Last week some wag on radio described the current campaign as the “E-bay election” because so many commodities were up for auction.
However, perhaps a more accurate analogy would be the “Santa Claus election” given that what the politicians are offering are brightly-decorated presents under the tree which we won’t have to pay for.
Yes, yes, I know it has become standard to describe all these promises as “fully-costed”… but then I’ve just seen pigs fly past my office window.
All the parties – large and small – have been guilty. But perhaps the most fatuous election ‘goody’ so far has come from none other than our Prime Minister with his intention to compel large firms to allow employees three days off with pay every year to carry out voluntary work.
This came a few days after the negative public reaction to the comments (obviously cleared by party HQ) from the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, who berated Ed Miliband for “backstabbing” brother David in the last Labour leadership contest (actually Ed knifed David in the front – with a smile).
So was there a connection to this reaction and Cameron’s decision to make a commitment which would appear in tandem with his vision of the ‘Big Society’?
Whether true or not, I always inferred that the ‘Big Society’ was about putting community over personal gain or advancement. In which case someone wishing to volunteer to carry out charity or similar work should be prepared to take three (or more) days as part of his or her annual holiday entitlement rather than place a financial burden on the employer.
Conversely, if an employer really believes in the ‘Big Society’, he will be prepared to offer employees paid time off (beyond their annual holiday entitlement) of his own volition.
If passed into law Cameron’s proposal would, of course, lead to massive additional costs for British industry – not just payment for the time off itself but all the extra legal and administrative work involved in complying with the legislation.
But just as worrying is the coercive element. They are more New Labour (or even Old Labour) than Conservative – although didn’t the Prime Minister (when in opposition) once describe himself as the “heir to Blair”?
Of course, this could have been a propaganda exercise aimed at showing off Cameron as ‘good cop’ because there does seem to be a distinct lack of consistency about Tory pre-election giveaways this time round.
A few days after this rather Blairite proposal, the Tories shifted into full Thatcherite mode with a statement of intent to permit tenants of housing associations (south of the Border) to buy their homes and at a huge discount, just as Maggie did with council properties more than three decades ago.
These two diverse policy options suggest the current Conservative campaign is not running on all four cylinders and that they are rattled by the fact that Ed Miliband appears to be performing much better than most pundits expected.
Perhaps the Tory strategists thought they could sit back and ‘let Ed lose it for Labour’, just as Neil Kinnock did against John Major back in 1992. If so it looks as if they were wrong.