General Election

General Election Explained: What is a manifesto?

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What is a manifesto ? General election need to knows.

What is a manifesto and why is it important? Sophie Moseley explains all in the first of our UK General Election guides...

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What is a manifesto?

A manifesto is political party's plan for what they want to do if they are elected. It's a simple idea. A manifesto informs voters of a party's goals, what they really think on issues and what's important to them. This will inform you, the voter, on if a party's views and values align with your own.

Where does the word manifesto come from?

The name Manifesto, like most things in British politics, is old. It came from the Latin word Manifestus which means 'obvious' and was used first by Italian political figures to publicise their own views.

When did it start?

Manifestos, as we know them in the UK, started in 1834 when Sir Robert Peel became Prime Minister and wrote a few things we wanted to do with his government. This became known as the Tamworth Manifesto and started a tradition of politicians declaring their ideas and the goals of their government.

Are they important?

The manifesto is (in theory) very important because it gives the elected government legitimacy to carry out their ideas. If they list a policy idea in their manifesto and then win a majority of votes, a government can claim the people want that policy. This means that a government has been given a mandate, sometimes called a democratic or peoples' mandate, to carry out their ideas.

What's a mandate and why does it matter?

The oldest example of what a mandate means is this - when you go to a doctor you give them consent to treat you and that based on their expertise and knowledge they are better equipped than you. That last bit becomes a bit debatable when you look at some past governments but essentially you give your consent for the government to act on your behalf and in your interests.

When campaigning parties share manifestos, their collection of ideas and policies they want to pass when (if) they get elected. This means they can claim their ideas are given a 'peoples mandate' because by voting on mass for their ideas the people have given consent and legitimacy to enact them.

But don't politicians lie?

Yes! Manifestos, while very important, are not actually legal binding. Notice 'legally', governments are still bound to honour them under our UK democratic system of tradition and honesty which is meant to guide our governments. Manifesto promises should be kept to in the eyes of the public - who the government ultimately acts for - and when the people aren't listened to things can go badly.

There are loads of examples of governments changing their minds and U-turning on promises and then facing massive backlash from opposition, their own party and the public. Remember Nick Clegg's student loan promise? The former Lib Dem leader U-turned on a manifesto pledge and saw them triple (after they had already TRIPLED) and was forced to issue a public apology.

That was then remixed into a catchy YouTube song and Clegg then lost his seat at the next election, leaving the Lib Dems with quite a bad legacy. Still to this day 14 years later Lib Dems are asked about Clegg's big manifesto lie, and the party has never regained the influence or seats they had in 2010.

Brexit is another example. UKIP gained most of its support through promising a vote on its manifesto, David Cameron got spooked by this support and added it to the Conservative manifesto. We all know how that ended. Margaret Thatcher got one of her many slogans from sticking to manifesto promises on the British economy, "you turn if you want to, the lady's not for turning".

New ideas

While bigger parties usually stick to popular and more centrist ideas to get as many votes as possible from both sides, smaller parties can be more adventurous.

The Lib Dems started a lot of conversation around cannabis legalisation when they pledged to decriminalise it in their manifesto, the Green party made massive leaps ahead with their pledges. The more popular these ideas get the more likely the bigger parties will adopt them when they gain power. See Boris Johnson, who discovered his eco credentials after the Green party's manifesto got so much attention from younger voters.

Manifesto in a sentence

While manifestos don't always get the press they should, they decide a lot of the election campaign and what the government will do when they are elected, no matter who they are. So read what you can, decide what you like and vote accordingly. In the end they all work for you.

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