…but are they worth the paper they are printed on?
…says The Guardian helpfully in its comparison of the three manifestos in this article. We’re still waiting for The Green Party’s manifesto, though they launched their youth manifesto here with the eye-catching pledge to scrap university tuition fees and write off all student-era debt still outstanding. While my heart & wallet is like ***Oooh!*** my head simply cannot see it happening.
The figures are eye-watering. Opponents will inevitably accuse the Greens of promising the world knowing they won’t ever be put into a position of ever having to deliver on such a promise. Such promises were the ruin of Nick Clegg, and dare I say it, Cameron and Osborne with the EU Referendum that they never stood a chance of winning against 30 years of tabloid drip-drip-hate headlines.
Conservative manifesto – a power grab?
It’s easy enough to tear into a manifesto of any political party that has been in power for seven years – normally it’s around this time that the party concerned begins to run out of steam. It’s also a time when big name critics who were once big figures in past administrations regularly turn up to criticise ministers. In this case, the Conservatives have to deal with George Osborne at the Evening Standard. Just how destabilising he proves to be remains to be seen.
From a ‘looking through the Cambridge lens’ there are a number of alarming things:
- Setting in stone the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoralty for a semi-permanent Conservative county mayor covering a city- Cambridge – where they have zero councillors and haven’t had more than a couple of councillors this side of the Millennium. (Policies imposing first-past-the-post (FPTP) despite the second preference system being used in the elections this year, and then stating they will now no longer back mayoralties for rural counties – cashing in their winnings for Cambridge).
- Proposing switching to FPTP for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections – both this and the above policies being slammed by the Electoral Reform Society (Which amongst other things calls for proportional representation as a voting system).
- The Internet – unfortunately due to the decision on the EU Referendum and the subsequent vote, the institution that would have had a half-decent chance for regulating the internet (for want of another term) is one that the UK is leaving. Having been to OpenTech 2017 not so long ago, I remain of the view that most people in politics and public policy are not nearly as technologically literate to be making policy on all things digital, and that all institutions in/around politics need to train up existing staff and bring in tech-literate staff into policy-making roles. This includes editors and journalists too. My ‘go-to’ expert in the field is @CharlotteJee – editor of @TechWorldNews.
- Leveson II – scrapped. The paragraph reads as if it was written by the tabloid proprietors and editors themselves. The Hacked Off campaign for a free & accountable press isn’t happy either.
There are more than a few other things I have issues with, but it’s not all bad.
- Rights and protections in ‘the gig economy’ where big firms are replacing what were permanent jobs & regular hours with faux ‘self employment’ or zero hours contracts. The proof will be both in Matthew Taylor’s report (Head of the RSA) and on what recommendations the Conservatives would implement. Note more and more people are sceptical of manifesto commitments that say “we will look at X report carefully before coming to conclusions” – especially ones published just after general elections!
- The enforcement by the law of promises made during corporate takeovers – a big issues with Cadbury’s. It was this that led to this clause.
- Investment in transport schemes – in particular to ease over-crowding on railways. Today, the new Cambridge North railway station was opened – also reigniting the political row as to who should take what credit over it.
- Strengthening laws to combat modern slavery
- The review of the honours system
…but inevitably given my own political values, there are things in there that I cannot reconcile eg
- saying it’ll deliver the World’s Greatest Meritocracy while this chap was given one of the hereditary seats in the House of Lords – despite being chair of the board that crashed Northern Rock. Adam Ramsay also has Qs for him here.
- saying it’ll integrate communities while opening more faith schools
- praising public service while subjecting those that work in the services to real terms pay cuts
- expanding shale gas production while saying it’ll meet 2050 carbon emissions reduction targets.
- talking about Labour’s incompetency (more of that later) while doing no contingency planning for Brexit, missing deficit targets repeatedly, and having very few costings on their policies – as the BBC Economics Editor Kamal Ahmed (formerly of The Telegraph) states here.
“Yeah – but what about Labour? And the LibDems? The alternative is communism!”
The reason why I think Labour will struggle in this general election is because Corbyn’s top team under former Guardian columnist Seumas Milne has committed far too many unforced errors over the past few years. It has been woeful and excruciating at times. If Labour does better than expected, much of it will be down to the huge amount of work their frontline activists have been putting into the campaign.
A manifesto to motivate the core vote?
On a number of policies, Labour is using words that people under the age of 35 will not be familiar with – eg “nationalisation”. This has shifted the political Overton Window because it has forced the broadcast journalists to explain what nationalisation actually is and means in practice – something that has found a receptive ear to some people. The risk is that should Labour face a heavy defeat, they could learn the wrong lessons of the election and assume it was policies rather than comms and competencies that lost it for them.
Repealing university tuition fees, but not the student-era debt
An important signal from Mr Corbyn given that it was Labour that brought in tuition fees in 1997/98 and then raised them in a piece of legislation that enabled the Coalition to raise them far further through secondary legislation requiring only 2 debates in Parliament rather than going through the extended process of primary legislation.
