The importance of election manifestos and pledges is the one constitutional convention that everyone understands. At election time, the parties set out their policies and plans for government so that voters know what they are voting for. For a party that seeks to restore trust in politics it is particularly important that they honour this convention.
A few days ago I wrote that the Lib Dems under Nick Clegg had breached this convention, one that is designed to build a bridge between people and politicians. It was possible then to believe that they had been 'blown off course' by events. Many Lib Dems will have accepted in good faith the argument that when the Coalition negotiations began their leaders found the economic situation to be worse than expected, were encouraged by the Bank of England to back a policy of cuts to save the economy and felt obliged to concede on student fees.
This was a very significant turn-around, however, for they had gone out of their way to sign "pledges" that they would oppose any such measure.
Now, the Guardian has revealed that a secret policy document, disclosed in a new book by Rob Wilson MP, a former Tory whip, shows the Lib Dems were drawing up plans to abandon their flagship election pledge two months before the general election.
The Guardian states:
A month before Clegg pledged in April to 'scrap the dead weight of debt' [on young people leaving university], a secret team of key Lib Dems made clear that the party would not waste political capital defending its manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees within six years.
This revelation, that the Lib Dems courted the large student and university vote before and at the general election, knowing that the pledge would have to be jettisoned as the party sought a foot in government, is likely to fuel even more anger among all those whom they have betrayed. They have wasted a great deal more than mere party 'political capital'. They are destroying trust in the one party that was seen to have been relatively clean in British politics after the recent expenses scandal.
In another recent post I attacked the Labour backbenchers who defended Woolas in a clear case of lying. His election was rightly declared void in a careful judicial process reported in OurKingdom by Ryan Gallagher. It is not that he was merely misleading or encouraging scepticism about his Lib Dem opponent. He knowingly published untruths. If we are now led to understand that the Lib Dem manifesto also contained such a known untruth shouldn't all their MPs also have their elections declared void?