Implicit in some of the reactions to the front page (or rather front pages) of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto when they were released last week are hopes which I think a manifesto front page can never match.
The format of a front page to a booklet is not one conducive to stirring the emotions, and the need to prioritise requires a selection of issues will always leave a long list of areas of which people can say, “Oh but X is so important, it’s awful it wasn’t on the front page”.
Which is why it’s worth taking a look again at the front pages of the Liberal Democrat manifestos from the two elections prior to Nick Clegg becoming leader – 2001 and 2005. They are reproduced below (using the federal/English version in each case).
I wonder what the reaction to them would be if they had come out now, as the 2015 front cover.
Wouldn’t a revival of the 2005 front cover produce a chorus of mockery about the number of times “real” is used, drowned only by complaints over the absence of any policy?
Wouldn’t the 2001 front cover produce a similar list of complaints that international affairs, housing and civil liberties* are all missing? And although I’ve read a few wistful words of how people remember “Freedom, Justice, Honesty” with affection, would there not also be a chorus of complaints about how they are all words that every party would say they believe in, with none of them being distinctly Liberal Democrat? Even the way freedom is then expanded on in the text on the front page is one that both Labour and the Tories could claim too. As for radical policies: higher pensions, more teachers, shorter waiting times and more – all good solid policies, but hardly the stuff of establishment-shaking radicalism.
It’s a reminder that just as voters are wise not to rest too much hope on politicians, so too political activists are wise not to rest too much hope on manifesto front pages.
* That’s why although I was on the losing side of the argument this time round to include it, it’s quite wrong to conclude that the party is downgrading its commitment to civil liberties.