Two weeks ago, most major UK parties released their manifestoes. Despite the large number of “Vote Liberal Democrat” stickers and signs in my constituency, the election will be mostly fought by the Conservative and Unionist Party. They will face Labour in England and Wales, and the SNP in Scotland. As the Conservatives will be the main party in the election, will most likely win and are the main party supported by the Daily Globe, it would seem appropriate to review and comment the points that stood out in their 88 page manifesto.
In the run up to the release of the manifestoes the Conservative Party, led by Theresa May, pointed out that Labour and all other parties could not provide the responsible and stable government needed when faced with the twin issues of Brexit and Scottish Nationalism. Their manifesto was awaited, not only by the large community of Conservatives, but the swing of Brexiteers of all parties who rallied to the banner held up by Theresa May – the Party of Brexit that could win elections and form responsible governments.
In hindsight, while the Conservatives present a considerably more statesmanlike front, the two recent Conservative U-Turns threaten to undermine this. The second was last Monday’s amendment on the unfairly labeled “Dementia Tax’. This could be seen as a clarification, had it not been for Chancellor Hammond’s major blunder over raising National Insurance for self-employed people. May must be careful to avoid making similar errors in the future or she may well begin to risk loosing the election and her ‘brand’. The pollsters predict victory for the Conservatives, but after last years’ events, it would be unwise to put any great faith in their estimations.
The Conservative Party is a coalition, with Thatcherites, Cameronites and many other brands of Conservatism banded together, and this needs to be kept in mind. Any manifesto of theirs would naturally show these divisions. Prime Minister May – famously not the founder of ‘Mayism’ – is towards the centre or left of Conservatism, and has been called a ‘Red Tory’. Knowing this, many right wing Conservatives and the defectors from UKIP showed concern. The release of the manifesto became hoped for, but also feared, at the same time.
When it came out on the 18th of this month, the general consensus of many on the right side of Conservatism (the “True Blues”) is that it was by no means as bad as it could have been, but also not as good as many had hoped. The somewhat libertarian group Conservatives for Liberty described it as “Tory Paternalism”, but that is the limit of the published concern over the document.
The manifesto itself is divided into five main parts, each entitled,
1. A strong economy that works for everybody
2. A strong and united nation in a changing world
3. The world’s great meritocracy
4. A resorted contract between the generations
5. Prosperity and security in a digital age
These five points sum up the concerns and goals of a Conservative government led by Theresa May. May, unlike her predecessor David Cameron, is a product of a Grammar School who has worked her way to the top in a meritocratic process. As such ‘Mayism’ is a different brand of Conservatism, much more public and focusing on the majority, ensuring nobody is left behind: Her goal is to create a conservative, meritocratic and equitable United Kingdom. The ‘PR’ of the ‘Big Society’ is left behind in favour of hard policies: May has a goal and it shows in what it quite frankly her manifesto.
Beginning with the first point, the economy has always been a key issue for the ‘Tories’. In their manifesto, they state “A strong economy is the basis for everything we want to achieve as a nation.” For them, the main goal is to ensure a firmly established economy, but one which is also fair and “equitable” – a praiseworthy goal. The economy is central to the finances of the nation and should be treated as such. Their safe handling of the economy is agreed upon by nearly all British citizens, even by ardent Labour supporters.
The deficit is forecasted to be eliminated “in the middle of the next decade”, which is presumably sometime around 2025. This would require the Conservatives to win the 2017 and 2022 elections, and to continue with their current deficit reduction scheme until then.
Personally, I would have preferred to have seen the books balanced before the next election in 2022, however, the government exists for the sake of the people, and cuts must be fair and not leave any group behind. From a party political standpoint, it might be best to eliminate it in 2020/2021, so that a surplus would be available the year before the election.
And if the deficit continues to exist and we have to cut – in real terms – something painful (like Police or Schools) how about saying something like the follows:
“I’m sorry. I truly am: I know it hurts the nation. I know it hurts individuals; I personally know those who will suffer and I wish it was not forced upon us. But we must, must, balance the budget, or we will hurt the next generation far more than the difficulties we will now face. These decisions are not taken flippantly but we need to cut somewhere: The task of organising our priorities is an extremely hard process which we did not take lightly.”
We need to balance the books for the long-term good of the nation – and the British public can understand this. We are a nation of adults and can understand the long term effects of debt – far too many of us suffer the debilitating effects of long term credit card debt. We cannot afford to continuing taxing future generations at the rate of £60 billion every year as mentioned in the 2017 Budget.
Being a Conservative means one supports personal rights and responsibilities. To this end, I view the increase in the personal allowance to £12,500 as sound and beneficial. This increase should create a ‘virtual payrise’ and encourage more people to save; either for retirement, holidays, purchases or to create a ‘buffer fund’. This will especially help those in lower-income jobs and will reward those who work – a key Conservative tenet which I very much agree with.
