Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Keeping the Bastards Honest.

Has nobody ever tried suing a politician for reneging on an election promise?

Of course, they’re very good at weaseling their way out of such situations. It’s a politician’s job to be popular, to be convincing, and to make excuses. It’s easy to cost a project at ten million when you’re in opposition, and then “realise” that your figures were off by an order of magnitude once you get elected to implement it. You won’t be voted out of office for another few years yet. The populace will have forgotten your broken promises by the time the next election rolls around. They’ll know that you probably did break some promises, but so did the other guy. It is, in many depressing ways, a race to the bottom.

It may well be that we’ve left it too late to do anything about it now, certainly in our current system. We all get offended when a politician backs down on a promise we hoped they’d keep, but nobody’s surprised at any of it. A court could easily rule that election promises are not binding contracts for the very reason that nobody expects them to be honoured. While this would break advertising standards and violate common decency, it would be a case of the law recognising that which already de facto exists.

On the other hand, it may not be too late. If I’m offered a deal, and I honour my end of the bargain, I expect the other party’s end to be honoured too, and legally it shouldn’t make any difference who the other party is. The only problem here is that none of the parties I support will ever form government, at least in the near future, and I don’t know how one could claim to have honoured one’s end of the bargain with a major party without having preferenced it first. Might there be any way that the electorate as a whole, as represented by someone appointed for the purpose, could do it?


  1. Hmm, I suspect a court would more likely rule that election promises are not binding because voting in parliament is not legitimate subject matter.

    There are some things you can't contract away, and mostly that's a good thing.

  2. I suspect you're right. What do you mean by the second sentence?

  3. Well, it's just the first sentence rephrased more colloquially; you can't contract away things like voting in parliament, and it would probably be a bad thing if MPs could legitimately sell their votes.

  4. Ah, I see what you mean.

    I agree that it'd be bad to sell your vote, but ultimately it's their job to represent us, and if they misrepresent their intentions in order to get elected, then they're not doing their job. They shouldn't be able to sell their votes to private interests, but their job should be to represent the public's interests before their own, or else it isn't a representative democracy any more. There should be situations where they should be able to change their minds, of course, but only when the situation itself changes.

    The question, of course, is would any of that be safely enforceable, and if you're saying it probably wouldn't be I'd have to agree with you, at least as regards our present system.