For the third time in 25 years, we find ourselves being governed by a party that had not expected to be in Government (or in the case of the Tories after the Election in May, in Government by itself) and now finds itself with the problem of having to implement policies that it had never expected to.
In April 1992, most people expected Labour to win. Indeed the Tories knew that there were a number of bear traps waiting for the incoming Government (ERM, ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, etc.) that the incoming Government would have to face and, as I have though since then, they would prefer labour to deal with.
However, John Major managed to snatch victory from anticipated defeat (with, it must be admitted, with help from Neil Kinnock’s ineptitude) and lead the Tories back into Government. Then, not only did the Tories fall into the expected the bear traps but were also saddled with policies in the 1992 Conservative Manifesto that were simply ridiculous like the privatising British Rail, a disaster we still haven’t sorted out. Indeed, John Major’s Government is rightly regarded as one of the worst ever and crashed to electoral disaster for the Tories in 1997.
In May 2010, everyone expected a victory for David Cameron’s Tory Party over a lacklustre Gordon Brown and a tired discredited Labour. It says much for how much the Conservatives were distrusted that even when presented with such an opportunity, they failed to win a majority and no-one, not least the Liberal Democrats, expected the outcome to be a Coalition Government. It is not an understatement to say that the Lib Dems were as surprised as anyone to have to face up to promises made with no expectation of being in a position to have to meet them.
It says much for the calibre of Nick Clegg & the Lib Dem Ministers that, in spite of having great policies but no real plan for implementing them, they achieved so much from their unexpected arrival in office but, as was predictable even in 2010, the party paid a heavy price for not being able to fulfil all they promises they made in the 2010 campaign.
This year, everyone (including most Tories) full expected that there would be another Coalition after the General Election and framed their polices accordingly, The Tories especially though that they would be able to dich the one they had included in their manifesto to get votes to appease the right wing of their party but would be hard (or simply wrong for the country) to implement in the Coalition negotiations and then blame their Coalition partners for not fulfilling their promises. However by a cruel twist of fate, the Tories have been caught out (again due in no small part to Labour ineptitude and the failings of their leader) and now find themselves in a position of having no excuse not to implement those policies that appeal to the rabid right-wing of the party but that most of us realise will be a disaster if implemented.
From the impossible negotiations on the EU to reversing all the Coalition’s policies on Green Energy; from having to increase defence spending while cutting welfare to removing privacy rights in the name of defeating “extremism”; from botched attempts block Scottish MPs voting on some issues to trying to bring back hunting with dogs, we see Cameron (who seems more interested with simply being in power than actually having a vision of what he want to achieve with that power) having to oversee a sharp turn away from the moderate polices under the Coalition that benefited he country to regressive, often repressive, ideas that will neither help the majority of the population nor improve the economy.
It is too early to predict the outcome for this Government, even if their small majority of 12 will survive a full 5 year term, but if past precedent is anything to go be, a party that finds itself in Government in a situation that it wasn’t expecting will get hammered at the next election.
The moral of this is simple, be honest with promises before the election. Make sure you only promise what you know you can do if elected, don’t rely on the vagaries of the electoral system to get you out of having to deliver on promises only made to get votes or for appearance but were not intend to be fulfilled. However, I don’t expect parties (not even the Lib Dems) to take this moral to heart and come the next election surprise, watch out for another party suddenly look wide eyed in horror at having to implement policies that were only promised for show.