad publicity. No one wants to see a headline like "Lib Dem candidate refuses to support fluffy kittens" (or it may be sad orphans or puppies with large trusting eyes).

Nor is it helpful for candidates to commit themselves to the fine details of policy in this way. I can see that a candidate might think that, say, improving educational opportunities for children from poor families is not negotiable, but I can see no good reason to wed yourself to a particular mechanism of achieving it. Good government does not consist in implementing your manifesto regardless of changing circumstances.

So it would be a good idea if candidates from all parties started being a little more courageous when asked to sign a pledge. And the Liberal Democrats should stop trying to make every collectivist policy that Labour declines to adopt a central tenet of their ideology.

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Lavengro said...

Hallelujah! Someone's said it at last!

Jon said...


What makes it the whole thing even more ridiculous is that there are many (myself included) who didn't even know about the pledge until breaking it became a big story. And if a given issue is important to a voter (especially one targeting media-savvy, information-hungry students), they will pay attention to a policy statement as much as a pledge.

Any Lib Dem campaigners who think the pledge made any difference in the election is fooling themselves.