Yesterday, the party committed itself to scrapping the toll to cross the Severn Bridges if the party found itself part of a government again after the UK elections next year. Or did it? How much of a commitment was it in reality?
In the first place, it’s not in their manifesto yet, only in one of those curious documents called a ‘pre-manifesto’; a mechanism usually used by parties to publicise policies which they’re thinking about including in their manifestos (or for those of a more cynical bent, policies to which they’d like to attract attention but without making any real commitment). So, is there a guarantee that what’s in their ‘pre-manifesto’ will also be in the final document? Apparently not.
And secondly, if they do find themselves in government again next year, it can only be in coalition with either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party. Are the contents of the Lib Dem manifesto then guaranteed to form part of the coalition agreement? Well, no – they just become a basis for negotiation. Unless, that is, the party is saying in advance that this is a ‘red line’ issue and that they will not agree to any coalition programme which does not commit to abolishing the tolls. Are they saying that? Apparently not.
So, whilst the headlines stated “Lib Dems commit to scrapping tolls”, the actual story is that the party is thinking about maybe including the scrapping of tolls on a shopping list of items which might, and probably won’t, get included in a programme for coalition government. There’s something of a gap between the headlines and the reality.