In today’s copy of The Times, Matthew Parris comments on the outcry that has followed the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer’s decision to raise a particular tax on small businesses. Under the headline, “When it’s right to break political promises,” he supports the rationale for breaking the Conservative Party’s 2015 commitment not to raise National Insurance Contributions (NICs) for the self-employed. At the same time, he criticizes what he sees as the inept manner in which the change in policy has been introduced.
Surely, though, there is a wider issue here. The real problem is not so much with what Philip Hammond has done in policy terms. Or the fact that the proposed changes break a promise in the manifesto. It is with the very notion of making firm manifesto commitments in the first place.
In the run-up to the 2015 election, candidates of all parties were constantly asked by interviewers to explain precisely what things would be like at the end of the five-year parliament, based on the pledges made in their party manifestos. In the main, they duly obliged (as politicians always do!).
As things turned out, of course, their inability to predict what would happen in the future was laid bare on election night itself. Politicians, pundits, and pollsters alike all expected the election to result in a so-called “hung parliament”, with a coalition between the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties being the most likely means of forming a viable Government. In the event, the Conservatives gained an overall majority and a triumphant David Cameron put together his Government, with a seemingly unobstructed path ahead of him and his colleagues for the next five years. Eighteen months on, the rest – like David Cameron’s premiership – is history.