Manifestos occupy an odd space in British politics. In theory, they are vital documents outlining the potential trajectory of the nation following an election.However, in practice, they are often soundbite heavy puff pieces, rarely read by anyone other than policy nerds or reluctant journalists.
Despite how you might feel about the Chancellor’s decision to raise NI contributions in this week’s budget, the move has certainly revealed some interesting arguments about British democracy. The issues are even more poignant at this time, when ideas of sovereignty and ‘control’ are increasingly in the mainstream spotlight.
Not raising any taxes, including NI, was a promise enshrined in the Conservative Party manifesto prior to the 2015 election, which David Cameron’s party went on to win. This feels like centuries ago now, yet Theresa May’s government still draws its legitimacy and mandate from this election victory, despite the subsequent changes in circumstance and personnel.
The government has been quick to attack the unelected Lords for their interference in Brexit proceedings. However, the only democratic mandate available to Theresa May and Philip Hammond is built on an election which was won on the basis of the promises outlined in the manifesto at that time. For her to now distance herself from these promises risks distancing herself from that election victory, and thus weakening her governments right to claim democratic legitimacy.
Brexit is unsurprisingly causing a fundamental shift in many aspects of political life in Britain. Yet it has also drawn attention to the significant democratic deficit prevalent in the Westminster system. While Theresa May is eager to use these democratic gaps to her advantage, she must also be wary to ensure that they do not undermine her policies, or worse, her position.