So, in two weeks time – and three years earlier than we expected – we have a general election to look forward to. Some people may have reacted to this news with “a chance to get rid of the current government”; others with “a chance to give the government a greater mandate”. But for many it is possibly “here we go again”. I hope this post will cater for all reactions.
The party manifestos (which few people actually read) highlight each political party’s views on what is important for the new government to achieve. Some of these views will be put into practice should that party win the election.
The problem, as I see it, is that the manifestos are written in isolation of government – and this applies to all political parties, including the one(s) currently running the country. It’s not until they get into government that the party realises that implementing one manifesto commitment would instigate a chain of events that would compromise the ability to implement another.
I don’t expect many people agree 100% with any of the manifestos. All parties promise some actions that we like and some that we don’t like. It is a case of choosing which is the best – or maybe least worst. But best for us personally, or best for the country? The two may not be the same.
It’s all about the money
A lot of argument between political parties is over levels spending and taxation. But a really important point to remember is this: whatever the colour of the party taking office in June they will have the same amount of money to play with – it’s called Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is the total income the country generates in a year.
Government expenditure and taxation are inextricably linked. Governments do not create money, they just move it around. When a party promises to spend more money, we should be asking “what taxes are they going to increase”. Similarly, when a party promises to reduce taxation, we should be asking “what expenditure are they going to cut”. For the sake of completeness, I should add that governments can also borrow to raise funds – but that is just taxation postponed to the future.
As a result of this election I would like to see an effective and well-considered opposition. One that can properly hold the government to account (and, where necessary, block legislation) but that uses this power wisely. For years, the opposition’s practice has been to denounce anything the government proposes. It’s like two children squabbling in the playground; we become desensitised to the arguments and conclude that the opposition is useless.
But surely the opposition doesn’t have to disagree on everything the government does – but nor should it agree on everything the government does. After all, how often do we see a new government reverse the legislation that they so vehemently denounced when in opposition?
Have you ever wondered why UK elections are held on a Thursday? There’s no legislative reason for it; it is just convention. No one knows why for sure, but suggested reasons include:
- Thursday is market day in many towns, so traditionally a day when voters would be coming into town
- Thursday is as far as possible from Friday and Saturday pub night (where voters might be influenced by tory-leaning brewers) and Sunday (when voters might be influenced by liberal-leaning free-church ministers)
- An election on Thursday means that the result is known on Friday, giving a chance for the new government to form over the weekend and start work on Monday morning.