The INLOGOV General Election Maxifesto Quiz

Chris Game

There were two prompts for this blog. The first was the politest of enquiries from the recently returned INLOGOV Blog Manager, which was easy enough to deflect. Shortly after doing so, however, while reading through one of the parties’ election manifestos – as you do – I came across ‘dibs’, a word I don’t recall crossing either my lips or barely my consciousness for a good half-century or so.

Back in my distant childhood there was much dibbing – and dybbing. On my father’s allotment I would make holes with my own potato dibber. As cub scouts, we would be enjoined every Friday evening by the ‘Old Wolf’ Akela to ‘Dyb, Dyb, Dyb’ (‘Do Your Best’), responding of course that we would indeed ‘Dob, Dob, Dob’. Back home, if there was any scarce desirable to be shared, like recently de-rationed sweeties, my younger sister Jennifer and I would compete for ‘first dibs’ (1).

In the ensuing decades, though, dibbing disappeared completely from my life. Yes, I recall registering the existence of the very top-end-of-the-market 1stdibs fine art dealership, but my INLOGOV salary discouraged closer interest. I remember being intrigued, therefore, by the context in which it did re-enter my personal/public policy world, and was fascinated again to see it an election manifesto.

So much so that I felt an urge to share the news, and decided to sneak it surreptitiously into an INLOGOV Election Maxifesto Worthy Pledge Quiz – not exactly an established tradition, but for which there is a kind of antecedent.

A Worthy Pledge is best explained by what it isn’t. It’s not one of those a major party either wants to, or fears might, create headlines and win or lose it loads of votes – and which are likely to be known to or guessable by readers of this blog anyway. Worthy Pledges are the add-ons. Not exactly window-dressing, because so relatively few wavering voters will even glance at, let alone open, these windows. They’re mostly imprecise pledges, or often just hopes – so loosely phrased that accountability of anyone, ever, is out of the question.

They are, however, the main reason why the average length of the major parties’ 2019 maxifestos – around 25,000 words (without ancillary ‘costings documents’) – is roughly four times the total length of ALL THREE major parties’ manifestos in 1951 (Thackeray and Toye, 2019). Nearly 83% of voters turned out in that election – the last time a General Election turnout topped 80% – and, while we don’t know how many of them had read those minifestos, it’s surely a fair bet that it’s more than will have thumbed through the 60-100 page compilations this time.

Here, then, listed alphabetically, is the 2019 Local Government Maxifesto Worthy Pledge Quiz.

Which party (Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, Brexit) pledges to …?

  1. Abolish both student loan interest and the target to push 50% of young people into Higher Education.
  2. Devolve full control of Right-to-Buy to local councils.
  3. Encourage councils to build more beautiful architecture.
  4. End rough sleeping within five years.
  5. Enshrine a legal right to food in law.
  6. Establish a £150m. Community Ownership Fund to help local people take over civic and community assets under threat, including football clubs and post offices.
  7. Establish a Royal Commission to develop a public health approach to substance misuse, focusing on harm reduction rather than criminalisation.
  8. Explore ways to tackle the problem of grade inflation in higher education courses (sorry, that’s more for us in the UoB!).
  9.    Increase central government funding to councils by £10 billion a year.
  10. Introduce a levy on overseas companies buying housing, and give local people ‘first dibs’ on new homes built in their area.
  11. Launch the biggest ever pothole-filling programme.
  12. Legislate to require councils to switch from a Cabinet system to a Committee system.
  13. Provide 35 hours a week of free childcare, from the age of 9 months.
  14. Replace Police and Crime Commissioners with police boards made up of local councillors.
  15. . Stop bank branch closures and ban ATM charges.

Of course, the inherent problem with these kinds of exercises is where to list the answers. It may be that the Blog Manager can come up with something brilliant, but in case he can’t, I’ll witter on for another couple of sentences, then list them at the end – confident that you won’t have cheated and read ahead.

So, how many of you got the ‘first dibs’ pledge? It’s Labour’s, of course – a straight steal from Mayor Sadiq Khan’s attempt to give Londoners the first chance to buy new homes priced up to £350,000 before foreign investors can get their hands on them. A bit like Jennifer, after sweets came off rationing in 1953, except statistically her chances were massively better.

Finally, since you were no doubt wondering, one possible origin of ‘first dibs’ is an ancient children’s game played (by ancient children) with pebbles or sheep’s knucklebones known as ‘dibstones’.

