Brexit policy: negotiate a credible leave deal that protects jobs and living standards within three months, and put it to a referendum against remain in six months.
Titled “It’s time for real change”, the Labour manifesto certainly lives up to that promise. Labour have promised large spending increases to combatting the major crises that face our nation in the present.
Climate change is for many, the greatest issue faced by humanity. Labour have committed to 90% of electricity to be supplied by renewable sources by 2030. Workers in high carbon industries won’t be left behind; instead, with Labour’s proposed National Education Service (NES) providing free education and training from cradle to grave, workers will be able to transition into renewable and low carbon industries.
Under Labour, tuition fees will be scrapped and maintenance grants will be reintroduced for students. Free bus travel for under 25s will promote the use of public transport, which will further forward Labour’s environmental objectives. Taking key industries into public ownership, such as rail, mail, water and the energy grid, makes promoting public transport and decarbonising our energy system easier, while improving the services and reducing costs for service users as value will no longer be siphoned off to line the wallets of shareholders. Labour is also proposing to roll out free fibre optic broadband for all, as currently only 8% of the UK has access to full fibre broadband.
Labour aims to raise the minimum wage immediately to £10 an hour, stop state pension age rises and build 100,000 council homes a year to end the homelessness crisis. With regards to the NHS, Labour has committed to making dentistry checkups free and abolish prescription charges in England, giving the NHS the funding it deserves. A further key policy is the 32 hour working week with no loss of pay.
In order to pay for all this, Labour has produced a fully costed “grey book” that outlines the tax revenue coming in and the spending going out, and insisted that only the top 5% of earners would pay more tax. However this week, Labour admitted that a plan to equalise the tax status between married and non-married couples would see married couples losing a tax break – which would affect earners below the top 5% threshold. However, this week also saw the release of a letter in the Financial Times written by 163 economists and academics, backing Labour’s spending plans. With the scale of the climate and housing crises facing us, these plans may be the only hope we have left.
Brexit policy: pass the Withdrawal Agreement by Christmas and leave on January 31st with that deal.
The Conservatives announced their manifesto on the 24th November with the promise to deliver their EU withdrawal deal being central to their proposals. To the Conservatives credit the deal is a remarkable demonstration of self-deception and hypocrisy, having previously voted twice against Theresa May’s deal Boris has managed to renegotiate a near identical deal which he and his supporters now rapturously praise. Where the deal differs to Theresa May’s is in its abandonment of all concrete promises to retain workers’ rights, its removal of safeguards for the NHS post-Brexit and in economically severing Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK by leaving Northern Ireland practically within the EU customs union whilst taking the rest of the UK out. Throughout the campaign Boris has continually parroted his slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’ meant to appeal to voters’ fatigue with the whole Brexit process however his deal does not result in the straightforward withdrawal he pretends it does. The withdrawal agreement doesn’t secure trade deals with the EU which would need to be negotiated during a 1 or 2 year transition period during which time the UK would still follow EU rules and pay money to the EU budget, hardly an attractive proposal to the nationalistic Brexiteers the Conservatives are trying to win over.
Secondary to Brexit are the Conservatives minor social spending plans. Core amongst these are the promise of hiring 50,000 more nurses and building ‘40’ more hospitals. Unsurprisingly the pledge of nurses is not clearly costed and the 40 new hospitals are not costed at all owing to the fact they aren’t intended to be built next parliament making it nothing more than an empty promise. If the 50,000 new nurses are delivered it will only just bring the number of nurses per person back to the level before Tory cuts. In fact the entire manifesto can be summed up as the vague promise of funding to services which the Tories themselves brought to the brink of ruin throughout the last decade of their ideological austerity. The Conservatives cannot be trusted to save the services they are actively destroying. Just last month representatives of the government met with US private healthcare corporations to discuss the sell-off of our NHS in a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump. This is no longer idle speculation but a very real threat to all of us.
Brexit policy: cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50.
On the 20th November the Liberal Democrats released their election manifesto, summarising their plans for the country if they win the general election. Unsurprisingly, the manifesto was geared around the issue of Brexit with the Lib Dems promising to unilaterally revoke Article 50 if they win a majority and to push for a second referendum if they don’t. The total rejection of the result of a popular referendum can only be viewed as undemocratic even with the view that a general election win gives them the mandate to do so as general elections, with this countries flawed First Past the Post system and all the covert cross party deals are inherently less democratic than one person one vote referenda. The Lib Dems appraisal of themselves as the party which champions the People’s Vote is completely undermined by their abandonment of this sensible policy in their manifesto. Elsewhere the Lib Dems promise an appealing £7 billion a year extra funding for the NHS. However, they mean to pay for this extra funding by raising income tax by 1% in ALL tax bands including the poorest people who are least able to pay it. With life in austerity Britain already so hard for so many people, proposing to raise taxes on the poor is a uniquely cruel thing to do which even the Tories haven’t gone so far as to suggest.
One demographic the Lib Dems seem particularly keen to attract is young voters with their promises to reintroduce maintenance grants for the poorest students and their controversial Help to Rent scheme both of which are to be paid for by a supposed £50 billion boost to our economy caused by us staying in the EU. The reintroduction of maintenance grants is particularly rich coming from the party who, along with the Tories, betrayed their student base by tripling tuition fees in 2010 and saddled a generation of students with insurmountable debt (a policy Jo Swinson personally voted for). In addition, the Help to Rent scheme, which promises a £2000 government loan to help 18-30 year-olds pay down deposits on rented accommodation, amounts to nothing more but greater debt for struggling young people. For me, the Lib Dem’s promises to young people ring hollow, it’s all a matter of too little too late.
Brexit policy: put any Brexit deal to a referendum against remain, with the Greens campaigning on a ‘remain in and reform the EU’ platform.
The Greens have produced a manifesto embracing the ‘Green New Deal’ branding, with the boldest climate target of all – a 100% net zero economy by 2030 achieved by spending £100bn every year through borrowing and increased taxation. Green also promise to build 100,000 extra zero-carbon homes, raising spending on the NHS to £6bn a year, and scrapping tuition fees.
Greenhouse gases come from many sources including the agricultural sector, and the Greens will phase in a tax on meat and dairy products over the next 10 years. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas and a lot of it comes from cows, so this policy may well be justified – however it is unclear how this tax will affect consumers. If meat and dairy prices rise and are made unaffordable for people, then they may well be forced to switch to a more environmentally-friendly vegan diet – however this does seem like passing the cost on to ordinary working people when another policy could try and achieve the same result without punishing those who can’t afford to pay more in tax.
The Greens have also promised £2bn a year for apprenticeships and training for those transitioning to green jobs.
With £2.5bn promised for improved cycle routes, the Greens aim to make cycling a safer and friendlier option. Despite this, there are no policies on how they will improve and promote public transport usage and how they will do this while the majority of public transport is owned by private companies.
Green have also proposed a Universal Basic Income of £89 a week to replace existing benefits. However, a UBI is meant to get rid of the administrative burden of means testing found in most welfare systems, yet the Greens’ UBI proposal has means testing in it to provide families, the elderly, and disabled people with more money. This begs the question of why they want to introduce an expensive UBI programme while getting rid of one of the main benefits of it, which is to reduce administrative costs for the state.
The Greens have been criticised in interviews recently for their bold borrowing and spending commitments, however my view is that when dealing with the existential crisis of climate change, we can’t really afford not to take bold action.