Although the general election still seems a long way off, this year is one that will really matter in terms of developing policy and shaping what the party manifestos look like.
Manifestos can be important. When in 1834 Sir Robert Peel read his from the windows of the town hall to his electors in Tamworth, he effectively founded the Conservative Party, one that could adapt to a political landscape changed by industrialisation. In 1945 Labour promised – and then delivered – the welfare state, a National Health Service and the nationalisation of crucial industries. By promising council tenants the right to buy their homes, Margaret Thatcher in 1979 showed an election-winning instinct for the aspirations of the working class. In the following election, Michael Foot’s manifesto was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”, although since its most radical proposal was the nationalisation of banks, we can now smile at that description!
Partly because of Michael Foot’s calamitous electoral experience, parties have become risk averse. The main British parties have crowded together on the centre ground. None will promise us nationalisation, prices and wages policies, entry into the Euro, exit from the European Union, or an independent Scotland. They may not even pledge higher or lower rates of income tax.