The Labour manifesto

On the front cover of Labour’s 2015 manifesto, in large red type, is their opening message to voters: ‘Britain only succeeds when working people succeed.’ Ed Miliband has laid the groundwork by using this same phrase in local speeches, national speeches and televised debates. Does the small print of the Labour manifesto reflect this headline, and what exactly can we expect if Labour form the next government?

My summary will follow the topics as listed in the contents page:

Labour manifesto contents page

Foreword by Ed Miliband

Miliband starts on a positive note, and his entire foreword seeks to make a personal and emotional connection. Here are the opening praragraphs:

‘We are a great country. With great people. In the last five years I have heard your stories, your hopes and your dreams. And I have heard too your frustrations.

The countless people working as hard as they possibly can and still struggling to pay the bills. The young people with great ambitions but great anxieties about the future. The dedicated staff of our NHS, who are deeply concerned about its future. And all those who have served our country, are now retired, and ask where our country is going.

This manifesto is inspired by you.’

In the rest of the foreword, he reiterates ‘Britain only succeeds when working people succeed’ and says the country can do better. He highlights the need for higher wages, a strong economy, investing in the next generation, supporting the NHS, controlling immigration and ensuring everyone plays by the same rules. Miliband covers a lot of aspirational ground, in the hope that every reader will connect with at least one of these ideas, without going into detail or giving figures. There is absolutely no mention of other political parties; only Labour and the people of the country.

A better future for Britain

Now, it’s all well and good to have emotive language in a foreword, but unfortunately it carries on to the manifesto proper. I was expecting data, perhaps tables of figures; what I got was further paragraphs of subjective language. There are, however, some policy points to be picked out, and this section pledges:

* cutting the deficit every year, ‘with national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament’

* raising top rate of income tax to 50% above £150,000

* raising minimum wage to £8/hr by October 2019

* ‘banning exploitative zero-hours contracts’

* promoting the Living Wage

* increasing free childcare from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents of 3- and 4-yr-olds

* guaranteeing an apprenticeship for ‘every school leaver with the grades’

* doubling paternity leave

* freezing energy prices until 2017

* building ‘at least’ 200,000 homes by 2020

* abolishing the Bedroom Tax

* smaller class sizes for 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds

* on healthcare: ‘We will build up our NHS so that it has time to care, funding 8,000 more GPs, 20,000 more nurses and 3,000 more midwives, paid for by a Mansion Tax on properties worth over £2 million, a levy on tobacco firms, and by tackling tax avoidance. And we will bring together services for physical health, mental health and social care into a single system built around the individual.’

* on immigration: ‘migrants from the EU will not be able to claim benefits until they have lived here for at least two years. We will make it illegal to undercut wages by exploiting migrant workers, and work to strengthen integration within our communities. Everyone who works with the public in our public services must be able to speak English.’

* further devolving powers to Scotland, Wales and English cities / regions (Northern Ireland not mentioned!)

* retaining EU membership, but ‘will work to reform’ it

Labour also warn against the Conservatives:

‘Their view is that economic success depends just on a few at the top. They think that insecurity will make people work harder and that low pay is the only way to be competitive in the global market. They don’t believe we can afford decent public services when times are hard. They have been giving power to large unaccountable firms rather than to people, and now they want to make deeper cuts in the next three years than we have seen in the last five years.’

Towards the end of this section is the somewhat cryptic message ‘we will also ask more of individuals and communities. We can only rebuild our country if everyone plays their part and feels they have a stake in society.’ What does ‘ask more’ mean? Probably further tax rises, though it could also refer to increased volunteering or further cutbacks in non-protected areas of public spending (education and healthcare have been ring-fenced).

Building an economy that works for working people

Labour say their ‘first task in government’ would be to ensure the economy ‘works for all of Britain’s businesses and working people’. Labour’s view of the current situation is given:

‘The Conservatives claim that the economy is fixed and that our country is on the right track. But the economy is not creating the productive, high-skilled and well-paid jobs that we need to raise living standards. The lack of rewarding work and training opportunities is trapping hundreds of thousands of young people in a cycle of benefits and low-paid, insecure jobs. And consumers are overcharged in markets they rely on to meet their everyday needs, whether to heat their homes or travel to work.’

