Don’t ever use me as your tool,
A promise is a comfort to a fool –Gregory Isaacs 
A promise, it has been frequently and cynically asserted, is but a comfort to a fool only. Many regional electorates will no doubt be ready to confirm the validity of this old adage, having been seduced and disappointed time and again by glistering promises of post–election brave new worlds of hope and glory where it will not be politics as usual and where all those convicted of murder will be promptly hanged; where crime and poverty will be rare phenomena; where there will be frequent salary increases; fewer and lower taxes; and where, generally, a better time than the present will be enjoyed by all citizens. And the sole consideration requested of the elector is simply that he or she vote for the promising party’s candidate in the relevant constituency on the appointed Election Day.
These undertakings are traditionally contained in the party’s manifesto, a written document routinely distributed during the campaign period and avidly sought by enthusiastic supporters, in most cases as souvenirs of that year’s electoral battle, rather than as compelling evidence for any future claims of breaches of undertakings or failures in promised performance, were they so inclined. Reference to broken manifesto promises is usually rather the preserve of the members and sympathizers of the unsuccessful party for them to point out areas of non-compliance as proof that the other party committed nothing short of an act of fraudulent misrepresentation in order to secure its victory.
Even though some commentators have sought to treat the matter as one of contract law, the analogy is arguably not apt. Indeed, there are mutual promises or, at least, representations, and perhaps some element of consideration is given by the electors, but there remains serious doubt as to whether the respective parties intend to create a legal relation- the availability of resort to court action in case of a breach of promise. Perhaps it may be more accurate to consider that the arrangement creates an unequal status relationship between the parties, that of government and the governed – one where the latter party is powerless to restrain the conduct of the other except by withholding his or her franchise at the next general election.
It is in this light that we would wish to analyze the Covenant of Hope that the Opposition Barbados Labour Party [BLP] launched last week. Despite its lofty-sounding title, a covenant is essentially nothing more than an agreement between the covenanter, who makes the promise or covenant and the convenantee who is to enjoy the benefits of that promise. In this light, it hardly differs from an election manifesto, although somewhat premature.
We are in no doubt that the title of this document was carefully and strategically crafted and its scarcely-concealed biblical connotations are likely to resonate with a largely Christian-minded Barbadian populace. And it is not true to state that political promisors have never carried out any of their electoral promises.
At base, however, the contents of the document remain little more than political promises, essentially as unenforceable as those made in any election manifesto and hence, without being uncharitable, in the words of the film producer, Samuel Goldwyn, when referring to an oral contract, “not worth the paper it is written on.”
Should the BLP form the next governing administration, that will present it with a golden opportunity to prove us wrong.