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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Labour MPs to break manifesto promises

According to the Guardian 114 Labour MPs have come out against the alternative vote system of elections and will be campaigning for a 'No' vote in the referendum next May.

This is despite the fact that the Labour leader, Ed Miliband will be campaigning for a positive outcome and that support for AV was a Labour manifesto commitment which all 114 of these MPs stood on and supported in the General Election.

There was an outcry when the Liberal Democrats failed to get a majority and as a result were forced to abandon their manifesto pledge to abolish tuition fees over a six year period. Will the same critics be equally as vociferous in their condemnation of these Labour MPs for the far worse sin of jettisoning their pledges when they are not in government and have no mitigating circumstances to excuse them?

I am not holding my breath.
Creative stuff, Peter, but the Lib Dems did more than "pledge to abolish tuition fees over a six year period" if elected as a majority government.

Many if not most Lib Dem candidates pledged to "vote against any increase in [tuition] fees in the next Parliament" - regardless of whether they got into government in any form.
The Manifesto states " To ensure that every MP is supported by a majority of their constituents voting at each election,we will hold a referendum introducing the alternative vote for elections to the House of Commons." There was ,however , no commitment as to which way the Labour Party would campaign on the issue. Hardly surprising since the referendum promise was sprung without any debate within the party and the party leadership knew that many members opposed any change. In fact I would argue as someone who will vote yes to AV that there was an understanding that there would be no Party policy on this issue. You really can't compare this with a blatant piece of electioneering by Liberal Democrat candidates to give students the impression that somehow they could abolish fees when they believed that they would never been in a position to fulfill such a promise. This promise was made at the time when everyone in politics knew that the Browne report would recommend an increase in fees. It was a stupid and irresponsible promise which Clegg to be fair to him realised. You then made it worse by not protecting university funding in England with the result that fees had to go up to £9000. The public agony of some Liberal Democrats when it came to the vote then made it virtually impossible for the UK Coalition argument for the fee increase to be heard. The whole episode is a classic example of how not to handle any political issue. Labour, on the other hand, will emerge from the May Referendum united whatever the result.

There is a world of difference between a manifesto pledge and the linchpin of you're election campaign.

If you asked the public to list policy commitments for each party back in May scrapping tuition fees would probably have been the best known Lib Dems policy. No one would have put AV down as a key Labour policy.

Its not about what page something is on in your manifesto, its about the commitments you make and whether or not you stick by them.
It says a lot that you do not apparently see a distinction between politicians who lose an election and do not uphold a pledge and a politicians do the same thing after winning power.
Adam, the promise by the Liberal Democrats to abolish tuition fees over a six year period was precisely the commitment of the party and one that we could not secure a majority for at the General Election or subsequently. You are quite right that individual candidates made other pledges but they were not party commitment nor party policy. It is of course for each MP who signed that pledge to account for how they discharged that promise.

Jeff, the fact is that if the Lib Dems had secured 316 MPs I and every other member would have expected them to fulfil their promise to abolish fees over a six year period. We did not get that majority and cannot therefore deliver on it because both Labour and the Tories are in favour of fees. We will however remain united as a party even if we lose the AV referendum.

Wil, the lynchpin pledges in our manifesto were taking poorer taxpayerrs out of tax, a pupil premium, a green and sustainable economy and constitutional reform. You only have to look at the document to see that is the case. All of these are in the coalition agreement. The tuition fee pledge was one of many other proposals which cannot be delivered because we did not get a majority for it. We are happy to stick to it but none of the other parties will back us so it is undeliverable.It was never a policy lynchpin as you suggest.

Shambo, for all intents and purposes the Lib Dems lost the election too. That is why we cannot deliver on the tuition fees promise. In that regard it has the same status as Labour's AV pledge. I am not criticising Labour for changing their mind, that is their prerogative, but for their hypocrisy in applying double standards on this issue.
It's very odd of Jeff Jones to claim that a manifesto commitment whose express purpose was "to ensure that every MP is supported by a majority of their constituents voting at each election" was somehow not a commitment to vote Yes in that referendum.

