It had the gestation of a procrastinating elephant, but Darlington LibDem's manifesto was finally delivered this afternoon.
There's already been some fairly standard criticism on the Liar from my LibDem-hating Tory friends in Hurworth, along the lines of non-affordability. Well, yes, but that kind of goes with the territory. A well-grounded, fully-costed LibDem manifesto would be an oxymoron. If they weren't wishy-washy idealists with their heads in the clouds, we wouldn't love 'em for who they are.
It presents a powerful contrast with the Tory's earlier effort. That was policy-lite, of course, with a Cameroonian slant that hilariously no local Conservative is signed up to.
No-one can accuse Mike Barker of policy-lite. The manifesto is constipated with policy. Nothing escapes Mike's gimlet gaze. Accepting that much of it is unaffordable (without swingeing budget cuts elsewhere), there are some other truths that shine through.
Firstly (and whisper it softly) it's very Darlington New Labour. Mike can't say that of course, but in paragraph after paragraph their manifesto pays homage to Labour's achievements and aspirations. Most of the passage on education for example suggests policy initiatives where Labour has already got the bit between its teeth. Better language teaching? Hummerknott is making great strides here, and more primary schools are starting to teach foreign languages. The need for an Education Review Group? Labour has asked the Local Strategic Partnership how we can build on the achiements to date. Improved vocational learning? Labour's SkillsPlus initiative, in partnership with Darlington College, is a national exemplar. I could repeat the exercise with whole rafts of text on transport and the environment.
Perhaps more worrying, however, are the bloopers in the document which suggest that the LibDems have a fundamental misunderstanding of how local government works. They want, for example, a return to the Committee system to open up local government. Darlington can't do that, because the law prevents us. So when Mike writes, "We favour a return to the Committee system" is that cynically drafted to mislead residents, only for an incoming LibDem administration (!) the wriggle room to blame the government for their inability to fulfill a manifesto promise? Probably not. More likely, the standard of current LibDem Councillor is so poor in Darlington, that the LibDems just haven't a clue what can and can't be achieved.
Mike writes intelligently and with passion, but the manifesto is badly-flawed. Unlike the Tory's effort, however, at least it provides the basis for a debate.