Angus Shaw talks us through the key points of the Conservative and Labour manifestos ahead of Thursday’s election.
After less than a year in power, Prime Minister Theresa May has called for the country to rethink its representation in Westminster.
May has her eyes firmly set on filling the House of Commons with pro-Brexit Tory MPs by a large majority in contrast to their currently slim majority.
The government sees a shift of dynamic towards greater dominance in parliament as essential in completing the UK’s departure from the EU, by removing as much opposition as possible for a smoother ride in passing key Brexit bills.
However, it is easy to forget that this is a general election: For possibly the next 5 years the winning party will preside over every aspect of running a nation from counter terrorism to minimum wages, not just its membership of an economic union. In such tumultuous times with North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist attacks in music arenas, short tempered US interventions and Russian invasions, this is likely to become the most important election of the early 21st century, with the next prime minister deciding where we will stand among such uncertainties.
Not only could the UK’s foreign policy become tested more than ever, but the question of a second Scottish referendum and response to the economic battle between austerity and investment will be demanded, as well as to the current state of national security. This election is often masqueraded as a quick and inevitable cleanup job of Brexit, however the effects of it will surely be felt well beyond independence.
The parties asking for your vote have had less than six weeks to scramble together their official positions and policies in one tidy document – an unusually short amount of time to campaign in. This is perhaps due to tensions amid Brexit, North Korea and the Syrian crisis warranting for a smaller period to have uncertainty around the U.K. However, polls from the BBC’s to the Telegraph’s suggest the strategy for the government’s timing also centred around a 15 to 24 points worth of favorability towards the Conservatives over Labour back in April, indicating a potential landslide victory for May. Strikingly, this is something which has drastically narrowed over the past month alone to just 3 points, paving the way for the early signs of a potential hung parliament.
“For possibly the next 5 years the winning party will preside over every aspect of running a nation.”
Labour have moved significantly further to the left since the rise of its leader Jeremy Corbyn. It intends to capitalise on improving conditions and income for the poor and public services as is expected for the traditionally working man’s party – chiefly by increasing the minimum wage to £10 per hour and pumping £30bn into the NHS – however this year Corbyn is going even further: The party is taking many more collectivist stances and government controls over the economy since the 1970s, with hopes to nationalise multiple sectors of private industry. These possessions of business make up Corbyn’s flagship policies, and like the official slogan of Labour 2017, principally benefit the many over the few in a true left-wing fashion.
However, this anti-New Labour attitude also comes with the inevitable price of significantly greater government spending. Here are just a few of their key pledges for this election:
● Take more businesses into government ownership
○ Nationalise the UK’s water companies
○ Nationalise Britain’s railways
○ Reverse the privitatsation of the Royal Mail
○ Eventually create a publicly owned energy system
○ Increase the minimum wage to £10
● Massively increase spending in public services
○ Pump £30bn into the NHS
○ Scrap the pay cap for NHS staff
○ Spend £25.3bn a year on education
○ Extend the 30 hours a week of free childcare for two to four-year-olds
○ Scrap university tuition fees
○ Build 100,000 affordable homes a year
○ Introduce free school meals
● Ensure a Brexit Deal
○ Offer an immediate guarantee about the status of EU nationals in the UK
○ Ensure a deal is in place before leaving the EU
The easiest question to pose against this manifesto is how will Labour pay for such drastic increases in spending, while the country is in great debt, with figures such as £50bn pledged towards public services alone? During his time as Leader of the Opposition Corbyn has been incredibly critical of tax havens for the rich and big businesses – viewing the wealthy and corporations alike as the key to achieving such costly equality. This not only involves demanding fairer contributions to society, but going even further by proposing a huge tax hike for top earners to more than the current highest bracket of 45%, as well as raising corporation tax back up to 26%.
Such increases, Labour says, will provide funds for stronger and more bountiful public services, largely benefiting the ‘poorer and many’ of society:
● Savings Through Taxation
○ Increase income tax top rate to 45p for those earning above £80,000, and 50p for those over £123,00
○ Crackdown on tax avoidances and “excessive pay levy” on those earning above £330,000
○ Increase corporation tax from 19% to 26% by 2020
However critics argue such demands risk the UK becoming ‘anti-business’: potentially deterring companies and entrepreneurs from setting up and operating within the nation not only due to an increase in taxes, but also due to demand for higher minimum wages to be paid. In conjunction with a divorce from the EU, some say such a formula could lead to businesses fleeing the country: taking with them the jobs they currently provide and instead establishing themselves in more cost-effective nations with lower tax rates and wages to be accounted for. This has lead to an interesting dialogue throughout the campaign on whether the public and government should be held to ransom so deeply by corporations, instead of spending more on public services for the people. Or, if the risk for rebellion against them is too great in a globalised world, with potential for massive unemployment from one of the steepest increases in minimum wages.
A more personal assessment of Corbyn by his opponents labelled him as ‘weak’ and ‘a security risk’, as Conservative Defense Secretary Michael Fallon put it during a Radio 4 interview. Such comments follow the opposition leader’s ambiguous stances on the renewal of Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons system, during a BBC1 interview with Andrew Marr, as well as expressing unwillingness to authorise nuclear strikes, even as a last-resort option, during the Question Time election special.
