UK Election: Are you Conservative or Bold?

On 8th June 2017, the UK will hold a General Election to decide who will lead the country through the next 5 years of uncertainty. Incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May has described the election as “the most important this country has faced in [her] lifetime.”

The UK finds itself at a crossroads, a snap election to make a quick decision on which path to take at a time when many people are still struggling to believe and understand how we got to where we are today: divided among ourselves, unhappy with the status quo, equally looking for someone to blame and someone to fix our malaise, with the union of the United Kingdom at risk and one foot out of the door of Europe. There is no longer consensus on who is Friend or Foe, no longer the clarity of black and white, just so many shades of grey.

In a country with a population used to only being seriously politically engaged once every 4-5 years, after the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, the 2015 UK General Election and the 2016 European Union Referendum, there is a danger of voter weariness and apathy to the 2017 election.

When you are asked to make a decision, the easy option is to form your opinion from the headlines, to loyally vote for who you always do, to let your preconceived prejudices influence you. You should not vote for Labour just because of what Thatcher did to the miners and neither should you vote for the Conservatives just because Tony Blair led us into war in Iraq. You should not vote for Labour just because the Conservatives propose to stop providing free school lunches any more than you should not vote for the Conservatives just because Jeremy Corbyn looks like a Geography teacher.

It is literally impossible to take everything into consideration when choosing who to vote for in the election as the role of the Government is so vast and all encompassing. There also simply isn’t one definitive source of unbiased accurate information about everything that the government does and what the political parties say they propose to do.

As responsible adults, the best that we can aim for is to attempt to make an informed decision based on as many verified sources and trusted opinions as we can so that we understand consequences of the decision that we are make.

With apologies to the other political parties, it is reasonable to conclude that after the election either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party will have the most seats in the UK Government. At the time of writing for this 2 horse race, you can can get odds of 10-1 that the Labour Party will have the most seats so a Conservative victory could be seen as an almost foregone conclusion…

Conservative Manifesto Cover

Conservative Party Manifesto

Therefore, let us focus on the Conservative Party Manifesto which should enlighten us to what the UK’s future may hold. To start, the following are what many people would regard as ‘positive’ pledges:

  • Launch a new £23 billion ‘National Productivity Investment Fund’ to be spent on housing, research and development, economic infrastructure and skills.
  • Spend an additional £4 billion into the day-to-day running budgets of schools.
  • Halve rough sleeping over the course of the next parliament and eliminate it by 2027.
  • Almost every car and van to be zero-emission by 2050.
  • Meet 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and half a million more by the end of 2022.
    • Labour propose to build over 1 million new homes, and 100,000 council and housing association homes every year.
  • Increases in NHS spending reaching £8 billion extra per year by 2022-23.
    • Conservative plans would see average annual real terms increases of 1.2%, rather than the 0.8% set out in the last spending review in 2016.
    • Labour’s plan for “£30 billion extra funding over the next Parliament” in theory delivers annual increase of 2.2%. [SOURCE]
  • Increase the National Living Wage (currently £7.50 per hour) to 60% of median earnings by 2020 (may be as high as £9.35 per hour) [SOURCE]
    • The Labour Manifesto proposes to raise the Minimum Wage to the level of the Living Wage (expected to be in region of £10.30 by 2020) [SOURCE]

These are all encouraging statements with measurable commitments, which are all commendable. However, there are not many of them for an 88 page document…

The Conservative Party Manifesto includes a number of other positive sounding statements of intent:

  • ‘Improve’ HMRC’s capabilities to clamp down on smuggling.
  • ‘Reduce’ online VAT fraud.
  • ‘Reform’ business rates.
  • ‘Simplify’ the tax system.
  • Regulate ‘more efficiently.’
  • Legislate for ‘tougher regulation’ of tax advisory firms.
  • ‘Ask’ universities and independent schools to ‘help’ run state schools.
  • ‘Reduce’ insurance costs by ‘cracking down’ on exaggerated and fraudulent whiplash claims.
  • ‘Tighten’ the rules against pension abuse and ‘increase’ punishment for those caught mismanaging pension schemes.
  • Introduce a new cultural development fund to ‘turn around’ communities.

This all sounds very positive until you notice the absence of any measurable success criteria. How can the general public hold the Government to account if ‘Improve’, ‘Reduce’ and ‘More’ are not defined?

Politics is like business – you only commit to that which you know you can deliver, hence a smaller number of quantifiable changes and a larger amount of fluffy rhetoric. Some of these statements of intent will no doubt be clarified and quantified over time, but the vagueness is deliberate. It allows the party to keep it’s options open, to water down or beef up the implementation of the policies according to public reaction. This is prudent when you review the other less appetising proposals in the manifesto.

