The Labour and Conservative Manifestos for the 2019 UK General Election
An ‘impartial’ look at the promises of the parties most likely to produce the next Prime Minister
I’m going to open with a disclaimer: I’m very much on the left of the political spectrum, and having been brought up in an area decimated by Tory policies my ability to be truly impartial is questionable, to say the least. But I’ve never been a Labour voter; I live in a ‘safe’ Labour seat that has been taken for granted by the party, and their record over twenty years of Government in Wales has seldom reflected anything I would call ‘left’.
So with that in mind, I’ve had a look at the content of their respective manifestos. If you don’t have time to read through almost 200 pages but want a summary without the glaze of tabloid propaganda, read on.
I read the Labour offering first and, strikingly, it seems to have been written be a socialist. Yes, they’re the Left to the Conservatives’ Right, but that by no means necessarily puts them on the actual left of the political spectrum (which is something I’ve written about before). So to read something with genuine (albeit often mild) socialist credentials from a party with a chance of power felt… radical.
Their seriousness about tackling climate change holds more weight given the fact they’ve opened with it. Their focus isn’t on the little things we can all do either, stating:
Just 100 companies globally are responsible for the majority of carbon emissions. We won’t be afraid to tackle this wanton corporate destruction by taking on the powerful interests that are causing climate change.
Their plan to tackle these companies include ideas like ‘delisting’ them from the London Stock Exchange. They go on to provide impressive numbers for the solar panels and wind turbines they intend to build. More significantly they want to renationalise the ‘supply arm’ of the Big Six energy companies. They’ll do the same for railways, too, claiming they’ll deliver rail electrification across the whole country (the plans to do this in Wales were scrapped by the Conservative Government).
They promise to make ‘producers responsible for the waste they create and for the full cost of recycling or disposal, encouraging more sustainable design and manufacturing’, which for me is a significant shifting upward of the burden. They also point to one of Welsh Labour’s successes in government in Wales, reminding voters that ‘Labour has transformed the position of recycling, placing them in the top five globally for recycling rates’.
Conversely, the Conservative manifesto, while also promising to fight climate change and protect the environment, only gave the issue a subheading in the final section. They’ll provide lots of funding for Green projects and I was impressed to see they will ‘not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely’. But given their recent record on fracking, I’m curious over who will be providing them with this ‘science’. After all Boris Johnson has been quoted as saying:
“global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear — as far as I understand the science — is equally without foundation.”
Their manifesto opens, perhaps predictably, with Brexit. It compares Britain with a lion trapped in a cage, and is full of similar language. The first five paragraphs of the introduction begin with the words ‘Get Brexit Done’, to achieve things like releasing that lion from its cage, to ‘take this amazing country forwards’. It doesn’t seem to recognise that the term Britain (as opposed to the UK) technically omits Northern Ireland, which is unsurprising given much of the criticism of their Brexit approach has centred around ignoring the country. It does recognise them, however, when referring to ‘the awesome foursome that make up the most successful political partnership in history’. The introduction reads like it was written by Johnson, so I wasn’t surprised to see his name at the end; it left me with the feeling of being patronised by someone who doesn’t know what their talking about.*
* Okay, I’m struggling a little with the impartiality, but I’m trying, I promise.
In terms of actual content, they do mention the environment in the Brexit section, promising Brexit will allow them to prioritise it in the next Budget, and ‘raise standards’ in ‘areas like’ the environment.
Overall there’s a focus on taking back control, and their intention to keep the national debt down (juxtaposed with Labour’s debunked reputation for letting debt ‘spiral out of control’).
Labour on the other hand are sitting right on the fence with regard to Brexit, as they have done for some time. I’m highly sceptical of their time scale: getting a new deal in three months, a public vote in six. Given the time taken for countries around the world to secure existing trade deals, it’s very hard to see how Labour, in three months, could come up with anything significantly different from Johnson’s deal, which itself is just a worse rehash of May’s deal, with significantly better PR.
If Labour think there’s a deal out there that the public will genuinely prefer to remaining in the EU, then I understand the fence sitting; you can’t advocate the merits of something that doesn’t yet exist. But I feel confidence in their position has come too late to fend off accusations of dithering.
There are positives in Labour’s commitment to the rights of EU citizens, obviously a worry if the UK are to leave. In what now seems like the unlikely scenario of the UK remaining, they say they will push to reform the EU, ‘in particular to ensure that its collective strength is focused on tackling the climate emergency, tax evasion and ending austerity and inequality.’ This is an attempt to show they’re willing to tackle the issues many on the left have with the EU, but again it’s too late and too quiet.
