On Thursday, the government leading Parliament will either be a minority government led by either the Conservatives or the Labour Party or it will be a Coalition likely led by either of those two parties. So, what policies are we likely to have to put up with following this election? Here is our analysis of the main Tory Policies, and the Labour policies are analysed here.
Conservative Party Policy Analysis
For roughly the past decade a number of political commentators have mused the idea that perhaps British politics has entered some kind of a post-ideological age; one where governmental action is dictated on the basis of a consensus of political commonsense. In order to find contradictory evidence that renders this claim a complete falsity, one needs look no further than the section of the Conservative’s 2015 manifesto regarding the economy. It wholeheartedly screams old-school blue Tory. The Party’s fiscal plans hope to set in motion a two pronged attack on the deficit by reigning in expenditure (which, like in 2010, exclude the ‘chained off’ departments), whilst simultaneously boosting consumption and thus encouraging economic stimulation through the generous limitation of taxation. Theoretically this plan is without doubt the most appealing provided by all main parties, given that sound national finance is something Britain has been severely lacking as of late. What will cast doubt on the plans though is how practical implementation is considering the sheer number of tax-breaks on offer. The Conservatives pledge no rise in VAT or National Insurance Contributions, to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion, whilst also introducing tax-free childcare. Concurrently the plan also aims to pull all those working 30 hours a week on minimum wage out of tax altogether, to raise the 40% tax boundary to earnings beyond £50,000 per year and to decrease the point of entry into income tax to those earning £12,500 per year. It all just seems too good to be true. Are the Party really going to clamp down on tax avoiders? If so, do they expect to achieve this to the extent whereby it can provide a major contribution towards balancing the books? Also, enhancing people’s disposable income through tax cuts does not necessarily convert to them spending that money. As throughout the last Parliament, people tended instead to save their cash on the premise of negative economic speculation. The whole plan seems far too risky, too grandiose and built on assumption to leave the electorate brimming with confidence.
Beyond taxation however the manifesto is in fact an extremely balanced and encouraging one. Welfare cuts are regrettable yet as they are being undertaken in order to fund an increase in available apprenticeships, the trade-off seems somewhat fair. The best of the lot though continues to be Osborne’s stroke of genius; the Northern Powerhouse pledge. Since the collapse of British manufacturing and primary industry rendered the North an economically barren and desolate place, the national economy has desperately needed an actively structured geographical rebalancing away from the clutches of London and the South East. Through investment in infrastructure and the devolution of fiscal powers to city regions, the Conservatives are uncharacteristically promising more for Northerners by way of increasing productivity and attracting more investment than Labour has done in living memory.
Housing has been the most volatile issue to be addressed within the Conservative’s plans for social policy. The resurrection of the Right to Buy scheme, allowing those in social housing to purchase their homes at a discounted rate, has been at the heart of this. It is first and foremost a devilishly Thatcherite policy, which by association has created a storm of scorn from Tory enemies. True derogation however stems from critics who predict that the move looks set to usher in housing shortages for those in low-income brackets. There is much truth in this gloomy forecast, given the previous three administrations inability to provide a sufficient supply of affordable housing. Negative consequences could easily be offset should the Party’s manifesto promises to construct over 200,000 discounted starter homes for under-40 first time buyers and to also pump £1bn into a Brownfield site regeneration fund be properly implemented. Both are indeed brilliant ideas. But realistically, would the Tories continue with these costly proposals once power is attained? Probably not. Housing policy is an unrewarding business, and it is likely that the Party would instead prioritise other more electorally rewarding issues.
A strong hint of this is available in this manifesto. It concerns OAP’s, a group which serves the Tories as a goldmine of support. To keep their loyalty solidly bought they have been bubble wrapped from almost all cutbacks whilst the rest of us suffer; even the richest of pensioners are being allowed to keep their winter fuel allowance and state pensions if a Tory government is in charge. This evidently detracts funds from many a more nationally beneficial programme, which goes someway to explain my scepticism over the Tories and housing. In contrast to the pensioner-policies; on education the Party has refused to allow for much transparency at all. Their pledges for teachers and schools remain ambiguous, basically promising to merely ‘improve standards’. Overall social policy for the Conservatives remains disappointing and somewhat out of focus in this manifesto. What a difference 5 years can make, considering that in 2010 Cameron couldn’t stop himself from tooting the compassionate ‘Big Society’ horn, available to all and not just the old.
