The Assembly election is now upon us, and I can’t say that any party has said or done anything which has made it stand out from the rest. The whole election campaign reminds me in some ways of some of the pointless wars of the past where the armies throw everything into the battle, and fight each other to a standstill more or less where they started. All the indicators are still that, come Friday, the main difference will be the presence of a number of members from a party which really neither wants the institution to exist, nor to play any constructive part in it.
I doubt that many people have actually read any, let alone all, of the parties’ manifestos, but I’ve at least scanned them - more to get an impression of what the parties are saying than to look at the detail. History shows that there’s little point in looking at the detail; all four of the parties currently represented in the Assembly have a record of saying one thing and doing another, and it would be folly for anyone to place too much trust in the detail of their manifestos as a result, especially if coalition is on the cards.
So – what’s the general impression? Well, there’s an awful lot of motherhood and apple pie, much of it common to multiple manifestos. It’s also noticeable that a lot of the verbs used in all the manifestos are ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ verbs, such as work with, support, continue to, improve, promote, press for, explore, aim for, oppose, move away from, encourage, investigate, pursue, discourage… It’s not that there’s anything wrong with doing all of those things; it’s just that the effect is to make the promises and pledges a great deal less specific and measurable than they could be. And even where there are more specific commitments, the ‘how’ is often noticeable mostly for its absence.
Insofar as there is any distinction in feel between them, it’s Labour’s manifesto which stands out from the crowd – but not necessarily in a good way. Whilst the rest are generally clear that current management is poor and needs replacing, Labour seem to have failed to get that message at all, and their manifesto reads as, shall we say, more than a little complacent as a result. But given the difficulty the other parties have had of shaking the core Labour vote, and the near certainty that Labour will be far and away the dominant party come Friday, perhaps complacency is all they need. That tells us more about the voters than the parties, though.For what it’s worth, I concur with the general view of the rest that Labour’s management has been poor, and that Wales needs a change. But that’s the easy bit – the idea that a change of management will, of itself, produce the desired improvement is one which I find strange. Yet that ‘managerial’ approach is at the heart of what most of them have been saying for the past few weeks. I can understand why they all believe that “We can manage things better than Labour” (and I’d probably agree with them); what’s less clear is why they believe that better management is enough to motivate voters. It’s an even harder message to sell when the punters can read the polls and conclude that there does not seem to be, at present, a credible alternative to a continuing Labour-led administration.