I can recall every general election from 1987, and I can recall a common factor about nearly every single outcome of those elections. Within two years of each election, an air of cynicism and betrayal, of being let down by the new government, tended to permeate the political environment. This tended to be caused by two driving forces: The first was incoming politicians campaigning on such a vague platform as to mean that it was emotionally and psychologically impossible for that government to satisfy the high expectation barriers it had set.
Fianna Fail in 1987 campaigned on the phrase “Heath cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped. There is a better way. ” which was, it has to be admitted, a shockingly barefaced de facto lie of a promise because it gave the impression that these were things that Fianna Fail were against. The truth is, when FF siad “there is a better way” they actually meant “there is a better way of hurting the old, the sick and the handicapped.” Even if Fianna Fail had been sincere in making the proposition, it would have been impossible with the best will in the world to deliver on the promise, a reversal of all health spending cuts. Hence the electorate’s bitterness and subsequent reduction in Fianna Fail seats and votes at the 1989 election.
The second factor tends to be an electorate that has no real idea how to measure success. The Labour Party, the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party have all been sucessful in delivering significant parts of their policy agendas, yet all have suffered at the hands of subsequent electorates who either were unaware of those achievements, or discounted them against a larger less tangible failure on the part of the parties.
A new incoming government needs to heed this lesson, especially in this time of finite resources. As part of that, a new government should commit to providing each citizen with a specific written declaration, each year, of what they will pay in direct taxes and VAT and local and car taxes, and what specific services they can expect to receive in return. And when I say specific, I mean specific. None of your “We pledge a world class health service” crap. I mean how long you will wait on a waiting list for an operation. How long you will have to wait to see a doctor in A&E. And who you call and how much you get compensated by if you don’t get what you are pledged. How much dole you will get if you lose your job, and for how long.
If we are to create a political system where there is trust between the governors and the governed, this country needs a period of clear promise delivery, where our leaders words actually mean something, and where a word given, if only to promise a very modest promise, is a word honoured. If this country is to recover, then honour has got to mean something.