The answers: 1. Brexit Party; 2. LD; 3. Con; 4. Trick question – Con + Lab; 5. LD; 6. Con; 7. Lab; 8. Con; 9. Green; 10. Lab; 11. Con; 12. Green; 13. Green;                    14. LD; 15. Lab.

Chris Game - picChris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

ERDOGAN’S SNAP GENERAL ELECTION AND THE DESTINY AWAITING LOCAL GOVERNORATES IN TURKEY

Turkey’s General Election in June 2015 did not secure the majority that President Erdogan needed to realise his dream of transforming the country’s political system from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. In the aftermath of the election, all sensitive attempts by Turkey’s political parties to form a coalition or minority government failed. Therefore, the country faces yet another election, which will be held on 1st November.  In the meantime, the long established cease-fire between the government and the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has collapsed and renewed fighting has broken out. Nobody knows what will happen in the upcoming election and what approach the country will take to handling the conflict.

And what might all this mean for local government in Turkey?  A round of interviews recently conducted with District Governors across the country has highlighted a range of challenges now confronting local level governance and public provision.  But before introducing these, it will probably be helpful to have an overview of local governance structures and public administrative arrangements in Turkey.

The local Turkish public administrative system comprises two distinct systems, one being the locally elected local/municipal authorities; the other being the governance of the central state within the localities – the latter comprising appointed governors operating at the provincial and district levels. The duties of local authorities mainly revolve around infrastructure provision and maintenance within local areas, including services such as road development, construction zoning, water facilitation and the like. In contrast, the central state, through the district governors, is responsible for a number of other key public services, including policing, education, agriculture etc.

In the past decade, local authorities in Turkey have experienced significant devolution of power from central government, with the result that much more day-to-day business concerning local communities as well as responsibility for strategic planning at the local level is now exercised by the local authorities and municipalities.  Such devolution has also involved the abolition of the special city administrations that had previously been headed by the provincial governors and the transfer of responsibility for infrastructure development in the villages and towns from the governors to the local authorities.

In light of such a significant programme of devolution, it was interesting to have the opportunity recently to learn from a sample of District Governors from across Turkey how the reform process was working out in practice and of the benefits and challenges that it was perceived to be creating.

As part of the author’s doctoral research, a total of 30 district governors were interviewed during summer 2015.  Of these, a few viewed  the developments as  potentially good for Turkey’s future in general albeit expressing some concerns about the implications for their own  role as governors – i.e. in relation to their responsibilities for  coordinating and leading the local branches of the central state’s administrative system. However, the majority of interviewees expressed a more pessimistic perspective and saw the change as the beginning of the end of the governor profession within the country. They highlighted, that the central administration, based in the capital city of Ankara, had transferred aspects of the governors’ authority and power to the local municipalities in lieu of devolving power or authority from the central government.

An intriguing question to be asked in relation to this otherwise bold devolution is why the shift of power stopped short of abolishing the governorships and the centre-appointed governors? And the answer would seem to lie mainly in two political concerns of the Turkish government at national level. First, there is the ‘Kurdish question’ – one of the most important issues that the Republic of Turkey has been facing for decades. The country has been quelling dissent from Kurdish rebels, particularly in its south-eastern and eastern parts, for some considerable time and the fear is that if the governorships were to be abolished, the Kurdish towns and cities would most likely want to claim autonomy from the Turkish state. Given that the governors act on behalf of the central government, they are seen as representing the state and symbolising national unity, which sends an important message within the context of the ‘Kurdish question’.

Second, the commitment to devolution is arguably less than whole- hearted within the central bureaucracy with Turkey having had a long tradition of a centrally structured state. Devolving power downwards to local administrations requires Turkey to break from that tradition, which will neither be an easy nor a quick process.

Given such circumstances, the future for devolution in this country remains somewhat uncertain, with the district governors unsure of the prospects and as a result often reluctant to exert their authority and leadership potential at a time when the spirit of localism grows ever stronger as does the people’s demand for enhanced democracy.  One suggestion discussed in the interviews with several governors was for the establishment of a new form of democratically-elected governorships.  Might this be a realistic way forward for Turkey in these challenging times?

saban

Saban Akca is a doctoral researcher in INLOGOV at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on leadership in public administration, and his doctoral thesis examines the leadership performance of local-level district governors in Turkey.