They back this up with a range of statistics: the average salary is £1,600 lower than 2010 (after accounting for inflation); over 5 million people are earning less than the Living Wage; there are 1.8 million zero-hours contracts; 1.3 million are part-time jobs; 900,000 people, many of them in work, used food banks last year. The ‘cost-of-living crisis’ needs to be tackled by ‘an inclusive wealth-creating economy’ that is ‘both pro-business and pro-worker’.

Additional policies announced in this section:

* stopping winter fuel payments to the richest 5% of pensioners

* capping child benefits for 2 years

* cutting and then freezing ministerial pay

* lowering the starting rate of income tax to 10%, to be paid for by scrapping the marriage tax allowance

* on tax avoidance / evasion: ‘We will introduce tougher penalties for those abusing the tax system, end unfair tax breaks used by hedge funds and others, and bear down on disguised employment. We will seek international agreement to make country-by-country reporting information publicly available, and we will act at home if agreement is not reached. British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies will be required to produce publicly available registries of the real owners of companies based there. We will carry out an immediate review into the culture and practices of HMRC so that everyone follows the same rules and we increase the rigour of the tax system. And we will abolish non-dom status so that all those who make the UK their home pay tax in the same way as the rest of us.’

* supporting HS2

* removing carbon from electricity supply by 2030

* increasing high-speed broadband

* retaining 30% public ownership of the Royal Mail

* cutting and then freezing ‘business rates for over 1.5 million smaller business properties’.

* establishing a British Investment Bank

* giving those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks the right to a permanent contract

* abolishing employment tribunal fees

* cutting university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 per year

* introducing a ‘Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, paid for by a bank bonus tax. It will provide a paid starter job for every young person unemployed for over a year, a job which they will have to take or lose benefits.’

* ‘We will replace out of work benefits for 18 to 21-year-olds with a new Youth Allowance dependent on recipients being in training and targeted at those who need it most.’ (Hmm. This sounds like a watered-down version of a Conservative policy, and one which requires more detail.)

* introducing a water bill affordability scheme

* freezing rail fares in 2016 and allowing public sector to run lines

Providing world-class health and education services

This section again leads with the emotive: ‘the future of the NHS is under threat. The Conservatives have put the wrong values at its heart, and patients are finding it harder to get the care they need.’

Specific policies pledged on health:

* guaranteeing a GP appointment within 48 hours

* creation of a Cancer Treatment Fund, with cancer test waiting times to be less than a week by 2020

* repealing of the Health and Social Care Act, ‘scrapping the competition regime and restoring proper democratic accountability for the NHS’

* making NHS the preferred service provider and capping profits for private providers of NHS services

* ‘Mental health will be given the same priority as physical health. People will have the same right to psychological therapies as they currently have to drugs and medical treatments.’

* tackling obesity and diabetes prevention by promoting activity, ‘taking action on high-strength, low-cost alcohol products’ and setting ‘maximum permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods marketed substantially to children’

* introducing 5,000 new home-care workers

Specific policies pledged on education:

* introduction of the Technical Baccalaureate (a vocational qualification for 16- to 18-yr-olds)

* introduction of ‘a new, independent system of careers advice, offering personalised face-to-face guidance on routes into university and apprenticeships’

* requirement for teachers to have a qualified status

* establishing a School Leadership Institute to ‘support headteachers and improve school leadership’ and Directors of School Standards ‘at a local level to monitor performance, intervene in under-performing schools and support them to improve’.

