We all understand the nature of a mandate; in elections it is a sanction granted by the electors to the party that wins the election and forms the government. Here is a Conservative mandate, delivered in clear terms, in the 2015 Conservative Manifesto: “A Conservative Government will not increase the rates of VAT, Income Tax or National Insurance in the next Parliament.” (Conservative Manifesto; p.27).
Of course this manifesto commitment was not implemented quite as electors were entitled to expect. It was simply overturned in Philip Hammond’s first Budget; then as quickly resurrected, in the form of a pirouette in policy by the present Prime Minster and Chancellor together (albeit a pirouette executed in the form of a maladroit U-turn: more Laurel and Hardy than Astaire and Rogers), but emphatically in terms that expressly acknowledge the depth of the commitment: “the Prime Minister and I decided that, however difficult the fiscal challenges we face, the tax-lock and spending ring-fence commitments we have made for this Parliament should be honoured in full”. (Philip Hammond, 15th March, 2017: public letter). Ah, the resort to the word “honour” is made, presumably to solemnify a farce; but we should remember the resort to that word “honour”.
Here is another 2105 Conservative manifesto pledge: “We say: yes to the Single Market” (Conservative Manifesto: p.72). Another solemn manifesto commitment to be “honoured”? Here is Theresa May “honouring” that pledge: “But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the Single Market.” (Theresa May: speech, Lancaster House, 17th January, 2017).
What the Prime Minister failed to make clear was that she was ditching an undertaking even more “clearly” made to the electors in the Conservative Manifesto (who of course did not elect her or her Government to IMPLEMENT Brexit, as the manifesto also demonstrates). I am sure that any Conservative apologists reading this article are now scrabbling around for the exact form of words that will deliver easily for them, a meaning of this 2015 Conservative Manifesto statement on the Single Market, that defines the word “yes” as actually meaning “no”; I wish them luck (and if they do alight on some risible point of sophistry, you will have learned a great deal more about them than the meaning of the words), especially if they wish to embrace both the “letter” and “spirit” of the statement. You will discover soon enough below why both the letter and spirit are important.
Of course the Prime Minister was not “proposing” anything in January: she was already executing a policy that obliterated the undertaking to be members of the Single Market. Somehow I fail to see how that could be seen by any fair critic to “honour” the manifesto commitment. Perhaps the Prime Minister will seek to come to the House of Commons and explain how she reconciles her policy on the single Market with her NIC U-turn and specifically, this excerpt from Philip Hammond’s U-turn letter:
“It is very important to me and the Prime Minister that we are compliant not just with the letter, but also the spirit of the commitments that were made” (Hammond, 15th March).
There is the mandate, and there is the undertaking. I invite the Prime Minister to do what her Chancellor called the “honourable” thing, and implement the Manifesto commitment to the Single Market.