Why can’t election manifestos be legally binding?

They broke an election promise.

They broke an election promise.

Seriously, I’m not being smart here. Why not? Sure, I know why the parties don’t want them to be, but consider this:

1. Parties would have to be very careful about only putting in specific measures they are sure they can deliver on. If they can’t do that, are they really fit to be control of the country?

2. They already have the capacity to prepare them. FG/Labour had over 75 taxpayer funded researchers working for them in opposition (although apparently did not know that the number of TDs is decided by the constitution). They can’t research what is actually deliverable?

3. What about the coalition issue? Easy enough. Each party can issue a statement of intent, the usual guff about what they would like to do, and then the actual manifesto as to what they legally cannot give in on during coalition negotiations. Yeah, parties will probably have to discuss things before they legally unveil their manifestos? So what?

The only people to lose from this will be candidates who want to be able to make vague, broad and ultimately disappointing promises that breed cynicism about politicians. Why should we be accomodating to them? Wouldn’t we rather our elected leaders gave us a choice of small pledges that we know they’ll actually have to implement? 

5 thoughts on “Why can’t election manifestos be legally binding?

  1. “Well when events change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

    – Paul Samuelson

    I don’t think there’s anythign scarier than adopting a party manifesto as a whole as law, especially in a “take it (all) or leave it” manner.

    I’m with Graeme: the insentive to keep your promises, at least in spirit, is to keep your mandate. The idea of legally going after the sure-to-be minced phrases of politicians like they were Italian Seismologists is somewhat chilling.

  2. We did that to the last shower of bastards. Then these guys got in and did a complete uturn.

  3. Graeme: explain to me why Fine Gael should not be punished, for example, for breaking their promise to reduce the Dail by 20 seats?

  4. It’s an insane idea. Firstly, it would be totally unenforceable for a lot of pledges, as they can blame subsequent factors completely outwith their control like lack of parliamentary time. Secondly, it completely compromises the right of elected representatives to behave according to their conscience, or to change their mind about something. That’s incredibly illiberal and reduces Parliamentarians to faceless drones of their parties. Thirdly, sometimes it’s better to break a promise than to stick with a policy that looked like a good idea at the time, but which has subsequently become unworkable by reason of resources or time.

    What you’d end up with under your proposal is an absurd situation where the parties all promise virtually nothing in their manifestos, making the manifesto so utterly unimportant to elections (as if it isn’t already) that no one will take any notice of it. They might even not bother with a manifesto, and just issue vague statements of intent. That’s bad because it stops us learning any great detail about their policy intentions, and it also makes working coalitions more difficult because there’d be even less incentive to flesh out policy proposals prior to an election, to be used as negotiating material.

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