Sunday 12 April 2015

Sunday, April 12, 2015 Posted by Jake 3 comments Labels: , , , , , , ,
Posted by Jake on Sunday, April 12, 2015 with 3 comments | Labels: , , , , , , ,

What's in a manifesto? Politicians make their careers more promising by promising more. Most of all during a closely fought general election where no party expects a majority. In these tight contests a goon with a gatling could not fire off promises faster nor more recklessly. 

Party manifesto writers confidently disregard truth because win or lose politicians will get away scot-free with failure to deliver their pledges:

  • Lose and they don't even need an excuse. With no power to fulfil the promises, nobody would know if they were fibbing.
  • Win to be the biggest single party in a coalition, and they blame their coalition partners for their broken promises.

In the weeks before the May 2015 general election we saw many promises from the various parties, a few of which we have retrieved from the BBC's collection. There is little point attributing them by party, so we just list them. To paraphrase the poet Catullus, what is promised in an election should be written in the wind and the running water:

  • Raise £1bn from extra corporation tax on banking sector
  • Increase charges to “non-doms”, raising £130m
  • Support weekly bin collections
  • No rise in VAT
  • Take family homes out of Inheritance Tax
  • Keep mortgage rates low so families are more financially secure
  • Make big businesses pay their fair share of tax 
  • Make it illegal for employers to undercut British workers by exploiting migrants 
  • Invest £2.3 billion in over 1,400 flood defence schemes to protect 300,000 homes
  • Allow a public sector rail operator to bid for and take on new lines
  • Scrap Winter Fuel Payment and free TV Licences for pensioners on the 40% income tax rate
  • Restrict child benefit to two children and stop paying it all together for children who do not live in Britain 
  • Introduce minimum pricing of alcohol
  • Maintain the triple lock on the state pension, so it rises by the highest of prices, earnings, or 2.5%
  • No increase in the retirement age 
  • Give 16-21 year olds two thirds off all bus travel
  • Spending increase for the NHS in real terms every year, an extra £8bn a year in England by 2020
  • Make greater use of direct democracy, such as local referendums
  • Guaranteed job for under-25s unemployed for over a year and for adults unemployed over two years 
  • Guaranteed childcare for primary school children from 8am to 6pm 
  • Ensure speed cameras are not used for profit by councils 
  • No out of work benefits for migrants or child benefit for dependents living outside UK 
  • more social housing to be built by local authorities
  • Boost police recruitment of black and minority ethnic groups

We won't bore you with long lists of past broken promises in this post. If you are interested, the Mirror newspaper helpfully provides a sample of Conservative mispeakments, and the Telegraph newspaper does the same for mispokements from the last Labour government.

So, what is a voter supposed to do? The Bible would have you "judge them by their fruits": don't look to the promises of the future but to the realities of the past. A view that provides a gloomy prospect for the majority of Britons. 
Labour's past includes introducing university tuition fees, curtailing civil liberties, promoting privatisation of public services, and giving the financial services industry a long enough leash to hang us all with. Conservative policy has been about a sharp focus on cutting costs with a blunt axe regardless of the impact.

So how do we know if a government is doing a good job? The prosperous tend to measure the prosperity of Britain by their own personal prosperity. They measure Britain's success with new peaks in the FTSE100 and stronger growth in GDP. However Gavyn Davies, the leading economist and former chairman of the BBC, credited two thirds of company profits to keeping wages low. Davies wrote in the Financial Times:
"If the 10 percentage points decline in the wage share had not occurred, and everything else had (implausibly) stayed the same, then gross profits in the developed economies would have been about one-third lower than they are today and net profits (after depreciation) would have been about two-thirds lower. "

Has Britain's prosperity been built by holding down Britons' prosperity?

If a 'good' government creates the environment to reward an individual citizen's talent and hard work, then Britain's governments of all complexion have done worse than most.

A report by the Office of National Statistics shows in Britain the children of low earning parents tend to go into low earning jobs; the children of high earning parents tend to go into high earning jobs. The report shows this tendency is more so in Britain than in any of a group of 12 large Western countries, from the USA to the Scandinavian nations.

The ONS report states:
"Intergenerational earnings mobility measures the extent to which the economic status of children differs from that of their parents. A report by the OECD (d’Addio, 2007) highlighted that, along with the US and Italy, the UK has a relatively low level of earnings mobility, meaning that there is a strong relationship between the economic position of the parents in the earnings distribution and that of their children. By contrast, intergenerational mobility is a lot higher in the Nordic countries, Canada and Australia, indicating a relatively weak relationship between the economic status of parents and that of their children (Figure 1)."

The report goes on to say:
In 2011, among those aged 25-59 whose parents had a low level of education, 34% had a low level themselves. By comparison, 8% of those whose parents had a medium level of education and 3% of those whose parents had a high level of education had a low level themselves

In the UK, someone in poverty as a teenager in the mid 1980s was almost four times as likely to be in poverty as an adult compared to those who were not in poverty as teenager 

For those who would claim children of unemployed parents get into the lazy habit of being unemployed, the evidence shows this isn’t true. The same ONS report states that if there are jobs to be had, the children of the unemployed go and get them just the same as the children of the employed:

Macmillan (2011) found evidence to suggest that the intergenerational transmission of worklessness is relatively strong in weak labour markets with high unemployment,but there is no relationship where unemployment is low.

So who should we vote for? Perhaps the answer is we should all vote selfishly. Whether it is for left, right, loony, nice, or nationalist. We don't really know what has happened to others. Their fates are concealed beneath expensively woven fabrications. But we know for certain what has happened to ourselves, so we should vote based on that.

There are two ways to get an equilibrium:
1) Everyone behave unselfishly, with fair shares for all.
2) Everyone behaves selfishly, taking what they can get.

The second method is very stressful. But if most of the nation behaves "all in it together" unselfishly and some of the nation behaves "in it for me" selfishly, then the flow of prosperity will very predictably be in one direction. Which is what has been happening for decades in the UK.

Graphic showing percentage of income earned by top 1%

Perhaps if everyone votes selfishly, then Adam Smith's "invisible hand" will guide the election result to the best of all possible worlds?

To conclude, when it comes to the manifestos and party political promises we refer you to the wisdom of Tom & Jerry:


  1. "WHO whould you vote for", that is a misleading question as it implies you have to vote for a specific party. You can vote none-of-the-above with you #Option2Spoil as there were only 0.666% of ballots spoiled in #GE2010 - effectively zero!

    So remember its #HOWnotWHO with your #Option2Spoil

    1. Yes, we also wrote on this :-). See "Go and vote! If nobody is worth voting for you can go and vote for nobody and still be counted! "

  2. source of stats can be found in this link, just search (Ctrl+f) within the browsers for 0.666%


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