Conservative Diary

« Straw tackles Clegg about the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters at a laboured PMQs | Main | In praise of Clegg the radical »

The row over death taxes shows why coalition's always a second-best option

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-07-21 at 09.00.14 Party manifestos aren't best sellers.  Few voters read them.  But they matter, as do the pledges that accompany them.  They serve to hold a Party to account.  It follows that governments without manifestos lack an indispensable means of doing so.  Ministers in such administrations (usually coalitions) can always refer to promises set out in formal agreements (such as this Government's).  None the less, these are reached after elections, not before.  The political parties that make up such governments can then break the link between what they said before an election and what they do after it.

Today's row over death taxes is a classic example of what follows.  The Conservative manifesto said: "We reject Labour's plans for a compulsory death tax on everyone to pay for social care".  During the election, the Party urged a voluntary approach.  The Liberal Democrats argued that this is unworkable.  The Coalition Agreement has it both ways - referring both to "a voluntary insurance scheme" and "a partnership scheme as proposed by Derek Wanless" (which would be compulsory, in his words, for "almost everyone").  Andrew Lansley has confirmed that a new commission will now examine all the options.

In practice, this is bad for the Party: the move leaves it open to Labour attacks.  And in principle, it's bad for voters, who see politicians say one thing before a poll, do another afterwards, and wave the problem away by pointing out - correctly - that the Government in question has no manifesto commitments to honour.  This is why coalition's always a second-best option.  I think the Coalition's doing some great things (such as Michael Gove's school reforms and Andrew Lansley's primary care changes) and many good ones (too many to list), and support it.

But come the next election, we shouldn't aim to re-form the Coalition afterwards.  We should fight to form a Government on our own.  Because only by electing governments with manifesto commitments can politicians clearly be held to account by the people who vote for them.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.