I’ve been thinking about this whole “party manifesto” thing, and it seems to me that it’s just so… well, Web 1.0. Basically what the parties have done is take exactly what they would have printed on paper, and put it on a website instead (in other words, the lowest ‘maturity level’ for online services).
There are some minor tweaks, of course. The Conservatives win the prize for the most bloated online manifesto, crammed with images which add massively to the file size, but not the policy content. Labour seemed reluctant to let you get to the document itself, luring you instead towards some little video clips, like those supermarkets who tempt the short-of-attention with copies of “Oy!!” magazine in the checkout queue. At least the Lib Dems formatted their online manifesto so that it displayed in landscape format on a PC display.
The manifestos obviously aren’t really an attempt to set out a distinguishing political philosophy… if they were, it would be easier to get a psephologist’s cigarette-paper between the main parties’ poll ratings. Rather, they are a grab-bag of policy aspirations, crammed in in the hope that enough of them will hit the mark to attract your vote. That, too, is a symptom of the “Web 1.0” approach. Where parties could have been using Web 2.0 and Social Media to define policies which reflect the priorities of the electorate, they have instead seen it only in terms of getting their own messages in front of more people, through more channels.
For all that the ground-breaking leadership debates raised public awareness, as an exercise in communication they were entirely, unapologetically and wastefully one-way.
I went out for dinner yesterday evening, and happened to order something with a salad attached. It was a pretty good salad, as salads go; fresh, smartly dressed, and an alluring blend of the innovative and the reassuring. Unfortunately it was studded with crescents of celery, which I can’t stand.
And that’s essentially how I feel about most manifestos. For all the bits I like (or at least don’t mind) there’s always too much celery.
To get my unhesitating vote, a manifesto would need to:
– Seriously question whether a UK nuclear deterrent contributes to any realistic security goal, and, bluntly, whether we can afford it. The nuclear threat from rogue states and terrorists is not effectively countered by a Cold War nuclear defence;
– Break the government’s insane dependence on tax revenue from destructive behaviours like consumption of alcohol, tobacco and petrol;
– Be prepared to ring-fence healthcare budget for the care of an aging population… even if that means increasing individuals’ responsibility for the healthcare consequences of their own lifestyle in earlier years;
– Recognise that we need not just a unified transport policy, but a transport policy which is unified with a national energy strategy (and that includes, of course, things like food miles);
– Scrap the plans to build two new aircraft carriers: we can’t afford the ships needed to keep them safe if they were deployed; consider reducing the scale of Britain’s commitment to buy Eurofighters, opening up more options for helicopter or Harrier procurement;
– Re-instate tax relief on pension investment income;
– Scrap ID Cards and the Identity Register; legislate for the statutory recognition of pseudonymous and anonymous online personas;
– Challenge the rationale and the risk assessment for the Contact Point database;
– Destroy the DNA profiles and samples of all those on the National DNA Database who have not been convicted of an offense;
– Ban the installation of CCTV systems in public places, unless and until a costed, sustainable and accountable legislative framework can be put in place to manage their deployment;
– Give a clear commitment that the UK will neither commit nor connive at torture;
– Repeal the Digital Economy Act and invest the time and effort in legislation which actually addresses the future of Britain’s Digital Economy;
– Omit celery.
You’ll notice that, although none of those policy statements is explicitly economic, most of them have a clear economic dimension. Economic policy is not an end in itself; it’s a tool. On a good day, Gordon Brown knows that and acts accordingly. He has not had many good days in the last 13 years.
My wish-list is a very partial one, I know, and there are any number of policy areas it doesn’t even touch on. Some of the suggestions would, if the current government is to be believed, put us all at risk in one way or another. However, I am convinced that if you treat citizens with trust and dignity, they repay that faith. If you legislate on the basis that all citizens are venal chancers who are only looking for their next opportunity to break the law and get away with it, you breed a culture founded on mistrust and indignity.