Unsurprisingly Labour are much stronger on the NHS, looking to end and reverse privatisation, saying ‘we will ensure services are delivered in-house and also bring subsidiary companies back in-house. We will halt the fire sale of NHS land and assets.’ I particularly like the ambition to establish a generic drug company:
If fair prices are rejected for patented drugs we will use the Patents Act provisions, compulsory licences and research exemptions to secure access to generic versions.
Overall it’s what you’d hope from Labour regarding privatisation. I did note that the only real recognition of Health being a devolved issue is its commitment to abolishing prescription charges in ’England’, specifically, as it’s already been done in Wales and Scotland by the Labour and SNP governments respectively.
It’s clear the Tories know the NHS is their weakness so they’ve made a big deal about their ‘record funding’ for it — though that depends on how you look at the figures. They’ll increase doctors by thousands and nurses by tens of thousands, but don’t mention that their last promise of an increase of 5,000 doctors actually resulted in a decrease of 1,000. It has the bold claim of intending to build 40 new hospitals; bolder still given that they continue to repeat it despite the real figure having been revealed to be just six.
I read a headline recently claiming the Tories will end hospital car parking charges (as will Labour, who have done so in Wales), but reading the manifesto reveals the Tories will only end it for specific groups of people who they deem most in need, which sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare.
One of their better, and likely most popular policies among their aim to improve social care is a guarantee that no one needing care will have to sell their home to pay for it. But for me, the takeaway from their section on Health is the fact they felt it necessary to include ‘The NHS is not on the table’ for trade deals. They’ve slowly been outsourcing to private companies like Virgin. They’ve had a Health Minister who’s co-authored a book calling for its privatisation. And then there’s Trump, now denying he wants a piece of it (completely believably, of course). The Tories know the public has a hard time trusting them on the NHS, and with good reason.
They’re keen to stress their commitment to invest in schools, including an offer of an ‘arts premium’ to secondary schools, to ‘fund enriching activities for all pupils’ — respect for the arts isn’t something I’d expect from the Conservatives, so this a pleasant surprise. They also want people to know they believe all children should have access to a good state school; it’s almost as if they understand the appeal of socialist policies.*
* I know, I know, but this is hard!
Labour will abolish tuition fees, bring back maintenance grants, introduce maximum class sizes of 30 for all primary schools (this is massive, as far as I’m concerned, but they’ve had twenty years to do this in Wales and haven’t) and have ideas to ‘poverty-proof’ schools, including free school meals for all primary school children. They’ll also ensure kids are taught about climate change.
A lot of Labour’s ideas are starting to look expensive, though from what I understand they’ve done a more thorough job of costing than their rivals. Some of the ideas to pay for them include increasing tax on those earning £80k a year or more, stop wealth being taxed at lower rates than income and cracking down on tax avoidance (which the Tories say they’ll do, too).
Labour will enforce a maximum pay ratio of 20:1 in the public sector. They promise to ‘review’ a Land Value Tax on commercial landlords, which could have been a commitment, and extended, so I’m a little disappointed from my perspective way over here on the left. I’m more impressed with bringing the Royal Mail back into public ownership, and creating a publicly owned back. They’ll increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour (for everyone over 16, a key point considering the disparity between employees of different ages doing the same job). And if they win I’ll be keeping a close eye on their Universal Basic Income pilot.
Then of course there’s the promise to deliver free full-fibre broadband to all. In fact, it’s full of really positive stuff. I’m aware I’m sounding like a Labour party member here, so I’ll resume my pretence at impartiality with some criticism. So much of this could have been achieved during their 20 years of government in Wales, but it hasn’t been. Why? For example, Labour’s manifesto promises to ban zero-hour contracts. In Wales Plaid Cymru put forward motions in the Senedd to do just this, but Welsh Labour voted them down. Seven times. Their ambition of building a million new homes in a decade is admirable, but their record in Wales is far from impressive. So it’s perhaps important to remember that while Corbyn and his allies represents a significant shift leftward for Labour, there are huge chunks of the party that remain as neoliberal as ever, and could be an obstacle to him achieving much of this.
