All the parties jostling for our votes at the general election on 7 May are trying to out-do each other with promises. And that's all they are: politicians' promises. A similar phrase, 'the builder's promise', immediately springs to mind. That's also to do with being unable to stick to a plan, and coming up with endless excuses as to why not.
I don't expect any government has ever done exactly what it pledged. And it would be very naïve to expect anything of the sort. It irritates me when media interviewers and rival-party politicians behave as if any of these aspirational pledges are real-world and capable of being fulfilled to the letter. At best, one can anticipate a certain style of government, one that will prioritise certain things that it prefers to do over those things that it doesn't. If these are your priorities too, then the way to vote is obvious! If not, vote another way, but regardless, never expect the full programme to be served up without some cancellations or substitutions. 'Unforeseen factors' will rescue a new government from many a commitment.
I regard solemnly-made promises and firmly-expressed intentions as just so much election-platform crowd-pleasing. So I'm ignoring all these 'guarantees', and will vote according (a) the proven past track record, and (b) according to what any fairly well-informed person, aware of the current state of the economy, and the big things that may happen around the world in the next few years, could reasonably expect a government to deliver.
So I disbelieve much of what each party says it will do. I even think that if UKIP ever achieved a commanding position after the elections, it would fail to deliver on its anti-immigation promises. Think about it. How is an government going to implement a mass-expulsion of immigrants, Idi Amin style, unless it assumes totalitarian powers?
Actually, a neurotic, isolationist Britain stripped of all the variety and colour that foreign influences bring would be an awful place to live in. You can imagine the scene in the average village pub, after the Cleansing, all the men sitting dourly around a table, grumpily sipping their Victory Beer.
'Good job all them foreigners have gone.'
'Yeah. Great to hear only British voices, and see only British faces.'
'Well, it's a pain for me - I've lost most of my workforce.'
'That's all right - all our local lads can now get jobs!'
'You don't know what you're talking about. They aren't interested in working. They can't be bothered. Easier to sleep all day, and nick stuff now and then for a bit of cash.'
'And my old mum's been left in the lurch. No helper now. Sister has to see to her, and she hasn't really got the time to do it.'
'Couldn't you step in?'
'I've got to get to hospital somehow on Thursday. My tests.'
'Thought you just strolled down to the new village clinic.'
Nah, it shut down. Three of the nurses had to leave. You know, them nice Portuguese ones. The rest were shifted to the city hospital and the clinic was closed. So I have to sit on a bus for half the day instead. What a bloody waste of my time.'
'It's all bloody inconvenient now.'
'Cheer up! Fancy a curry?'
'From where? All the Indian places have disappeared.'
'There aren't any Chinese places now.'
'A kebab -'
'Forget it, the Turks all had to get out and go home.'
'Fish and chips. What about that?'
'Well, they were run by the Chinese hereabouts. So they've all shut.'
'I suppose we'll have to stump up for an Italian then. Nice big pizza, how about that?'
'They were booted out too. Not British enough.'
'Does this pub do anything?'
'Nah. It's gone back to crisps only. Can't get a proper chef. Can't even get a hot sausage roll now.'
Ah, the Golden Age of British Country Life. Fully restored.
Lots of people have strong views about what any fresh government should do - about Trident, say, or nuclear energy, or expensive infrastructure projects. But most will look at how their personal pockets or purses might be hit. So what about it? Does Labour tax you to death? Are the Conservatives likely to make you better-off where it matters?
I have a personal answer to this basic question. I have all my income-and-tax records going back to 1970. I have (are you surprised?) a big spreadsheet on which these details have been carefully entered year by year for donkeys years. I won't embarrass you with the gross income figures in recent years, but look at these summary figures for the income tax that was deducted. I've considered how much of my gross pay (or in the last decade, pension) has been taken in tax (just the tax - I'm ignoring National Insurance Contributions, which you don't pay once retired), expressed as a percentage of the gross income in each of the Labour and Conservative periods of government. This is the result:
1970 to 1974
The tax years 1970/71 to 1973/74.
Conservative government, led by Ted Heath.
£493 income tax paid = 12.6% of my gross pay.
1974 to 1979
The tax years 1974/75 to 1978/79.
Labour government, led by Harold Wilson, and then Jim Callaghan.
£4,312 income tax paid = 23.6% of my gross pay.
1979 to 1997
The tax years 1979/80 to 1996/97.
Conservative government, led by Margaret Thatcher, and then John Major.
£63,349 income tax paid = 19.9% of my gross pay.
1997 to 2010
The tax years 1997/98 to 2009/10.
Labour government, led by Tony Blair, and then Gordon Brown.
£65,015 income tax paid = 17.6% of my gross pay (to May 2005) or pension (from June 2005).
2010 to 2015
The tax years 2010/11 to 2014/15.
Conservative/LibDem Coalition government, led by David Cameron (Conservative), with deputy Nick Clegg (LibDem).
Income tax paid = 13.1% of my gross pension.
Bear in mind the effect of inflation. £500 in 1970 would be worth about £5,000 in 2005 (when I retired), and £7,500 in 2015.
Bear in mind also that the tax percentage is always lower when the gross income is lower. Thus, the 1970-1974 tax percentage of 12.6% was modest because I was on a junior pay scale, and such things as the tax-free personal allowance had a much greater effect. Thus my starting salary rate in September 1970 was £741 per annum, and in the tax year 1970/71 I paid only £6 income tax on earnings of £447. Similarly the latest 13.1% tax figure reflects the fact that my income in retirement is not nearly what it would be if still working, and drawing a full-time Civil Service salary in my old grade.
Even when restrained by coalition conditions, the Conservative income tax take has been consistently lower than when Labour has been in charge, excepting only the New Labour years from 1997.
It's really interesting to see that New Labour under Tony Blair managed - at least in my own case, maybe not in yours - to beat the tax-reduction efforts of the foregoing Conservative government! This (among several other things) must have made New Labour seem more Tory than the Tories to many old-school Labour supporters. But it's been part of a trend since the late 1970s to create a low-tax economy. Corporate tax rates have also been reduced. It can't go much further. I'm afraid that in coming years, every shade of politician will have to accept that tax rates must rise again to a level where vital public services and vital defence capabilities can be properly funded. The party is nearly over.
It may be clear by now which outfit may get my nod, and why. Don't think me a dupe of middle-right propaganda, however. I haven't forgotten the Dirty Tricks and Personal Slurs that have been used over the years to influence public perception, including this Conservative poster campaign from early 1997, which, considering the landslide victory Labour achieved, backfired spectacularly:
I actually voted for New Labour, the only time I have ever voted for any brand of Labour. I was sickened by Tory Sleaze, and wanted a change. I remember actually cheering when the election result gave the Conservatives such a well-deserved sock in the jaw. But New Labour's huge mandate wasn't translated into a boatload of fresh, inspiring policies. Then came the war in Iraq. I photographed this cartoon in April 2005:
It still strikes a chord with me.