Free lifelong education at further education colleges
Potentially a very important policy due to the changing nature of the economy and jobs market. At school in the mid-1990s we were told our generation would be the first that did not have a job for life, and would have to retrain and re-skill. The burden of that retraining all too often falls on the individuals rather than the firms or the state. Note how corporation taxes and other levies on big private businesses have been cut over the years while the costs of education and training have risen. There will always be a financial incentive for firms to poach trained staff from their competitors rather than train up their own staff. In the end it’s a race to the bottom. Something must be done to reverse this.
Private rented homes
I take with a pinch of salt political promises on house building. In the grand scheme of things, spats over numbers are meaningless. One thing that Labour has mentioned that’s of interest is requiring all homes out for rent to be fit for human habitation. What’s not clear is how such a policy will be enforced, how that enforcement will be funded, what happens to tenants forced to move out, and what happens to properties that landlords leave empty and refuse to do anything with. In some parts of the country, property price rises alone means that the value of such a property will continue to rise anyway.
National Care Service, National Education Service
What intrigues me about these two are how these services will interact with local government. One of the things Labour found out in the mid-2000s was the limitations of over-centralised delivery. You can’t micromanage from the centre. I found this out the hard way during my Whitehall days. Can they make public services such as these and the NHS work seamlessly with local councils?
Unlike the Conservatives above, Labour has stated it will commence with Leveson II. Furthermore, and perhaps as expected, they announced they will launch a review of local and national media ownership. Given the coverage of much of the print newspaper media, calls from within Labour can only grow stronger.
“And the Liberal Democrats? Their leader says they are aiming to be the lead opposition!”
Going from 9 MPs to over 200 is the swing that would be required for that, and for over 326 MPs to form a government. They are standing in pretty much every seat across Great Britain, but even their most devout supporter would concede that their chances of being elected outright into government are slim at best. Indeed, in big letters they state: “Change Britain’s future by changing the opposition”
Pitched to hard remainers?
The opening section is all about how different policy areas will be affected by Brexit and how they would respond to each one. In that sense they’ve accepted that the Conservatives have framed this General Election 2017 as one about Brexit. Labour on the other hand have not, and are campaigning on much wider issues. As things stand today, the commentariat is noting Labour’s rise (from very low) in the opinion polls with the Lib Dems failure to make much headway, and are criticising Tim Farron for pitching so hard for the remain vote.
Similar to Labour on health and education?
As far as high level policy goes, yes. To most people, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens all have a ‘stop the cuts’ theme in these areas – something that people are bringing up locally at the hustings.
As with Labour, the Lib Dems have also covered adult education with a similar sounding policy about ‘individual accounts for funding mature adult and part time learning’ but it doesn’t read nearly as clearly as Labour’s commitment (free adult education at FE colleges) does.
A Good employer kitemark
This reminds me of Richard Murphy’s Fair Tax Mark but expands that concept to cover things like a living wage – the real one, not the Government’s one that stole the branding. It also covers unpaid internships and commits to name-blind application processes.
Fiduciary duty of firms – a big culture change?
“Reform fiduciary duty and company purpose rules to ensure that other
considerations, such as employee welfare, environmental standards,
community benefit and ethical practice, can be fully included in decisions
made by directors and fund managers.”
During my time studying economics many moons ago, I always wondered why the only duty that was mentioned was the one executives had to maximise the profits of the shareholders. Hence the above will make for interesting policy work should it be considered – as academia is doing, for example here.
Devolving revenue-raising powers
For a city like Cambridge this is essential. In my opinion anyway. But this has been a long-standing principle of the Lib Dems and their predecessors. The problem they face is a Whitehall and Westminster culture that doesn’t like letting go of the reins when it comes to taxation. The argument against devolving such powers is the risk of having a chancellor of the exchequer in every town hall in the land imposing a local income tax – as Nigel Evans MP said in this Commons debate in 1996. That debate in 1996 was about funding of local government services and starts off here noting the context that the Conservatives were on a downward losing streak of local council election results, which meant by 1996 just before their landslide loss to Labour in 1997, they controlled relatively few councils.
Legalise cannabis of a limited potency
The headlines screamed about the Lib Dems legalising drugs, but it’s much more nuanced than that. Possession will result in a health-based approach rather than a criminal-based ones, taking small-time users out of the prison system.
“What hopes for a progressive alliance? Because there’s not that much difference between Labour, the Lib Dems and The Greens?”
Ditto UKIP and The Tories – some of the former are standing down to support Conservative candidates on a pro-Brexit ticket. This is being driven locally rather than nationally – mainly because it would be unconstitutional (especially for Labour) to back another party at an election. But it’s a note of caution: not all election alliances are progressive.
The above isn’t a comprehensive look at the manifestos. It’s a scan through, picking out some of the things that the mainstream media might have missed, and picking those that seem to stand out for me for one reason or another.
As some have commented, the closer the party is to winning an election, the more nuanced and caveated the manifesto seems to be. Hence the criticism that the Conservative manifesto is short on costings and specifics. Note also that the opponents of the Conservatives have complained that the broadcast media is not subjecting their manifesto to nearly the same sort of detailed scrutiny that opposition manifestos are getting. The sentiment of former Mayor of Cambridge, Barry Gardiner of Labour, echoed the sentiments of many Labour activists in particular.