If that isn't enough, we only need to remember that Labour went so far as to offer to introduce AV without a referendum if the LibDems got into bed with them rather than the Tories after the election.

So yes, this is a crystal clear case of 114 Labour MPs (including 11 from Wales) reneging on a clear manifesto commitment. As I said here yesterday, it's blatant, cheap opportunism that brings politics as a whole into disrepute.


Now of course, it's equally fair for the pots in the Labour Party to call Peter black because most LibDem MPs broke their pledge over tuition fees. But two wrongs don't make anything right. They each, in their own way, give people very good reasons not to vote for either Labour or the LibDems again.

I'm sure every reader in Wales will be able to think of an alternative that is better than either ;-)
Surely this alternative cannot be Plaid Cymru who were elected to the Assembly commited to oppose the introduction of top-up fees in Wales but ended up introducing them anyway.
"Introducing them"?

No, Peter.

The top up fee was introduced by Labour, long before Plaid were part of the Welsh government.
Let's not get pedantic about this. The top up fee for Welsh students in Welsh HEIs was being paid by WAG. Plaid pledged in their manifesto to keep it this way and then reneged on their promise. I understand why they did it but it is still a broken promise in the same way as they claim the Lib Dems broke their manifesto promise. They are in no position to throw stones.
It isn't true that Labour offered the Liberal Democrats AV without a referendum. Read Hansard of 7 June 2010 and the exchange between Tory MP Julian Lewis and Jack Straw in which Straw was asked had Labour made such an offer. His answer was 'no' and this was confirmed later in the debate by Nick Clegg. The simple fact is that for many Labour Party members AV isn't an issue worth going to the stake over. As in many referendums individuals will vote one way or the other for reasons totally disconnected with the actual issue. I've no doubt that in May many Labour party members will support the status quo as a means both of punishing the Liberal Democrats and delivering a verdict on the policies of the UK Coalition. As for PR itself I am on record in supporting STV for both national and local elections. It will be interesting given the recent rejection of the local government boundary report for political reasons whether both Plaid and the Liberal Democrats in their Assembly manifestoes will advocate the introduction of STV for local government in Wales by 2016 in the event of a yes vote in the March referendum.

What you say is undoubtedly true. But it seems to me as if the public ire directed toward the Lib Dems over tuition fees has more to do with the individual pledges to vote against any increase in fees than the manifesto pledge. I think most people appreciate that a party that does not win outright power will struggle to implement all (and sometimes any) of its manifesto commitments.

As you say, it is for the electors of those MPs who signed such pledges to weigh the severity of any deviance from that commitment against their other actions while in office. That's democracy. The idea that changing one's mind in office brings politics as a whole into disrepute seems to invalidate at least in part the idea of representative democracy.
Jeff, just to clarify, according to the documentation published by David Laws in his book '22 Days in May' on 10th May Labour tabled an offer document which included the following:

'Immediate legislation to introduce the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons. This will be confirmed in a referendum.'

I agree that this is not the same as offeing AV without a referendum but you can see where the confusion arose.
Well, looks like a debate on Facebook on education in Wales just got pulled. With Peter's permission I will post my last response to Leighton Andrews.

Leighton wrote: "I agree with a lot of what you say regarding PISA, but I am not going to announce policy on Facebook!"

Christopher Wood wrote:
Leighton - real damage is being done here to innocent school children - EMERGENCY MEASURES are required. PISA date shows that very clearly. Your term in office will be defined by how you handle this crisis. We are not talking about dumb kids, but kids who are able to get a firm grasp of the 3Rs/core subjects but for proper delivery.

Being nice, being committed, and being full of good thoughts and opinions - all these nice things have de minimis value in light of the PISA data. Its results that count now - a distinct and rapid improvement in the delivery of the 3Rs/core subjects is needed in underperforming schools serving council house kids – these kids on council housing estates can’t wait.

Use whatever powers necessary to affect change in core delivery in those underperforming schools. Remove teachers if necessary, but do what it takes to fix this issue – and with haste!

(There are loads of teachers from Wales working in other parts of the UK like London who would jump at the chance of moving back home to be nearer their folks.)
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