The British General Election 2015 VI: Liberal Democrats

1. Home Affairs

A. Taxes and Economy: Raise the personal allowance – the point at which you start paying income tax – to £11,000 in April 2016 and then to £12,500 by 2020.

This is part of the idea of a set of “strict new fiscal rules” with the aim of eliminating the defiecit by April 2018. Such promises should be viewed with scepticism, even while they are indicative of the general trend. “Mansion tax” was the brain child of the Lib Dems – yet they have shown immaturity in allowing Labour but in contrast to Labour have set out how it would operate. Tying it to rise in house prices rather than in line with inflation sounds clever, but it does exactly the opposite of what Ed Ball promised, which was that it would not hit those who are asset-rich but cash-poor. By definition an increase in the value of a house (fixed asset) does not translate into something with which you can pay an increase. Perhaps then, in keeping clear of clarification, the Lib Dems have at least avoided such a blatant error.

B. The NHS: An extra £1bn for the NHS every year.

Half of the extra funds (drawn from increased taxation) would go to combatting mental health illnesses. This, together with ensuring appointments for people with depression in 18 weeks.

C. Jobs: An extra £1 an hour for the lowest paid apprentices. Campaign to create a million more jobs.

This seemingly seems to piggyback off of the ideas of “old brother” parties. Creating new jobs is a common feature – but there is still no focus like that of the Greens and Tories, which is disappointing given that the Lib Dems have been in government, they should be expected to come up with a more consistent plan. Raising the minimum wage is nothing as revolutionary as it seems either.

D. Education:  Protect the education budget from cuts. Guarantee qualified teachers and a core curriculum set by independent experts, as well as compulsory sex education, in all state schools including academies and free schools. More money for disadvantaged school children and free childcare for all two year olds. Supports lowering the voting age to 16 in all UK elections.

Promising protection of key services is something that has become classic in this election as being a squaring off against the austerity stance of the Tories. It is difficult what making money available to disadvantage school children will achieve. Lowering the voting age has already been problematised as has the language of teachers being “unqualified”.

E. Law and Order: End prison sentences for personal drugs possession, instead using non-custodial sentences and appropriate medical treatment. Replace Police and Crime Commissioners with Police Boards made up of councillors from across the force area. Pass a Digital Bill of Rights to help protect people from unwarranted intrusion and give them more control over their own data.

Reform of drug law is something which is happening across the Atlantic – effects to be confirmed. The Digital Bill of Right is a powerful symbol – as strike against the establishment. This is problematic because many governments around the world seem to have made the move towards a policy of surveillance. PRISM (the USA program) has been massively criticised – but overall, there seems to have been a settlement of the dust it kicked up. Seeking to undermine the ability of a government to do this, seems to undermine the ability to play with on the international league.

2. Foreign Affairs

A. Immigration: Reintroduce exit checks at borders, so the government can identify people who are overstaying their visa. Will require all new claimants for Jobseekers Allowance to have their English language skills assessed, with JSA then being conditional on attending language courses for those whose English is poor. Ensure that EU migrants have to “earn” their entitlement to benefits.

This has policy has surprisingly little to distinguish it with the trend taken by all the other major parties. Notice that this is not consistent with the largely pro-immigrant stance of the Lib Dems in the past.

B. EU: Campaign to reduce the number of Trident nuclear submarines. Push for greater European Union efficiency.

Greater European efficiency is something to strive for, both at the national and on the international plane. Having efficiency as a key component of the manifesto seems to misunderstand that internal changes to the structure are much better achieved through the work of MEPS – rather than a national government putting pressure from outside.

The nuclear issue has exploded since Michael Fallon MP, Defence Secretary used it to make a personal attack on Miliband. Although they seemed to have died down since a powerful performance in the leaders debate. Having said that, this is a minor issue. It has recently been said that the policy on nuclear trident is in fact a feature to distinguish Labour and SNP, rather than anything else.

In synthesis, the Lib Dem’s haste to differentiate themselves form the Tories, have moved towards Labour. They have pledged protection of key services (like Labour) and taken a stronger stance on immigration to appear tougher. Although an argument which should be developed, it might well be suggested that time in office has hollowed out the Lid Dems rather than strengthened them.


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