Policies matter. In the absence of the political manifestos, the election campaign to date has been reduced to either a focus on personalities, or on a generalised sense of trust. Neither of those can be relied on. People who voted in 2015 in the belief that they were choosing between David Cameron or Ed Miliband – or, for that matter, Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage – were wrong to think that. In formal terms, the party leaders aren’t on the ballot papers; the names of prospective local MPs are, with their party (and the party might change afterwards). In practice, the party leaders aren’t what matters – those parties are. And that’s why there didn’t need to be an election after all of those party leaders had resigned.
By contrast, the policies announced in manifestos have a serious impact. The reason why pensions have continued to increase was because the winning party manifesto had promised it. The reason why the government had to change its mind about National Insurance contributions wasn’t because they’d had a change of heart; it was because the policy contradicted their manifesto. And one of the key reasons why the Liberal Democrats suffered so heavily at the polls in 2015 is that they broke a key manifesto promise. We’ve had, up to now, a phony war on the doorsteps; candidates who are standing for office haven’t really been able to say what their party hopes to do, and that means that they have to bang on instead about character or tribal loyalties. Let’s hope that the belated publication of the first manifesto changes the tone.