Red lines, with an added twist
If there was a tax on red lines, the budget deficit would quickly disappear going by the frequency with which Liberal Democrats have been talking about manifesto red lines in the last few days.
The red lines the Liberal Democrats have been unveiling this week are all from the front page of the manifesto. It’s a cunning way of rebadging and splitting up into several stories the front page to get another several rounds of media coverage – and fully consistent with what was agreed for the front page.
Or as I put it in Liberal Democrat Newswire #62:
The front page priorities really are the party’s priorities.
Sounds obvious, and yet if you read the many pieces in the media about how the party has done in implementing its 2010 manifesto you find something curious. They don’t start with the front page priorities from 2010. Nor do they end with or pass through them.
In fact, the existence of 2010 front page priorities frequently doesn’t even get a mention, and I’ve not found during this campaign any media evaluation of the party’s record in government that actually goes through them all.
Rather you get a semi-random selection of different policies examined, always leaving out from consideration some of the front page (which is not without consequences for the political verdict given how good the record on the front page is).
There has, however, been an added twist with the Sunday morning red lines, both of which (on the environment and on public sector pay) depart from the exact wording on the manifesto front page.
On the environment it is simple enough, taking the wording about green laws and protecting nature and giving it a slightly more specific slant, which is what a red line needs.
On public sector pay, however, it is territory not mentioned specifically on the front page. However, it is a move to flesh out in more eye-catching ways what balancing the budget fairly means – in this case, ending the public sector pay squeeze when the deficit is clear and raising pay subsequently in line with growth in the economy.
It’s in line with the text in the manifesto (and in line with the more detailed discussion the Federal Policy Committee had ahead of agreeing the manifesto) and was first aired last month. Making it a red line now is both an attempt to attract a second round of media attention for the policy and also an attempt to appeal to a key group of public sector workers.
Note that all this means an EU referendum is not a red line for the party – officially at least, although there are some in the party who would find it hard to stomach. There are quite a few sweeteners that could be offered in a deal to make it palatable but it wouldn’t have an easy ride through the party’s triple lock procedures.