Sat 18 January 2020

In the wake of the General Election, Sally Brown and Sarah Musselbrook commissioned a poll on public attitudes to mendacious politicians.

After the famous Vote Leave bus that promised to save £350m from EU membership a week and give it to the NHS, how are we still in a position where the most powerful people can claim anything and make any pledge, with nobody (and no official body) to hold them to account on their promises?

Even in an age of big data and forensic analytics, lies are still rife in British politics. Over the past few weeks of the campaign, we saw smoke and mirrors taken to a whole new level. The winning party lied its way through the campaign trail, refused to release the Intelligence Services Committee’s Russia report, announced 50,000 ‘new’ nurses (knowing 19,000 of the figure was only to retain existing staff), and promised it wouldn’t sell the NHS. And that’s before having a leader who dodged BBC interviewer Andrew Neil and then hid in a fridge.

If the 2019 General Election campaign showed us anything, it was that the manifestos of the respective political parties were met with varying levels of media scrutiny.

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That same party is now in charge with such a large majority that it can carry out – or not carry out – whichever election pledges it so pleases. The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg followed up the Queen’s speech by boldly wondering which of its promises the new Conservative government would pick to carry out, noting that it may, in fact, use its majority to go an entirely different way. 

If the media can report that the current Government might not follow through on its election pledges, are we supposed to just accept and swallow that? We commissioned research to see if people were willing to.

The research asked 2,000 adults across the UK – a sample considered nationally representative by all of our media – what should happen to a government that doesn’t keep its election promises. 

It found: 

A third of UK adults (33%) think there should be an independent regulator to hold the Government to its election promises.

A quarter (23%) said there should be legal action against a government that breaks its election promises.

Yes, democracy means we elect a Government. And we have the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, to ensure the proper operation of elections. But once in power – even with the strongest of majorities – who holds the people in power accountable? 

This issue was even raised on page 48 of the Conservative 2019 Election Manifesto:

‘After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts.’

People still vote based on the promises made during an election; so what is the point of manifestos and pledges if an elected government doesn’t actually have to carry them out? 

With apparently no ramifications for not telling the truth and a government that seems to think of itself above the law, we are in urgent need of some kind of independent regulating body.

We have OFCOM, OFWAT and OFGEM – why not an OFPOL or Ofgov?

Sally Brown is a lifelong Liberal Democrat and Sarah Musselbrook is a lifelong Labour supporter. They commissioned nationally representative research as a call to bring some form of accountability to incumbent governments.

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