Public sends clear message to politicians ahead of party conferences: ‘don’t make promises you can’t keep’

Institute for Government publishes new poll and A Programme for Effective Government for politicians wanting to implement their ideas and win public trust in 2015.

Two-thirds of the public say they would be more likely to vote for a party that demonstrates how it would implement its manifesto pledges, according to a new poll published today by the Institute for Government.

But few (only 15%) are confident that parties know how they will fulfil their promises in government. 64% of people think that political parties in the UK generally do not keep their election promises. And fewer than one in five thinks the UK political parties are good at explaining how their proposed policies will be implemented or paid for.

There was also strong consensus that politicians should take their time to get their facts right when making difficult decisions.

The poll was carried out by Populus on behalf of the Institute for Government, which today publishes A Programme for Effective Government aimed at politicians from all parties wanting to govern in 2015. It shows them what must be done to improve their chances of successfully implementing their policy pledges if elected.

As party conference season gets underway the message to parties from the public could not be clearer – think about the long-term, don’t rush difficult decisions and look outwards for ideas and expertise.

When it comes to how politicians should govern, the public thinks politicians’ top priorities should be:

  • Take decisions about the long-term direction of the country
  • Get best value for taxpayers
  • Fulfil promises they make before they are elected
  • Run the government more professionally.

However, getting re-elected, scoring political points and making big announcements in the media are thought to be the things that politicians prioritise.

A Programme for Effective Government sets out the common problems and dilemmas that all politicians will face if they win or share power in 2015. It also provides guidance on how politicians can achieve their policy goals and govern better. Five key challenges will face all the parties in 2015 if they enter government and must be planned for now:

  • Tackling the budget deficit - politicians must avoid making spending commitments they can’t stick to and prepare for a thorough spending review after the election. The programme recommends reforming the spending review process so it covers a longer time period (up to 5 years) and ensures departments work together to identify savings, cutting across departmental boundaries.
  • Achieving sustainable growth - 78% of the public felt politicians should not make difficult infrastructure decisions without consulting experts. Parties will promise to address under-investment in infrastructure, but to do so they will need better forums for informed decision making and public debate, as exist in Australia and France. All parties have committed in principle to decentralise power to stimulate growth. To show they are serious about this they must make clear manifesto commitments for what powers they will devolve and how they will be financed.
  • Tackling complex policy challenges – big issues such as energy and climate change, social cohesion and immigration are top of many parties’ lists of things to address but too often politicians rush to make unrealistic commitments or get distracted by day-to-day pressures. Ministers may need to create special teams or external commissions away from daily pressures, working across departments, so that they can focus on the evidence and consult on fresh approaches and policies.
  • Improving public services – by minimising the number of major structural reforms, politicians can focus on small improvements that make a real difference to the quality of services. By increasing transparency and competition in public sector markets and outsourcing, accountability for failures in the delivery of complex service failures will be clearer. Worryingly, half the people polled felt that no one takes responsibility when services go wrong. Politicians must review the pace of outsourcing more services to allow a greater focus on fixing broken and underperforming public service markets.
  • Governing where power is spread more widely – politicians must learn from the experience of governing without a single-party majority. With multi-party systems more likely in the future, working constructively with other parties, setting clear policy programmes and forums for joint decision-making with agreed communications procedures will be crucial. Whatever happens in the Scottish referendum, open dialogue with all the devolved nations and clear understanding about how to work together are key to rebuilding trust in power.

Peter Riddell, Director at the Institute for Government, said:

“Whoever takes office in May 2015 will have to govern differently if they want to deliver on their election promises and build public confidence. There is a lot that parties can do over the coming months, both in thinking through the implications of their pledges and problems of implementation, and in preparing to be ministers and advisers. Crucially, this does not mean a shift to a technocratic or managerial view of government; rather the reverse. Our advice is about how to get the politics right in order to achieve political goals.”

For more information or to talk to one of the IfG team members, please contact Nadine Smith on 020 77470433 / 07850 313 791 / nadine.smith@instituteforgovernment.org.uk or Mark Mistry on 02077470420 / 07826551475 / mark.mistry@instituteforgovernment.org.uk

Notes to Editors:

  1. Populus interviewed 2,040 GB adults online between 8th and 10th August 2014. Results have been weighted to be representative of all GB adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more information see www.populus.co.uk
  2. In accordance with British Polling Council rules, data will be made available on the Populous website two days after publication.
  3. The Institute for Government is an independent charity founded in 2008 to help make government more effective.