Economically speaking, the more people save, the greater the supply of loanable funds, and the lower the interest rates. This would enable the Bank of England to step back from ‘artificially’ keeping interest rates low and ensure companies can borrow to invest in the UK. Cheaper capital could also mean more businesses can start, which generates products, services and jobs.
It may seem unfortunate that the ISA allowance has not been raised, but few use their total allowance, so it would not increase the incentive to save: I think it was the right choice. Further, their promise to reform and simplify the tax code is a welcome announcement for an overcomplicated system.
Private enterprise is mentioned in the manifesto, which pledges to “Back … small businesses” as they are “the party of enterprise and the entrepreneur”. In that, to the best of my knowledge, the Opposition’s manifesto makes no mention of SMEs (Small & Medium Enterprises), they are the party of business. To further benefit SMEs, the Conservatives aim to level the playing field to assist entrepreneurs and small enterprises.
Encouraging small businesses cannot be rated too highly, as they are the backbone of the British economy. Sixty percent of employment and forty-three percent of turnover in the UK’s public sector is provided by the UK’s small businesses, which have continued to grow in numbers.
Small businesses, like large ones, will benefit from the lowering of the UK corporate tax rate to 17%, the lowest in any developed nation. Not only will this ease and encourage enterprise, it will hopefully attract businesses from the EU – as Merkel expressed concern over to Bloomberg – and keep UK based industries and jobs in the UK.
The manifesto also aims to increase trade; a laudable plan and one which the UK needs. Yet to increase trade, the UK needs to diversify its trade partners. The UK has achieved what seems to be a steady value of trade with the EU nations, and its focus should be changed to non-EU nations. This is not to suggest the EU is not a key priority. With some in the EU Commission not comprehending that the UK will walk away from talks if it does not get the deal it gets, prioritising trade with other, preferably Commonwealth and Anglosphere nations, could hopefully assist the Commissioners to understand that May is extremely serious with her intent to walk away.
Trade depends on infrastructure, and the Conservatives announced they will invest £40 billion in infrastructure to ensure the UK maintains its advanced network. This is a welcome announcement, especially for the many who live in areas connected by roads with too many potholes. There is no official ‘pot-hole policy’, but because of previous comments, we can hopefully be sure this will receive attention and some of the funding.
The expansion of Heathrow Airport is welcome, even if delayed for too long. Brexit Britain, we are informed, we will be optimised for international trade and development and be a global island. To do so, international transport infrastructure is key. The vast majority of travellers to the UK come in by air, and London Heathrow is one of the four main Western Europe airports, along with Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles-De-Gaulle and Frankfurt. However, the Heathrow has fallen behind because of lack of capacity. Heathrow needed its third runway in the 1990s; by now Amsterdam has five and all other airports have more than three. The CEO of British Airways’ holding company, the IAG, warned that many airlines cannot expand at Heathrow because too few slots – times when aircraft can fly in and out. Heathrow is a national asset, and while I fully understand and sympathise with those who face being thrown out of Sipson, (the village to be demolished due to the construction) for the national good it needs to be done. The nation needs more capacity at Heathrow and its other transport hubs to remain competitive and hopefully even to gain an edge over its competitors.
This is not to suggest airport expansion is purely beneficial – having lived near many airports I know and understand the frustration and disturbance created by airport expansion. Airports are such key infrastructure projects and national assets any plans to assist tourism (which has again increased this quarter) should be wholeheartedly supported; I am one of the few who support the creation of new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports.
After that high point of national investment, the manifesto comes crashing down: High Speed 2, the aptly, if irreverently named, White Elephant Line is mentioned and supported.
It, along with the required HS3 (High Speed 3) is estimated to cost £65 billion and cause a considerable amount of environmental damage, especially in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. More cost efficient, offering greater economic benefit and providing increased service to far more cities and regions is the alternate proposal by the group HighSpeedUK. Founded and developed by a number of railway engineers and planners, it is a well thought through, intensively developed project that I support and greatly favour over the £45 billion HS2. HS2, despite costing approximately the same as HSUK’s Core which will merely connect London and Birmingham with only a spur to connect to Heathrow Airport. When the ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ or HS3 is included to offer similar connectivity, it becomes £21 billion more expensive while offering worse connectivity. In relation, the UK’s deficit in the 2016 financial year was £52 billion.
For the promised investment in infrastructure to achieve the results wanted it must be a ‘wholistic ‘system to connect all of the assets the UK currently possesses to they all work together. This is the inherent advantage of many continental nations, and something the UK needs to develop. Merely nationalising the railways will not achieve this aim either, despite the suggestion by the Labour Party. It would be possible for a nationalised company to create a single transport network, but the costs of nationalisation would render it prohibitively expensive, and it is questionable if it would offer any real benefit. It would also be politically self-destructive for any minister to propose an “integrated transport policy” for the reasons so humorously put in the Yes, Minister episode “A Bed of Nails” – which I also heartily recommend.
What the Conservatives will nationalise is the Economic Exclusion Zone, ensuring the British fishing industry has access to all of its national resources. This is a great advantage, and would hopefully expand the British fishing industry fivefold, with the resulting increase of employment and growth in GDP.
