Public Affairs: Soapbox

Regardless of recent polls, the public affairs industry has been placing too great an emphasis on influencing political party manifestos.

Practitioners are too eager to latch on to what comes out of politicians' mouths and neglect the civil service's major role of translating party political commitments into a realistic set of policies, and then implementing those policies.

Election manifesto commitments are often very general and frequently changed out of all proportion after a party is elected.

'No plan survives contact with reality' is the maxim. For example, my first major campaign was for free admission to museums and galleries - a 1997 Labour manifesto commitment that was not implemented until early 2001 because the Treasury was opposed to the policy.

No-one can doubt the importance of Whitehall under a hung parliament or minority administration.

If the polls continue on their current trajectory, mandarins' power will naturally be enhanced - they will be tasked with brokering deals between parties and trying to form some sort of consensus and direction for policy out of the muddle of different parties' competing commitments.

Whitehall will, in any case, be reasserting itself after 13 years of labouring under the yoke of the Blair and Brown administrations.

We can talk until we are blue in the face about what the Conservatives want or until we are bored stiff by analysing the internal workings of the Liberal Democrats.

But let us be realistic and get our heads round the potential power of Whitehall in the next parliament.

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