UK Politics

Election 2015: Shaun Ley's latest dispatch from Dudley

maifestos

Not as shiny as the real thing, but our mini manifestos still catch the eye here in Dudley. Surely the best ideas don't need fancy graphics to sell them, anyway?

We call it The World At One pop-up shop, though we're not selling but listening. Between Monday and Wednesday, as each manifesto was released, we wrote up the key points and put them on display in the doorway of our temporary home in the Merry Hill shopping centre.

A big sketch pad, an appropriately coloured marker pen, and a £10 easel from the shop upstairs were all we needed for a rather less glitzy launch for each party's plan. Still, the display provides a different sort of window shopping.

As I began writing this, one man was outside casting his eye over the latest additions, our UKIP and Liberal Democrat displays in purple and orange. He was licking thoughtfully at his ice cream cone - about the only clue I have as to the weather outside.

Image caption Voters in Dudley were invited to peruse the election manifestos

For those who wonder whether manifestos have much impact during an election campaign, I can only say that here there's been evidence of "manifesto shopping". For example, people are noting the different offers on NHS funding - £12bn or £8bn - or how much you'd need to be earning before you start to pay income tax - above the minimum wage, or above £12,500.

Before you scoff at the "Dutch auction" that appears to be underway, manifestos do have some weight, at least in parliamentary terms.

After the 1945 general election, Labour and Conservatives in the House of Lords agreed the what's called The Salisbury Convention, by which they agreed not to opt to block any measure that was in a government's general election manifesto.

But before a party gets into government, it has to win that election. Do manifestos have much impact on how people vote? On Tuesday, one of the people I asked to comment on our list of Conservative policies pointed to the words "no inheritance tax on homes worth up to £1m" and said that line of the manifesto alone would ensure the Tories received her vote.

There's every chance that manifestos for this election have been more carefully phrased than for any previous one. It's the tuition fee effect, the damage done to the Liberal Democrats because voters think a promise they made during the 2010 election was broken.

If they are written with more caution this time, it's also an acknowledgement of the likelihood that the next government will lack a parliamentary majority of its own, and may have to trade manifesto pledges for the support of another party.

One voter in Dudley had a suggestion for me - giving manifestos legal force. She wants them to be like a contract: if a party that's elected breaks its manifesto, then it also breaks the law.

Any party fancy making that a last-minute addition to their manifesto?

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