Continuing with the nationalisation scheme, I think it is unfortunate that Royal Mail will not be renationalised. Royal Mail is not as business, but rather a service; the Postal Service. The existence of the village post office provides the community with access to government services, and a village shop. It is not merely a “post office” for the posting of letters and packages, but a centre for the local community, especially in rural areas with less service. The privatisation of Royal Mail has resulted in the creation of a for-profit company, and a loss of many of these services. For those concerned with Conservative nationalisation, it is worth recalling that Thatcher was ardently opposed to privatising Royal Mail and was of the opinion it would be privatised after “the Queen’s head”.
On the defence and foreign relations aspects of the manifesto, sticking to the 2% of GDP spent on defence NATO rule is necessary to ensure our position in NATO and the world remain safe and protected. Faced with the increasingly unstable world, especially with a resurgent Russia and concerning actions by North Korea, the UK needs to ensure our defence forces remain strong enough to protect British interests at home and abroad. Our commitments to NATO have never been more serious since the fall of the Iron Curtain, while Britain’s membership of the Five Power Defence Treaty is also becoming more important due to Chinese expansion in the South China Seas. The UK is also responsible for the protection of its overseas territories, many of which are claimed by other nations, such as Gibraltar and the Falklands. While it is highly unlikely that a conflict will erupt over these territories, the nation must be prepared.
Facing these varied threats, it is good to see that the Conservative Party has again acknowledged that an strong economy is needed for a strong nation, and for an island nation to keep its trade safe (in turn necessary for a strong economy) a strong defence force is vital.
Also welcomed is the promise to review the 0.7% of GDP spent on the foreign aid budget. If the suggestion is true that the fund will be accessible for armed forces on peacekeeping deployments this would also be beneficial. It would ensure the armed forced are not overstretched on peacekeeping deployments to ensure the defence of the UK and British interests abroad are not under risk.
The last aspect is the big one – immigration. The elephant in the room in regards to Brexit, May, as Home Secretary, has been trying to get net migration reduced to the “tens of thousands” for many years. Surprisingly enough, it seems the Conservatives are eager for a third try at reducing net migration, although the manifesto outlines it as a goal, with no specified date given.
While a goal of net migration is a laudable aim, attempting to do so by toughening the non-EU visa process would appear to me to be an own goal of remarkable proportions. The UK’s visa policy to Commonwealth nations is the main sticking point of the UK-India Free Trade Agreement, worth £2 billion to the UK, and the goal should be to liberalise the visa process, not toughen it.
However, the Conservative and Unionist Party remains the party of the Commonwealth, as evidenced by the large number of Commonwealth supporters in its ranks compared to all other parties. The creation of a designated “Commonwealth” immigration que, and Special Passport Area between the 16 Realms for ease of migration and work between the nations are all back-bench or leaked government proposals. It is to be hoped that these are still under development and have not been mentioned in the manifesto due to the difficulty in including everything in a manifesto.
The other issue relating to immigration is the birth rate. As George Osborne pointed out in his editorial attacking the immigration goal, the UK needs a steady supply of labour for to sustain our current GDP, and it is essential for sustained economic growth. There are two ways of getting labour: immigration and a local birthrate. In this respect, I agree with George Osbourne over Kwasi Kwarteng that the government is risking the economy – an unusual occurrence I admit. Yet what I fail to understand is that the government must know this, yet have made to move to remove the limit on tax credits to two children.
These were the tax credits, when asked if the government would limit credits to the first two children, David Cameron denied in 2015. However, in his first all-Tory budget, Chancellor Osbourne announced they would be cut to only two children. Many hoped this would be reversed, or at the least raised to 3 or 4, but alas that was not to be.
In conclusion, the manifesto was not as good as might be hoped, yet by no means as bad as might be feared. Considering the many divisions and groups in the Conservative Party it is a good manifesto, and there are far worse than mere paternalism, including supporting terrorism and terrorists.
My last comment is about apologies. It seems that the words “Sorry” and “I got it wrong”; which I believe should be have been used many times, including in last night’s interviews with Faisal Islam and Jeremy Paxman of May and Corbyn – upon which I could have extended this article significantly!
It remains to be seen if the public support for the Conservative and Unionist Party remains strong throughout the country and the Tories form the new government. It seems that it we can look forwards to a fair and stable government for the good of the whole nation if the Conservatives do win.
Federation of Small Businesses: https://www.fsb.org.uk/media-centre/small-business-statistics
Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto for the 2017 General Election
Map of Heathrow Airport: By cmglee and OpenStreetMap contributors – http://parent.tile.openstreetmap.org/cgi-bin/export?bbox=-0.5,51.455,-0.415,51.5;scale=100000;format=svg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21125367
Map of HSUK and HS2 & HS3. Courtesy of High Speed UK. Found at: http://www.highspeeduk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/HSUK-Brochure.pdf