The British General Election 2015 V: Labour

1. Home Government

a. Taxes and Economy: Aim for budget surplus without additional borrowing for new spending. Reintroduce the 50p top rate of income tax for earnings over £150,000. Cut income tax for 24 million people by bringing back the 10p rate, paid for by scrapping the Married Couples’ Tax Allowance. Bring in a “mansion tax” on properties worth over £2m, to raise £1.2bn. A tax on bankers’ bonuses. A 5% pay cut for every government minister. Push for UK overseas territories to be put on an international blacklist if they refuse to co-operate with a drive against tax avoidance.

Taxing seems to be the key principle on which Labour seek to pay for the rest of their agenda; this is a smart move. Traditionally seen as less-than-positive with tax changes, it allows them a provisional carte blanche in other aspects of their manifesto. Doubts should be reserved if these methods can truly pay for the rest of the promises made.

b. The NHS: commit an extra £2.5 billion. The money will come from three sources – a new “mansion” tax, clamping down on tax avoidance by big corporations and a new tax on tobacco companies. Patients in England would get a GP appointment within 48 hours and would not have to wait longer than a week for cancer tests and results. Scrap the Health and Social Care Act and end “creeping privatisation” of the NHS. Integrate health and social care services into a system of “whole-person care”. Give greater priority to mental health services. Recruit 5,000 more healthcare workers to help patients stay in their homes and introduce new safety checks to identify people at risk of hospitalisation. Prioritise child mental health by increasing the proportion of the mental health budget spent on children.

The plan for the NHS budget defence is probably the most mature proposed by labour. Privatisation is something which is also headline triggering – and many expect out of hand for Labour to seek to combat this. Overall, a strong performance sticking to its traditional guns by ensuring that they support their policies by showing where the necessary funding is coming from.

c. Jobs: Guarantee a job for under 25s unemployed for over a year and adults unemployed for more than two years. As many young people to go on an apprenticeship as currently go to university by 2025. Create a million new high technology, green jobs by 2025. Ban “exploitative” zero hour contracts

The lack of specificity, as opposed to the clarity which the Conservatives have issued on the matter. Zero hour contracts, on the other hand, have been challenged at length, in the recent TV interview debate. Although there has been significant debate over the issue, the latest development has been a high-profile support for the contracts. Note that the emphasis on new jobs in the green sector (something shared by the Greens see part III) is something that sounds much more concrete.

d. Education: All teachers would have to be qualified. Parents of primary school children would be guaranteed childcare from 8am to 6pm. The amount of free childcare for three and four year olds would be increased from 15 to 25 hours a week. Compulsory sex and relationship education in all schools. Committed to extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds in elections across the UK. 

Expansion of social care for children is important. Given the divisive nature of the dialogue between the National Union of Teachers and Michael Gove, it is surprising that Labour has not sought to step into the gap and exploit the division. Moreover, it seems difficult that these expansions have not been supported by a method of paying. The best that has been said is that of “refuse to grant business rate relief to independent schools unless they can show a “meaningful impact” on state schools through a new School Partnership Standard, for example by lending teaching staff or assisting in university admissions procedures.” Note the divisive nature of extending suffrage as has been discussed in (see part IV). Miliband’s references to unqualified teachers is also somewhat misleading, considering the fact that many of those teachers are, for example, student teachers or qualified in Scotland.

e. Law and Order: Scrap Police and Crime Commissioners to save £50m. Local residents to be given a say in deciding crime fighting priorities and have access to police planning meetings. Bring back control orders to combat extremism and revive Prevent strategy. Ban convicted child sex offenders from working with children. More money for frontline policing to prevent cuts in officer numbers. End £17m “subsidy” for cheap gun licences.

Again there seems to be a contradiction: the primary statement is the removal of the Police and Crime Commissioner. However, following that position, they ask that local people have a say in deciding crime fighting priorities. It seems a division of language rather than substance. It is also particularly damaging in light of what has become a theme throughout this piece; there is no indication of how Labour intend to pay for the protection of a (second) primary service.

2. Foreign Affairs

a. Immigration: “Stronger” border controls to tackle illegal immigration with “proper” entry and exit checks. “Smarter” targets to reduce low-skilled migration but ensure university students and high-skilled workers are not deterred. Employment agencies who only recruit abroad will be outlawed while the fines for employing illegal immigrants will be increased.

Stronger and smarter are the two buzz words for Labour. This is a smart move from Labour. They have distance d themselves from the rhetoric of restricting immigration. The vocabulary of “intelligent immigration” has already been seized upon. And it is an important wrapping this policy in new language. Initial reaction to Labour’s policy was less than positive. It seems an acceptable move, overall whomever because such language invites discussion – rather than the binary and divisive language used by UKIP.

b. EU: Push for reform of European Union and prevent Britain from “sleepwalking” towards exit.

Although it seems a shift in gear from the statements above it is unfortunately necessary to highlight how soft this approach seems to be within the context of the other lines taken by the leading parties. Reform has not been clearly defined; this is a weak position on one of the central points of contention of the election.

To summarise Labour have made significant changes to the packaging of their policies. This is significant as Labour and Tories are now “neck and neck” – something that seemed unlikely given the initial challenges faced by Ed Miliband. Nevertheless, whilst standing strong on certain defining issues (NHS, suffrage for the young, facing down privitisation) there has been a general lack of long term planning – which is something that traditionally lets Opposition parties down in the polls, given voters remain unconvinced they would be able to manage the job. Concrete plans in the run up to election will surely be the only way that Labour will obtain a clear win.

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