So I return to the Tories in search of some similarly compelling positives. They’ll cut the VAT on tampons, which is a great policy. They’ll increase the minimum wage to around £10.50 (but only for those over 21). When it comes to new homes they’ll ‘expect’ all streets to be lined with trees. They’ll establish a ‘Community Ownership Fund to encourage local takeovers of civic organisations or community assets that are under threat — local football clubs, but also pubs or post offices.’ I genuinely like this one, but the £150m they’re setting aside could amount to peanuts in the grand scheme of things (and something about it reminds me of Cameron’s Big Society). The Conservatives will create a single, ‘beefed-up’ ‘Anti Tax Evasion unit in HMRC’. Very welcome, but you wonder where it’s been for the last nine years.*
* I don’t think this is even biased — it’s a valid question for almost everything in the manifesto of a governing party.
They’ll eventually raise the amount you can earn before paying tax to £12,500 — good for the poor, though it’s been calculated to be even better for the rich. They say they’ll ‘will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.’ On the surface a decent aim, but I can’t be the only one to feel this is incredibly coded, can I?
In Wales they’ll ‘deliver the M4 relief road which has been mothballed by the Labour administration.’ An idea so bad Welsh Labour should be condemned for having considering it.
Their commitment to the 1998 Belfast Agreement is ‘unshakeable’, despite seemingly not knowing it exists at the start of the Brexit process.
There’s much I find worrying. They’ll continue to support the First Past the Post system of voting, and so continue to support the suppression of real democracy. They intend to reduce business rates. They have a Red Tape Challenge, where historically red tape has often referred to the rights of employees. They’re going to change rules to protect tenants from rogue landlords (how?) while strengthening the rights of possession for landlords (I can guess). They’ll double the budget for their Health Tourism Enforcement Unit — health tourism being something that barely exists. There are awful ideas like increasing prison places. And outright racist ones, in ‘tackling traveller camps’.
We will give the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments, in order to protect our communities.
They have designs for an Australian-style points-based system to control immigration. They’ll exceed the NATO target for defence spending, maintaining the Trident nuclear deterrent.
Then of course there’s Welfare. They make the extraordinary claim to have helped 1,000 people into work every day, and commit to continuing the roll-out of Universal Credit, despite the suffering it’s caused. At this point I have to give up altogether on being unbiased. When Universal Credit began you could have been generous and put the suffering it’s caused down to incompetence, but now — knowing what’s clear for all to see — I don’t know how to view their sticking with it as anything other than deliberate cruelty. They pay lip service to making sure it works for the most vulnerable, but put more focus on making ‘sure those who cheat the system by committing benefit fraud are punished’.
Labour will scrap Universal Credit.
We will immediately stop moving people onto it and design an alternative system that treats people with dignity and respect. Our ambition in designing this system will be to end poverty by guaranteeing a minimum standard of living.
I’m disappointed that, despite Corbyn’s admirable opposition to using nuclear weapons, they are still committed to replacing Trident. But much of what is in the rest of the manifest is good. Very good.
They say they’ll reduce the average weekly working hours to 32. Remove restrictions on trade unions. Increase paid maternity leave from nine to twelve months, and double paternity leave to four weeks. Ban unpaid internships. Give all workers the right to flexible working.
They aim to end rough sleeping within five years, introduce a levy on second homes and repeal the Vagrancy Act. They’ll ban political donations from tax avoiders and evaders, close ‘loopholes that allow the use of shell companies to funnel dark money into politics.’ They’ll ‘introduce a lobbying register covering both in-house lobbyists and think tanks and extending to contacts made with all senior government employees, not just ministers.’
They’ll close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House, and end indefinite detention for migrants. They’ll immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. They’ll recognise the state of Palestine. They’ll allow ‘the people of the Chagos Islands and their descendants the right to return to the lands from which they should never have been removed.’
There’s much more to both parties’ stated aims, but these are the general flavours. People say that all political parties are the same, and perhaps that’s been true in the recent past, but here are two very different manifestos. As I’ve mentioned I live in a safe labour seat, and I’ll probably be voting Plaid Cymru for reasons I’ve touched upon before. But based on these manifestos, if I lived in a marginal or anywhere Plaid weren’t standing then Labour would likely be getting my vote.
Conversely, having looked at Tory policies presented to appeal to the broadest section of society, I’m as convinced as ever that they’ll never get my vote.
I think, overall, this comparison is a decent microcosm of the manifestos: Labour intend to end the badger cull, while the Tories promise not to make any changes to the Hunting Act. Labour, then, want to end cruelty, while the Conservatives simply promise they won’t be cruel themselves. The Tories are a party who know deep down who they are. And they can’t even convincingly pretend otherwise.