The following Conservative Party policies and pledges could be perceived as ‘negatives’, as they will negatively affect at least one group of the population:

  • Nicknamed the ‘Dementia Tax’ by the press, people with assets of more than £100,000 will have to pay for their elderly care (up from £23,250), but the value of the person’s property will now be included in the value of their assets.
    • After negative reaction to this policy proposal from the public, press and from within the Conservative party, Theresa May performed a swift ‘U-turn’ by announcing that there will be a ‘cap on total contributions’ (unspecified amount).
  • Remove the ‘triple-lock’ on the state pension after 2020.
    • First introduced in 2010, changing the ‘triple-lock’ back to a ‘double-lock’ means that the annual increase in State Pension is projected to be less.
    • This will save the Government billions of £ pounds but will mean that everyone in the UK at retirement age will be worse off.
    • The Labour Party has committed to safeguard the ‘triple-lock’ for the next parliament if it is elected.
  • ‘Means-test’ the elderly winter-fuel payments of £300 per year.
    • The threshold has not been defined but “around 10 million pensioners could lose out”, according to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
    • There is a danger that a significant amount of the money raised from this will end up being spent setting up a new bureaucracy to administer the means-test, therefore providing minimal benefit to anyone.
  • Stop providing free school lunches for infants in England.
  • Charge companies £2,000 a year for every skilled non-EU migrant they employ.
  • Commitment to develop the shale gas industry in Britain, despite the concerns of environmentalists and the disruption to communities it causes.
    • Non-fracking drilling will be treated as ‘permitted development’ and major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the ‘National Planning Regime’.

A few pledges in the Conservative Party Manifesto also have ‘questionable’ motives:

  • Reaffirmation of the existing pledge to cut net migration to below 100,000 per year.
    • A significant reduction of net migration has been a target for the Conservatives since they formed the coalition Government in 2010, and is something that they have unsuccessfully (so far) struggled to achieve.
    • Net migration for 2016 was 273,000.
    • If the Conservatives are successful in achieving this target, it will negatively affect British businesses, universities, British nationals with foreign spouses and UK tourism, retail industry and financial sectors which all rely on and heavily employ migrants.
    • George Osbourne, Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer until 2016, now Editor of the Evening Standard, has commented: “You have got a promise to reduce immigration so tell us how you are going to do it. Which section of industry is not going to have the labour it currently needs? Which families are not going to be able to be reunited with members of their families abroad? Which universities are not going to have overseas students? If the Conservative government can answer those questions, all well and good. If they can’t, the Evening Standard is going to go on asking the question.”
    • If control of UK borders really is a priority for the Conservatives, why did they cut spending on the UK Border Force from £616 million in 2012 to £525 million in 2015?
  • The second part of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press will not take place.
    • Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry was going to address: “the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International, other media organisations or other organisations. It would also consider the extent to which any relevant police force investigated allegations relating to News International, and whether the police received corrupt payments or were otherwise complicit in misconduct.”
    • This unexpected victory for the press was in no way influenced by Rupert Murdoch’s increasingly influence over the Conservative Government or by the highly favourable media coverage that Theresa May has received over the last year… was it?
  • The Serious Fraud Office will be “incorporated into the National Crime Agency”
    • This proposal is a personal crusade of Theresa May who first proposed this in  2011 when she was Home Secretary.
    • The proposal was dropped at the time after concerns by her Conservative cabinet colleagues were raised that splitting the investigators and the prosecutors could make attempts to tackle serious fraud less effective.
    • Given the reduced funding all Government departments have endured under the Conservative Government, the risks of this merger are now even greater, so who stands to benefit from this?
  • To ‘reduce electoral fraud’, either a passport or photo driving license will be required to be presented to prove identification before being allowed to vote
    • According to a government report published in 2016, there were 51.4 million votes cast across the UK in 2015 but only 37 allegations of fraud.
    • According to the Electoral Commission, 5 million people, or 7.5 per cent of the electorate, will be prevented from voting if this proposal is implemented.
    • Possible coincidence that the demographics of voters without photo ID have historically been Labour Party or Nationalist (SNP, Paid Cymru etc) voters rather than Conservative voters?
  • Conservative Manifesto: “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.”

Finally, the Conservative Party Manifesto is notable for certain items that it doesn’t include:

  • A revised target date to eliminate the Government’s deficit has been quietly dropped, replaced with the more vague “aim for a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade”
    • In 2010, the Conservative ‘aim’ was for a balanced budget by 2015, which of course didn’t happen.
  • Previous pledges from the then Chancellor George Osborne to not to increase National Insurance or Income Tax have been removed.
  • Previous pledge for total ban on ivory trading was removed, following lobbying from the British Antique Dealers’ Association.
  • Since the Conservative Party Manifesto launch, Theresa May has said that she will hold a “free vote on overturning the foxhunting ban” if re-elected.
    • David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA: “Foxhunting is a barbaric and brutal practice that has no place in civilised society. Repealing the 2004 Hunting Act would not only mean a return to cruelty, but would fly in the face of the opinion of the majority of the general public, as 84% of people say they are against relegalising foxhunting.”
  • There is no mention of addressing the proliferation of zero-hour contract employment, unlike the Labour party which has pledged to ban the use of zero-hour contracts.
  • The Conservative Government has “dangerously neglected” the Climate Change Act and is off track to meet it’s own targets. A change of policy or approach is not referenced in the 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto.
    • Labour Manifesto: “A Labour government will put us back on track to meet the targets in the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement”

