Whenever an election comes, there will be a manifesto required. Of course, normal people don't read manifestos, and if you ever hear a politician tell you otherwise they're lying. The only people manifesto's get read by are, either political undergraduate when doing an essay, political obsessive, political blogger (now) and political journalists. In a world of pithy PR it must short, snappy, and express ideas in simply ways.
I shall never forget comparing the Tory and Labour manifestos in 1997. The former was dense whilst the latter was slick and simple. Whilst your average geezer on the street won’t have batted an eyelid at them, the Labour one's singular advantage over the Tory one was that it didn't need much translation in the media. The media class wrote it for the media, and in many cases it could be easily reproduced verbatim as newspaper copy.
We've been told that Ed Miliband is involved with writing the Labour one this time round, whilst Oliver Letwin is writing the Tory one. Both wonks of course, so both could be highly dangerous moves, especially when you consider Letwin's last outing went a bit overboard on the academic rhetoric with his "shift from an econocentric paradigm to a sociocentric paradigm." We can only hope he doesn’t go that way again.
Add into that mix the older head bangers on the Tory Right (can someone tell me when they will die please?) and you have the potential recipe for disaster when it comes to the Tory manifesto. If it isn't "purist" enough they'll all start choking on their Ovaltine and might forget to take their pre-bedtime meds (this could be a good thing actually). Perceived to be too "purist" and we'll have "cave in to the nasty party", it's all so predictable really.
So what to do? Well if I were advising Cameron or Letwin (which of course would never happen) I'd be making the case for using some project management principles when drawing up the manifesto. Separate out your policies into four groups: must haves; should haves; could haves; and would haves. Then descope everything accept the first one and half groups.
Labour's success in 1997 was not merely the Tory collapse. They realised that much of what they could or would want to do was "out of scope" and when something is out of scope you don't even think about it. You remain fixed on what's in scope and don't let yourself be distracted from that roadmap.
It’s a cliché to say that you under-promise and over-deliver but it’s true. Sadly the head bangers of old don’t seem to get that anymore.