Yesterday’s news was full of accusations that the Chancellor broke an election promise by raising the level of National Insurance payments for self-employed people. I think, though, that people are aiming at the wrong target.
In the Conservative Party, policy is made by the leader; the leader is ultimately responsible for the content of the manifesto; and the leader is responsible for keeping any promises. So the ‘promise’ which Hammond broke yesterday wasn’t one made by him, nor by his boss, the Prime Minister. It’s a promise made by a man who is no longer involved in politics and is in no position to either keep or break any promises he made.
Cameron may well have been elected on a manifesto containing the said promise, but we no longer have a Cameron government. We’ve had a change of government, and under the UK system, it’s a fundamental principle that no government can be bound by its predecessor. Neither can any Tory leader be bound by anything his or her predecessor may have said. New leader = new government = new policies; any expectation to the contrary flies in the face of the whole history of the Conservative Party and the UK constitution.
Now some might object that all the Tory MPs were elected on the basis of that same manifesto and they should all be bound by it. Actually, no they weren’t. Under the UK constitution, people don’t vote for a party and they don’t vote for a set of policies. They vote for one person in one constituency, and once elected, that person has the constitutional right to vote for or against any issue, solely as he or she pleases.
What’s my point? This whole issue shows that something is indeed broken, but it isn’t a throwaway pre-election promise. What’s broken is a constitution and electoral system which allows a change of personnel to become a change of government and a wholesale change of policy and direction with no elector input at all. I’m not even sure that ‘broken’ is the right word for this – it was unfit for purpose in the first place. Either way, in fairness to ‘Spreadsheet Phil’, he isn’t the one who broke it. And I’m absolutely certain that hounding him for it isn’t the way to fix it either. But then, who of those attacking him really wants to fix the underlying problem?