Labour has completely outshined the Conservatives in what is to the British public one of the most sacred of all policy arenas. Already having seen their reputation besmirched during the Coalition years through claims of NHS ‘privatisation’, the manifesto does little to help retrieve any integrity here. The flagship policy pledge is one that promises an unadulterated £8bn to be provided for the NHS over the course of the next Parliament. Although it seems slightly tight-fisted given peoples overall dissatisfaction with the efficiency of the Service, it is not – on balance – a bad sum. What completely undercuts this as a valid policy however is that unlike all other areas where spending is promised, no sources are attributed to how the Government would expect to find this cash. It all just seems a bit shady, and suggests that surprise cuts to other departments or the abandonment of other spending programmes will be on the agenda should the Tories find themselves wielding power after the 7th. A shadow is thus casted over all other promises that are made in the manifesto regarding health; of which the main two are actually sensible, achievable and desirable. The first is to ensure the availability of a GP every day of the week and in tandem to guarantee that over-75’s can get same day appointments when needed. Again pensioners are prioritised, but it is a system that will curtail many unnecessary hospital visits thus saving them valuable resources. The second is to integrate health and social care, two systems which currently run parallel rather than together. This will vastly humanise the NHS system that presently can often confuse or neglect patient’s needs due to a lack of communication or personal connection.
Unlike Labour’s limp pledges for foreign/defence policy, the Conservative’s manifesto seeks to reinvigorate Britain and its international standing with a much needed dose of realpolitik. The Party appears to acknowledge the weakness of well practiced chronic inactivity which came to dominate the Coalition’s doctrine regarding foreign affairs. The manifesto commits the Party to remedying these ills, highlighting the need to maintain an active role for example in finding a resolution to end the strife in Ukraine, a two state solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict, and increased involvement in fighting ISIS. It is pleasing to see a party attempting to halt the dwindling role of Britain as a major global actor both militarily and diplomatically, rather than conforming to what has become the norm of shying away from the fact that we still as a nation have a duty to responsibly wield liberal interventionism against the evils of this world.
A slight stain on these almost impeccable policy pledges is the Conservative’s attitude toward the EU. As Cameron has displayed in office the stance he and his Party take is far too bolshie and self-assuming as to Britain’s ability to steer and influence EU decisions and direction. This was always to a degree going to be a given, thanks to the archaic isolationist stance of many of the Party’s backbenchers. But the senior Tories who have allowed this to be entrenched so absolutely displays nothing other than weakness, epitomised best by the in/out referendum planned for 2017.
As for defence again we see the Conservatives standing alone in its seriousness and policy efficiency. The key points are: allowing the government more powers to combat terrorism (much to the annoyance of libertarians), the introduction of a new aircraft carrier (seems a little bit wasteful given how severe welfare is being cut), the planned replacement of Trident with four mini-subs to prowl the seas (a clear warning to the Russians perhaps?) and to ensure that the army remains at 82,000 troops whilst the reserves looks set to grow to 35,000 (do we even need that many regulars when we have a nuclear deterrent? Generous figures I believe).
You may have noticed that during this campaign the Conservative’s have rhetorically remained almost silent on this issue. It baffles me given that judging by their manifesto this is without a doubt their strongest policy area.
The Conservative’s policies with regard to immigration stink of populist impossibilities. They have chosen to slavishly toe the line of anti-immigrant rhetoric instead of attempting to responsibly create a topically positive discourse; hammering the final nail in the coffin of Cameron’s 2005-10 One Nation Conservative agenda, which at that time looked to be the breath of fresh-air needed to rejuvenate what had become a stagnant Party. The giving in of the Conservative’s to right-wing UKIP pressure is unsurprisingly most evident here. Ridiculously the manifesto again promises that a Tory government could deliver the impossible and limit net migration to tens of thousands; whilst concurrently attacking migrant ‘privilege’. This has found manifestation in a number of pledges. Easily attacked are non-EU migrants, whom are being targeted by having benefits sent to them and their families whilst they do not reside in the UK. Commonsense indeed; yet if these benefits were to be taken out of the foreign aid budget instead, they could be utilised constructively to provide financial support to the needy at a grassroots level. EU migrants strangely enough feature even more prominently. Policies targeted at them include making migrants wait four years before claiming benefits and social housing and also enhancing governmental powers to deport EU criminals. Providing that these policies don’t find themselves rejected by the European Court of Justice; I don’t think anyone could find fault with an implementation of the latter, but the former does seem extremely draconian.
Immigration policy once again disgraces the Party in this manifesto; indicating that genuinely progressive Conservative’s will have to wait for at least another five years before any sort of ideological overhaul concerning this topic is experienced.