The 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto is consistent with all Conservative Party policy since the 2008 financial crisis in that it has the agenda of austerity. Until now, the Labour Party economic policies have been broadly similar to the Conservatives, but Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 Labour Party Manifesto is strikingly different.

This difference of ideologies is highlighted by comparing one as yet unmentioned key policy area:

Corporation TaxCorp Tax Projection

  • The Conservatives maintain a previous pledge to cut Corporation Tax from 19% to 17% by 2020.
  • The Labour Party propose to increase Corporation Tax to 26% by 2020, back to the same tax rate as in 2011.
  • For comparison a 26% tax rate would still be lower than the rates of all of the other 6 nations in the G7 (Germany: variable up to 32.925%, France: 33%, USA: variable up to 35%)

The Labour Party proposal would raise an estimate £19 billion to finance their ambitious spending plans while the Conservative Party proposal would reduce tax receipts by an estimated £4 billion.

The above chart highlights that while the Labour proposed increase is significant, a 26% tax rate has very recent precedent and is still globally competitive. It also highlights that one of the main beneficiaries of the Conservative’s severe austerity policies has been UK and international businesses, as money saved with benefit cuts has been used to off-set reduced Corporation Tax returns since 2010.

Conclusion

The 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto is depressingly familiar (and for some people quite alarming), offering little hope to the average voter that a Conservative vote will improve their quality of life over the next 5 years. Since (and even before) his election as leader of the Labour Party, Jeremey Corbyn has received significant and sustained attacks from the media. Some of the criticism has been justified, but frequently it hasn’t, and he remains a highly divisive figure.

In recent years, a vote for Labour has justifiably been viewed as a risk as their time in opposition has repeatedly demonstrated them to be disorganised, ineffective and at war with themselves. But since the beginning of May, Labour have gone from 22 points behind the Conservatives to just 5 points behind at the time of writing, following the positive public reaction to the release of the Labour Party manifesto.

Jeremy Corbyn is no Obama, but he is the best leader that the Labour Party can offer. He has continued to confound critics and is winning support by performing better in the media spotlight than Theresa May.

In June 2017 some will still view a vote for a Jeremy Corbyn lead Labour Party as too much of a ‘Risk’. After reviewing the Conservative Party manifesto, many will conclude that a vote for investment rather than austerity, a vote to try something different rather than more of the same and a vote for ‘the many not the few’ is a ‘risk’ worth taking.

Mark-Twain-Quote

Notes

This article is intended as a review of the Conservative Party Manifesto as a whole and is not a comprehensive review of each of the policies.

All quotations and information referenced in this article are from either the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto or the 2017 Labour Party manifesto unless an alternative source is provided.

This article deliberately excludes the Conservatives policies on Brexit as opinion about the pros and cons of Theresa May’s approach to the forthcoming Brexit negotiations is a separate debate.

Family: The Meaning of Christmas

What are you doing this Christmas? I will be spending it with my family. By choice.

Christmas means many things to different people. For some it evokes memories of a happy childhood, others loneliness and pain and to some it means nothing at all. To me, Christmas means one thing above all others. It means family.

Midnight Mass, turkey dinner, Christmas pudding, presents round the tree, the Queen’s speech, family films, sherry and mince pies. Mum whizzing round the kitchen. Dad falling asleep in the living room. My brother trying to smile while looking for the nearest exit. My uncle’s regular monologues about everything and anything. Gran reading last year’s newspapers. Grandpa and his beloved sherry.

Every family has it’s quirks, it’s traditions and habits. Every family is made up of a group of painfully unique people who are frequently pulling in opposite directions, who have one thing in common – a shared love and care for each other’s well-being.

“The best Christmas of all is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up with one another.”
– William Vaughan aka. Burton Hillis (1915 – 1977)

Christmas is an opportunity for people of all ages to stop and think about the priorities in their lives, about the people that matter most. This is why Christmas can be a painful time for some people because they see other people’s happiness at a time of bad memories and loss. This is also why Christmas is a time for family. No-one should be alone over Christmas.

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. For some people this is hugely important and others it is nothing more than a footnote in history, if that. Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, for caring and sharing. Christmas is a time for making an effort to be with those who are important to us.

Whatever we think of them as people, they are our family. Whatever we think of Christmas, Christmas is a time for family.

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.”
– Anthony Brandt