Promises from politicians are coming thick and fast as the clock runs down to the general election.

Last time around, Conservative leader David Cameron gave a number of personal pledges to see through various policies, some of which failed to see the light of day.

Some didn’t survive the give-and-take of coalition government, while other ideas were endorsed by the Lib Dems but still didn’t materialise – a point Mr Cameron’s opponents are bound to hammer home in the coming weeks.

Let’s have a look at what the prime minister promised he would do – and what really happened. We’ll also consider the bigger picture – useful things to bear in mind when critics of the government are trying to score points over these broken pledges.

Britain's opposition Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, kisses a baby while campaigning in Tamworth
David Cameron kisses a baby on the campaign trail in Tamworth in April 2010 (Reuters)

‘We are going to make our midwives’ lives a lot easier… we will increase the number of midwives by 3,000.’

Mr Cameron wrote these words in an article for the Sun in January 2010.

The exact number of midwives working in the NHS at the last election depend on how you count staff – numbers of people or full-time equivalent.

Either way there are just over 2,000 more qualified midwives now than there were in May 2010, leaving Mr Cameron some way short of the target.

The bigger picture: there are about 7,000 more nurses, midwives and health visitors in the health service than there were in May 2010, and more than 9,000 more doctors – although the time it takes to train doctors means the coalition cannot take the credit for that.

‘We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT.’

Mr Cameron made this pledge during a grilling from the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, adding: “Our first budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax.”

George Osborne announced in his very first budget that he would raised VAT from 17.5 to 20 per cent.

The bigger picture: Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems also swore they would not raise VAT, while warning voters that the Conservatives would. When the U-turn came the “Tory VAT bombshell” campaign material was still on the Lib Dems’ website.

‘The government should say not just there is a presumption you will be prosecuted if you carry a knife, but that there will be a presumption you will go to jail.’

Mr Cameron first said these words in another Sun interview in 2008. No law has been passed that automatically jails anyone who carries a knife.

The coalition did introduce a new crime of “threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon in public or on school premises”.

Adults could expect to get a custodial sentence, but not just for carrying a knife, and as FactCheck reported, a judge could still decide against jail depending on the circumstances.

The bigger picture: last year Conservative and Labour MPs voted together to pass a new law tabled by Tory backbencher Nick de Bois. Adults caught carrying a knife twice in public will face an automatic sentence of six months, while those aged 16 and 17 will get four months. The Lib Dems voted against the bill.

‘I’m not going to flannel you, I’m going to give it to you straight… I like the child benefit, I wouldn’t change child benefit, I wouldn’t means-test it, I don’t think that is a good idea.’

Another unfortunate choice of words, in retrospect – this time from a “Cameron Direct” question-and-answer session the future prime minister did in March 2010.

In 2013 means-testing of child benefit kicked in, with a reduced benefit for households with one parent earning more than £50,000 a year. The change was predicted to affect about a million families.

Nick Clegg had also appeared to rule out such a move before the election, saying in a BBC interview: “There are some benefits and I think child benefit is one of them, where actually I think it’s quite important that everybody, rich or poor, wherever they live, feels they have got a stake in it.”

The bigger picture: Mr Cameron apologised for this U-turn, telling ITV News: “We did not outline all those cuts, we did not know exactly the situation we were going to inherit. But I acknowledge this was not in our manifesto. Of course I am sorry about that.”

‘We’ve looked at educational maintenance allowances and we haven’t announced any plan to get rid of them. We don’t have any plans to get rid of them. It’s one of the plans the Labour party keep putting out, but we’re not.’

Mr Cameron was answering a question on the future of the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) at a question-and-answer event in January 2010.

The person asking the question here – Save EMA campaign director James Mills (now a Labour party staffer) – sensed Mr Cameron was lukewarm on the allowance and pushed him, asking: “Do you support it?” and: “Is that a yes?” The Conservative leader eventually replied: “That is a yes”.

A month before the election the future Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.”

The EMA, a grant paid to the poorest 16 to 19-year-olds in further education, was of course scrapped after the election.

The bigger picture: both the Tories and Lib Dems had criticised the EMA while in opposition and few were surprised when the coalition pulled the plug on it.

Britain's Prime Minister Cameron speaks with patient Libertie during a visit to the John Radcliffe children's hospital at Oxford in southern England

‘There will be no more of those pointless reorganisations that aim for change but instead bring chaos.’

The big one. These words were greeted with a round of applause when Mr Cameron made this speech at the Royal College of Nursing in 2009.

In 2011 delegates at the college’s annual conference overwhelmingly backed a motion of no confidence questioning Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s reforms to the NHS.

The move to replace primary care trusts with GP-led commissioning groups and increase the role of private providers has been described as the biggest reorganisation of the NHS in its history.

But before the last election, Mr Cameron had been adamant there would be no big surprises in store for NHS workers.

In another speech in 2009 he said: “We are committed to the status quo. It’s true, with the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS.”

This was one of a number of pre-2010 speeches the Tories later tried to wipe from the face of the internet.

The bigger picture: some independent experts think claims about the extent of privatisation in the government’s NHS reforms have been overcooked. The King’s Fund health think-tank says: “The coalition government’s reforms have resulted in greater marketisation of the NHS but that claims of mass privatisation are exaggerated.”