The government must govern according to what it believes to be in the best interest of the country and not fulfill the promises made in its party manifestos. It is also the responsibility of each MP to vote in favor of legislation and support policies that they feel are in the best interest of their constituents and the country.
Political parties issue manifestos and promises. However, it is the parliament that passes laws, not political parties. Governments govern, not parties. This means that the government is made up of individuals whom a particular party has elected and not the party as a whole.
Political parties cannot fulfill their promises because they lack the power or authority to pass legislation or promote the policies that they promise. The roles of the government and parliament are described above.
Jeremy Corbyn was unable to recall the numbers relating to a promise made in his manifesto on universal childcare. PA, CC BY-SA
Politicians who make promises create a rod on their backs. The moral obligation they start to keep their pledges does not override or obliterate their previous and remaining obligation to act in their constituents and the nation’s best interest. They should not keep a promise that they foolishly made.
The good old times
It is not a new thing to make promises and pledges. Take, for example, the Conservative Party general election manifesto from 1959. Harold Macmillan states in the preface:
It is easy to summarize our policy: peace and prosperity. Important international negotiations are ahead, and I urge you to continue to trust them to the Conservative government.
The entire document is devoid of any specific pledge, promise, or vow.
There are no promises in the Labour Party election of the same year. Two pledges are made. The first is “to bring work to workers.” The manifesto also says:
We have solemnly committed to donating an average of 1% of our annual national income to help underdeveloped regions.
The manifesto makes it very clear that all policies are not pledges.
It would be irresponsible for a politician or government to reject or support a policy simply because they promised to do so or pledged in their election manifesto.
Referring to Mexico during his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump said: “I’ll build a huge, great wall along our southern border.” And I’ll make Mexico pay for the wall.”
If Trump truly believes that there are valid reasons to build a wall of this size, he should continue with his policy. If he thinks it’s a stupid policy, then he shouldn’t try to implement it just because he told potential voters he would do it if elected.
If you want, you can make a U-turn.
We shouldn’t make promises we wouldn’t normally have made. When we realize our mistake, we should be able to do a U-turn.
If we make a promise to marry someone but later realize it’s a terrible mistake, then we may be forced to cancel the wedding. It would be unethical and foolish to carry out the wedding just because we said so. Politicians should not be punished for a U-turn unless it is clearly a case of cynical politics.
Politicians’ pledges and commitments are usually about the transfer of funds from one use to another. What may seem like a pledge to some can be a serious threat to others. We have a moral obligation always to carry out our threats. When a politician promises to introduce, for example, a mansion tax, it’s a promise as well as a peril.
Nicola Sturgeon announced PS118 billion in funding for public services to be provided by the SNP. PA, CC BY-SA
A promise to try and ensure that Scotland stays in the single market could be a threat to those in Scotland who voted to have the UK leave the EU. It might also be a danger for those in Scotland, who voted to keep the UK in the EU. But who doesn’t want to be part of the single market unless the whole UK is? It can be complicated.
Some promises and commitments are contractual. Election promises and pledges, however, are not. The rights and obligations of politicians, for example, do not come from a contract between them and those who voted. MPs are just as concerned with the people who didn’t vote for them as they are about those who did.