* ending the Free Schools programme

* private schools must ‘form a meaningful partnership with a school, or cluster of schools, in the state sector’ to receive continued business rate tax relief

* making ‘age-appropriate sex and relationships education’ compulsory, and working with schools to tackle homophobic bullying

Helping our families and communities to thrive

Yet more emotive language, such as ‘Labour recognises the vital importance of the power of people’s relationships to build the capacity for love, care and resilience.’ I bravely soldiered on to pick out these policies:

* introduction of a ‘legal guarantee for parents of primary school children to access wraparound childcare from 8am to 6pm through their local primary school’

* doubling paternity leave to 4 weeks and increasing the amount from £140/wk to over £260/wk

* implementing Lyons review recommendations to build at least 200,000 homes per year by 2020

* giving local authorities ‘use it or lose it’ powers to make developers build on the land they buy

* helping long-term renters by making 3-year tenancies the norm, putting ‘a ceiling on expensive rent rises’, banning ‘unfair letting agent fees’ and creating a national register of landlords

* tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, which have risen by 55%

* household benefit cap to remain, and possibly be lowered in some areas

* capping ‘structural social security spending’

* reviewing Universal Credit programme

* linking amount of Jobseeker’s Allowance to the length of time the person has previously worked

* reforming the Work Capability Assessment to focus on ‘the support disabled people need to get into work’

* keeping triple-lock pensions

* providing additional 1,000 borders staff

* introducing full exit checks

* preventing immigrants from claiming benefits for two years

* stopping child benefit for migrant workers whose children live abroad

* on policing: ‘By making different choices – to abolish Police and Crime Commissioners, end the subsidy of firearms licenses, and mandate police forces to work closer together – we will be able to safeguard over 10,000 police officers for the next three years.’

* banning of substances that are currently legal highs

* establishing a new child protection unit

* enacting a Victims’ Law ‘to give victims of crime a voice and an entitlement to minimum standards of service from criminal justice agencies’

* on domestic violence: ‘We will publish a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence, and provide more stable central funding for women’s refuges and Rape Crisis Centres. We will strengthen the law, banning the use of community resolutions as a response to domestic violence. The gun licensing regime will be tightened, so that people with a history of domestic or sexual violence will not be given an unrestricted license. And we will make changes to DNA retention, so that rape suspects have their DNA recorded and stored. Victims of domestic violence need far better support. So we will widen access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.’

* on IS: ‘We will implement a much more rigorous strategy for dealing with people returning from the Syrian conflict. Alongside appropriate police action and prosecution, it will be mandatory for anyone returning to engage in a de-radicalisation programme designed to confront them with the consequences of their actions.’

* strengthening of laws on disability, homophobic, and transphobic hate crime

* creation of a Prime Minister’s Committee on the Arts, Culture and Creative Industries

* compulsory 2 hours of sport per week in schools

* Infrastructure Commission to prioritize flood prevention

* ending the badger cull

Reforming government to give more power to the people

Labour’s overview: ‘Our governing mission is to break out of the traditional top-down, ‘Westminster knows best approach’, and devolve power and decision-making to people and their local communities.’

Specific policies:

* giving communities more control over local schools, health care, policing, skills, housing and transport

* giving the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds by May 2016

* replacing the Lobbying Act with a statutory register of lobbyists

* setting up a Constitutional Convention, which would look at the idea of English-only votes

* replacing the House of Lords with an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions

* bringing in an English Devolution Act to ‘transfer £30 billion of funding to city and county regions, along with new powers over economic development, skills, employment, housing, and business support’

* implementing the Smith agreement and adding to it a Home Rule Bill ‘to give extra powers to Scotland over tax, welfare and jobs’

* implementing the Silk Commission recommendations for further powers devolved to Wales

* ‘protecting the Human Rights Act and reforming, rather than walking away from, the European Court of Human Rights’

* implementing the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry

Standing up for Britain’s interests in Europe and the world

Labour’s international policies:

* setting up an Asia Step-Change Taskforce

* appointing a Global Envoy for Religious Freedom and an International LGBT Rights Envoy

* in Europe, seeking ‘reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and a Commission-led zero-based review of spending on EU agencies to reduce waste and inefficiency’

* conducting a Strategic Defence and Security Review for armed forces spending

* targeting net zero carbon emissions by 2050

* establishing a Centre for Universal Health Coverage to help UN humanitarian efforts

Time for change

The final page of the manifesto concludes that our current economy ‘might work for some in the City of London but shuts out millions of people in the rest of the country’, whereas Labour’s policies ‘will bring hope and make Britain work for working people once again’.

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