Manifesto Focus: Labour

  The election is now less than three weeks away, and the campaign is beginning to hot up. Over the last few days, the political parties have been releasing their election manifestos – the documents which contain their proposals for government should they find themselves in power after May 7th.

  One thing to bear in mind is that – the way the polls are going – parliament will almost certainly be hung, meaning no one political party will hold a majority of the seats. This means that either another coalition or some kind of vote-by-vote deal between parties is highly likely. In these circumstances, the party manifestos should be treated with caution – there will have to be compromises.

  However, the manifestos still offer the best guide to what you can expect from the politicians in the aftermath of the general election, and they will form the basis of any negotiations. So, let’s take a look at the damage, starting with the Labour Party:



Financial Policy

  • Labour’s key financial pledge is to reduce the deficit every year, with the aim of running a surplus by the end of this parliament. The OBR projects this will be achieved by 2018-19
  • Income Tax will see significant reform, with the top rate (payable on income over £150,000) rising to its pre-2010 level of 50%. There will also be a new lower rate of 10% for people on very low incomes
  • VAT and National Insurance will not change
  • The non-domiciled tax status and the Conservatives’ Marriage Tax Allowance will both be scrapped, bringing in between £1.5 and £4 billion
  • The party has also pledged to tackle the problem of tax avoidance – but then, everybody always does

Employment and Business

  • The minimum wage will be increased to £8 an hour by October 2019. The party will also encourage the payment of the living wage (currently £7.85) by offering tax rebates to companies which do
  • Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee means that anyone out of work for over two years (one year if you’re under 25) will be offered a job which they have to take, or lose their unemployment benefit
  • Labour have tried to portray themselves as the party of small business by pledging to cut and freeze business rates on over 1.5 million small business properties. They will be keeping corporation tax at its present rate, however, which does not reflect as it used to the difference between small and large companies
  • The Coalition’s system of employment tribunal fees will be scrapped

Social Security

  • Labour will retain the  per-household benefits cap (£500 a week for couples or single parents, £350 for everyone else) and supports the ‘principle’ behind Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit scheme, though they have said they will pause the roll-out of this controversial policy and review it
  • Child benefit rises will also be capped for two years
  • Pensioners will retain the protection of the ‘triple-lock’ (which means pensions increase in line with prices, wages or 2.5%, whichever is higher) but the richest 5% will lose their Winter Fuel Allowance

Health

  • The key Labour health policy is the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act, which has proven unpopular with NHS staff
  • The party has also pledged to reorganise physical and mental healthcare, as well as social care, into a single coherent system ‘focusing on the individual’. This is a common theme of all the major parties’ plans
  • Labour is also planning on a recruitment drive, and a big one: 8,000 new GPs, 20,000 nurses, 3,000 midwives and 5,000 home care workers
  • Everyone will be able to see their GP in under 48 hours, with a target of less than 24 for those who need it
  • They also plan to set up a Cancer Treatment Fund, to get waiting times for tests down below a week and provide drugs more cheaply
Education
  • The party has pledged to cut university tuition fees to £6,000 in an attempt to snag the student vote that the Liberal Democrats abandoned with the breaking of their own promise on fees
  • Labour has also put a welcome focus on technical education, with guaranteed apprenticeships and the introduction of new Technical Degrees, identified as a priority for future university funding. They will have to do more than just increase supply to improve the UK’s failing technical education system, however
  • The free schools programme is to be ended (though, to be clear, free schools already in the pipeline will still be built) but no change on academies has been mentioned
  • English and maths is to be taught to all students up until the age of 18, in a somewhat surprising move which ignores the fact that deficiencies in these subjects are rooted in very early education
Immigration
  • Labour will match the Tories is preventing immigrants from accessing benefits until they have worked in the UK for two years
  • They will also ensure that all frontline staff in public services speak English
  • Illegal immigration will be tackled by hiring an extra 1,000 border staff and introducing exit checks to count people in and out of the country
Crime and Justice
  • The main Labour pledge on crime is to tackle domestic and sexual violence towards women and children. Other than a new Child Protection Unit, however, they don’t really have any detail on how they will achieve this
  • They have promised to scrap the Tories’ Police and Crime Commissioners – not that anyone really paid much attention to them in the first place
  • They have also said they will ‘strengthen the law on disability, homophobic and transphobic hate crime’ – but again, detail is lacking
  • There is a pledge to ban the sale of legal highs as well, but this will be difficult since new ones are being invented all the time
Housing
  • The key promise here is to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 – although be careful; that means they could build no homes at all each year from now until 2019, then 200,000 in 2020 and claim they met the target. Watch the numbers
  • Labour will legislate to ensure a minimum three-year security of tenure for private tenants and to prevent letting agencies from charging tenants fees (as they already charge them to landlords, this is essentially double-profiteering)
  • Under Labour plans, Local Authorities will also have the power to forcibly purchase land if developers do not build on it quickly enough (the timeframe here is unclear)
Constitutional Reform
  • The main devolution pledge is to fulfill the Smith Commission suggestions for Scotland and to give Wales parity with Scottish powers
  • The party also plans to call a ‘Constitutional Convention’ to discuss replacing the House of Lords with an elected Senate, among other things. Expect this to take a LONG time to report
  • The other main promise is to repeal the Lobbying Act, the so-called ‘gagging law’ which restricts the ability of charities to campaign against government policies
Foreign Policy and Defence
  • The keystone of Labour foreign policy is to retain Britain’s nuclear deterrent and remain part of the EU  – i.e. no change
  • The party supports the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but there is little sense of how best they would approach such an aim in government
  • They will also create special envoys for Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights
Energy, Transport and the Environment
  • The party has promised to continue with the HS2 project, but continues to prevaricate over how to deal with London’s pressing need for extra airport capacity
  • The old promise of a two-year freeze to energy bills has stayed with us; Labour also plan to forcibly separate the generation and supply arms of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies
  • Under Labour plans, public operators would be able to bid for rail franchises, but there is no hint of wholesale renationalisation
  • The UK’s electricity supply is to be carbon-free by 2030 – an ambitious target
                                               (read the entire manifesto here)
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