In general, Corbyn and his party have been taking a dark horse ‘anti-establishment’ approach in their campaign so far. This is a similar stance which saw the success of President Donald Trump last year, tapping into record breaking levels of distrust felt globally against traditional political systems and ideologies, although at the other end of the spectrum. Corbyn, like Trump, is also widely painted by the media as the underdog in the election and the unlikely to win, solidifying his detachment from the mainstream and similarly allowing both individuals to consistently call out the media as bias and fake, much to Trump’s success. Both were also once rejected by their parties in big ways, only to win them over. These parallels have most certainly been noticed by Corbyn and his team, leading to an interesting dynamic to look out for during the rest of the campaign.
“…how will Labour pay for such drastic increases in spending, while the country is in great debt, with figures such as £50bn pledged towards public services alone?”
If Labour is campaigning for equality in society as a priority over the economy by spending more on people, then the Conservatives are oppositely pushing for strength in the economy by ultimately spending less on people.
One of May’s many slogans for this election, ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, is a fundamental reason that the Conservatives are attempting to shape the UK into becoming as attractive to businesses as possible, such as by decreasing corporation tax to 17% and raising the 40p tax rate to those earning over £50k. Conservatives hope such maneuvers will garner as much investment and business into the country as possible to keep it economically stable: giving incentives for companies to stay with the country regardless of its ambiguous post-Brexit trade deals.
Critics of May say this comes at the sacrifice of creating greater inequality between the rich and poor, potentially giving the nation a ‘strong’ economic presence on the world stage following the possibility of leaving Brexit negotiations without a trade deal, yet at the same time leaving its population in great disparity from years of public cuts.
Although putting more into public services than in their recent terms of government, the Conservatives are being, well, more conservative, with exactly how much more. The Tories are looking at more restrained figures than Labour, such as an £8bn increase in the NHS and £4bn in education, with no plans of nationalisation. This is perhaps an effort to appease those struggling under harsher cuts, while at the same time retain a degree of austerity to reduce the deficit; something which the Conservatives have failed on delivering since coming to power in 2010. In general the manifesto is full of these kind of tradeoffs to save money, such as scraping free school meals across the country however in exchange introducing cheaper free school breakfasts. Another includes raising the threshold for the cost of social care to £100k, however also taking into account the value of one’s property in the calculation. Perhaps the biggest compromise concerns inequality as mentioned earlier, with May pledging to raise the tax-free allowance for low income earners to £12.5k, however also raise the 40p tax rate to £50k higher earners. Here are a few more of the key pledges which the Conservative manifesto contains this year:
● Saving Trade-Offs
○ Include the value of one’s property in the eligibility for protection against the cost of social care
○ Triple lock on pensions scrapped and replaced with a double lock
○ Scrap free school lunches in exchange for free school breakfasts
● Fund Public Services
○ Fund £8bn to the NHS
○ Fund £4bn to education
○ Give protection from the cost of social care for people with assets of £100,000 or less
○ Lift the current ban on grammar schools to allow pupils to join at other ages as well as 11
○ Deliver on building 1 million homes by 2020 as set out in 2015
● Reduce taxes
○ Reduce corporation tax to 17%
○ Raise the personal tax-free allowance to £12,500
○ Raise the 40p tax rate to those earning over £50,000
A big criticism levied against the Conservative party is a lack of fairness and empathy shown to those struggling under the kind of cuts seen in public spending in recent years, while at the same time giving tax breaks and an ‘easier time to the top 5% of the country’, as Corbyn puts it. This attitude has been a big driving force in Labour’s campaign, pushing forward a socialist agenda to see such issues eradicated with notions that the poorer in society are being put second to the wealthy in a show of elitism.
Additionally, although the Conservatives have taken many austerity measures to reduce the deficit, the overall deficit has in fact increased by £555bn since David Cameron’s Government in 2010, bringing into question whether such cuts are actually effective. Questions have also been posed directly to May in recent interviews, such as that of Jeremy Paxman’s , about her ‘flip-flopping’ on decisions – namely the reversal on the unpopular dementia tax and backtracking on calling a general election after ruling it out earlier this year.
In general, this awkwardness has May portrayed as ‘out of touch’ with the population by her opposition, becoming mocked for personal policies such as proposing a vote for lifting the ban on fox hunting as well as intending to increase the number of grammar schools. Such pledges have been slated by some commentators as not resonating well with the majority of the electorate, who arguably view such matters as old-fashioned and aristocratic.
“A big criticism levied against the Conservative party is a lack of fairness and empathy shown to those struggling under the kind of cuts seen in public spending…”
The world is truly watching this election: such uncertain times with Trump, Brexit and Syria makes predicting the future is simply impossible, however also crucial, in how strong and fair the UK, one of the biggest financial capitals of the world, will stand over the next five years. The drastically different routes the country could take through Labour or Conservative are almost at polar opposites, and could become a reality not only to the rest of the world following Brexit, but most crucially to the UK’s own population, who alone have the power to decide between such fates.