The British General Election 2015 IV: The Conservatives

1. Home Affairs

a. Taxes and Economy: aim to reach a budget surplus by 2019-20, through spending cuts rather than tax rises – protect if not raise NHS spending. An income tax cut for 30 million people by 2020. Tax would start to kick in at £12,500 a year, instead of £10,500. This will cost £5.6bn. The higher tax rate, 40%, would start at £50,000 instead of £41,900, again by 2020, at a cost of £1.6bn. This will be paid for through £25bn in additional spending cuts and economic growth.

Many voters care about what I shall term ‘carry over’. That is to say, the quantity of promises that the government actually delivered on, based on the previous manifesto. It is an important principle, given that the voter seeks to assess the probability that the promises made to them will be upheld. At the recent TV debate between Miliband and Cameron hosted by Paxman, a key grilling of the current Prime Minister was the fact that borrowing is not down. It is fair to say, however, the Cameron delivered on his promises of the tax threshold – the heart of Conservative policy. One now needs to earn in excess of £10,000 before tax is applied. A final observation is the fact that it seems risky to plan for cuts on the basis of economic growth. An interim conclusion however, in light of the improvement of the economy suggests that the Tories dealt well with the challenges posed to them by the economy.

b. The NHS: Chancellor George Osborne says he will put an extra £2bn into frontline health services across the UK, which he described as a “down payment” on a plan drawn up by NHS bosses calling for an extra £8bn a year above inflation by 2020. In England, everyone would be able to see a GP seven days a week by 2020. Recruit 5,000 more doctors.

Success of an NHS scheme is largely dictated by the money question – and given the lack of tinkering thus far from the Tories, it seems that it will remain like this. Although unimaginative, it can perhaps be seen as a safe play in the light of significant backlash against actual (and perceived – exaggeration courtesy of the media) privatisation.

c. Jobs: Create three million apprenticeships to be paid for by benefit cuts.

Whilst three million apprenticeships might seem to be a large number, it being a chronically underdeveloped area has meant that there have been no widespread doubts. Benefits cuts (the second key aspect of Tory policy together with a change in tax rates) always create a polarising effect. If the election campaign manages to convince people that those harmed (i.e. those who loss benefits) will be able to take the benefits (the apprenticeships) it could very well be that this is actually a popular policy.

d. Education: Continue with free school and academy programme. Opposed to giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds for UK-wide general elections and local elections in England.

Much debate has centered on the proposed reduction of the franchise to the age of 16. Without a significantly greater word count, there is not much to add except for two observations. Firstly, it is frustrating that those who argue that younger people should be involved in politics do not also call for more education focused on politics in school. Secondly, and as an extension of the previous point, one is forced to wander whether there is an unspoken battle; Labour is projected to do well amongst younger voters, whilst the Tories are not. Curiously, they are respectively pro- and anti- extension of the franchise. It should be noted that, currently, the Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill 2014-2015 had its first reading in the House of Lords on the 12th June 2014, but no further progress has since occurred.

e. Law and Order: Extremism Disruption Orders (EXDOs) to stop “disruptive” individuals from speaking in public or holding a position of authority. Reform victims’ rights. New laws to make it easier for the police to collect information about internet activity by suspected criminals. A Communications Data Act, requiring companies to start storing certain types of information. Replace Human Rights Act with Bill of Rights to give UK courts and Parliament the “final say”.

With respect to their legal plans, the Tories seem to be driven by a media frenzy rather than common (law) sense. Reform of victims’ rights is something that has been called for, with advocates citing old law which cannot face the challenges being a victim in the media age. However, a Data Act could well be premature – as it is still uncertain what scope privacy will have in the post-Snowden years. More significantly, the law will be aimed at companies rather than the government, which is arguably the source of individual’s fears. Finally, a UK Bill of Rights will not restore Parliamentary sovereignty, if it does not change the European Communities Act 1972. And even then, it has been doubted whether this can be easily done under the new doctrine of constitutional legislation.

2. Foreign Affairs

a. Immigration: migrants must: (i) wait four years before receiving the benefits of the welfare system (ii) be prevented from claiming child benefit for dependents living outside the UK, and (ii) be removed those that have failed to find work after six months. The party has a continuing goal to bring net immigration down to below 100,000 people a year (it currently stands at 243,000), and Cameron is focused on bringing reform to migration across the EU.

Given that the Schengen area’s principle aim was the freedom of movement, it is doubtful whether the Tories will peacefully manage to subvert it, without a more radical attack against the EU (which is probable: see below). As it stands, limiting benefit tourism is something that has been advocated for a while. Significantly, it might placate those who would otherwise turn to either extremist parties, or extremist measures.

b. EU: Hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by 2017, after negotiating the return of some powers from Brussels. Protect foreign aid budget.

Protecting foreign aid and budget is something that almost all governments do; it is an important part of maintaining a standing on the international stage. Replacing Trident is a defence question, fully under the prerogative of the government to make. The referendum on the EU is Cameron’s signature. It is fundamental to understand that it is unlikely the Tories want out. Firstly, they receive the support of several corporations – which have expressed doubts as to distancing themselves from the continent. Secondly, the referendum is carefully proposed after powers are negotiated back from Belgium – in an effort to ensure that people are reassured that sovereignty is not undermined. It is a move that will undoubtedly weaken UKIP support.

It is clear that the Conservatives inherited a difficult position from the previous Labour Government. The very real danger is that they will be judged without taking this into account. The question of whether their strategies have worked is intimately linked with the appraisal of what they inherited. It seems that this is sometimes forgotten. Given that this manifesto looks a lot like the 2010 manifesto, the point is of particular significance.

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