The Lib Dem manifesto

The Liberal Democrats broke their pledge on tuition fees in 2010, but they have made much of the fact that they implemented the pledges made on the front cover of their manifesto. The 2015 manifesto also carries key pledges on its cover, so it’s worth considering that if the Lib Dems again find themselves going into coalition, these are the things they’d fight most strongly for:

Front page Lib Dem manifesto

The contents page makes the OCD side of me twitch: surely it should have the sections numbered 1-12, not 1-6 followed by an unnumbered one followed by 7-11? However, here it is:

Lib Dem manifesto contents page

Introduction by Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg chooses to start with ‘Dear friend’, which makes me cringe a bit, but he goes on to reiterate the delivery of 2010 front-page Lib Dem manifesto commitments:

‘Front-page commitments like raising the Income Tax threshold and investing in the poorest schoolchildren through the Pupil Premium became flagship Coalition policies.’

He adds that this 2015 manifesto can be trusted because it ‘builds on a record of policies delivered in national government’ and outlines the five front-page pledges as follows:

  • ‘we will finish the job of balancing the books, but do so fairly’
  • ‘we will cut taxes for working people by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500’
  • ‘we will protect funding for education from nursery to 19’
  • ‘we will increase health funding and invest in mental health’
  • ‘we will protect our environment’

Clegg concludes, ‘In Government for the next five years, Liberal Democrats will continue to build a stronger economy and a fairer society with opportunity for everyone. This manifesto sets out how.’

Britain in 2020

The Liberal Democrats have added an extra section between the foreword and the manifesto proper. It is a seductive image of what life might be like in 2020 were the Liberal Democrats able to implement all of their policies. It is essentially their own, favourable summary, but I will move on to the individual sections to deal with them in turn and in more detail.

Responsible finances

The Liberal Democrats start off by distinguishing their party line on finance from that of the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will continue to reduce the deficit through a mixture of reduction in spending and increase in taxes. The Conservatives plan to ‘use only spending cuts to finish the job’, including ‘punitive cuts to benefits on which some
of the most vulnerable people depend’. The Lib Dems set out two fiscal rules:

1. ‘from 2017/18, debt must fall as a proportion of our national income every year’

2. ‘over the economic cycle we will balance the overall budget, no longer borrowing to pay for everyday expenditure’

Provided the first rule has been met, there may be an exception to the second rule where ‘the government will be able to borrow for capital spending that enhances economic growth or financial stability, enabling us to increase this productive investment’.

Prosperity for all

Policies pledged in this section:

  • ring-fencing of the science budget
  • continuing the Regional Growth Fund
  • expanding the Green Investment Bank
  • devolving ‘more economic decision-making to local areas’
  • completing ‘implementation of the new rules to separate retail banking from investment banking’
  • introducing ‘a time-limited supplementary Corporation Tax charge on the banking sector to ensure it continues to make a fair contribution to fiscal consolidation’
  • introducing Land Value Tax, which would eventually replace Business Rates
  • bringing ‘net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050’
  • increasing research into ‘tidal power, carbon capture and storage, energy storage and ultra-low emission vehicles’
  • creating ‘an Office for Environmental Responsibility scrutinising the government’s efforts to meet its environmental targets’ in the same way the Office for Budget Responsibility scrutinise finances
  • proceeding with HS2
  • opposing ‘any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and any new airport in the Thames Estuary, because of local issues of air and noise pollution’
  • ‘reducing energy demand by 50% by 2030’
  • legislating so that ‘once a shale gas well is finished, it must be offered at no cost to geothermal heat developers, to enable faster expansion of this renewable technology’
  • remaining a ‘committed member of the EU’
  • allowing ‘high-skill immigration to support key sectors of the economy’ and ensuring ‘work, tourist and family visit visas are processed quickly and efficiently’
  • making the UK ‘an attractive destination for overseas students, not least those who wish to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)’
  • completing ‘the rollout of high-speed broadband, to reach almost every household (99.9%) in the UK as well as small businesses in both rural and urban areas’
  • retaining free access to museums
  • making sure the BBC licence fee ‘does not rise faster than inflation’

Real help for family finances

Policies pledged in this section:

  • raising ‘the tax-free Personal Allowance to at least £12,500 by the end of the next Parliament’, with a rise to £11,000 in April 2016
  • ‘raising the employee National Insurance threshold to the Income Tax threshold’, to be phased in once the Personal Allowance is £12,500
  • closing off tax loopholes, including ‘reforms to Capital Gains Tax and Dividend Tax relief, refocusing Entrepreneurs’ Relief and a supplementary Corporation Tax for the banking sector’
  • introducing a banded ‘UK-wide High Value Property Levy on residential properties worth over £2 million’
  • making ‘contrived structures designed purely or largely to avoid tax’ illegal (i.e. some of what is currently classed as tax avoidance would be re-categorized as tax evasion)
  • imposing restrictions on ‘non-domiciled status, increasing the charges paid to adopt this status and ending the ability to inherit it’
  • delivering ’20 hours’ free childcare a week for all parents with children aged from two to four-years, and all working parents from the end of paid parental leave (nine months) to two years’
  • introducing ‘Tax-Free Childcare, which will provide up to £2,000 of childcare support for each child and include childcare support in Universal Credit, refunding 85% of childcare costs so work pays for low earners’
  • completing the switch to ‘Universal Credit (UC), so people are always better off in work’
  • retaining the family benefit cap, which would ‘continue to be set at around the average family income’
  • reviewing Jobcentres’ sanctions so that there is a clear ‘yellow card’ warning before benefits are reduced
  • retaining 1% cap on working age benefit rises until 2017/18
  • ending Winter Fuel Payment and free TV licences for pensioners who pay tax at the higher rate (i.e. over the 40% income tax threshold)
  • ‘expanding Shared Parental Leave with an additional ‘use it or lose it’ month to encourage fathers to take time off with young children’
  • paying the Living Wage ‘in all central government departments and their agencies from April 2016’
  • creating ‘a formal right to request a fixed contract’
  • reviewing ‘the Work Capability Assessment and Personal Independence Payment assessments’
  • expanding and raising awareness of the Access to Work scheme
  • reforming ‘the policy to remove the spare room subsidy’, making sure anyone needing a spare room for medical reasons is not subject to the bedroom tax
  • retaining ‘the Liberal Democrat ‘triple lock’ of increasing the State Pension each year by the highest of earnings growth, prices growth or 2.5%’
  • rolling out energy meters and legislating so that consumers can switch energy supplier in 24 hours
  • ensuring train fares ‘rise no faster than inflation over the Parliament as a whole’
  • requiring ‘the highest standards of data protection by public service providers, including requiring that where data is used for research purposes it must be anonymised wherever possible, and impose a moratorium on the creation of new government databases without Parliamentary authority’

In contrast to the approach taken by both the Conservatives and Labour for 18- to 21-year-olds, the Liberal Democrats offer the carrot rather than the stick:

‘Liberal Democrats will protect young people’s entitlements to the welfare safety net, while getting them the help they need to get their first job. That means doubling the number of businesses that hire apprentices. It also means providing support that has been proven to work, like work experience placements that help them get a first
foot on the career ladder. These placements should be tailored for those with disabilities or mental health problems and those with parental responsibilities and we will work to expand the availability of placements into new sectors including manufacturing, science and technology.’

An opportunity society

Policies pledged in this section:

  • increasing the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per year
  • improving SEN identification
  • ‘aiming to eradicate child illiteracy and innumeracy by 2025’
  • abolishing unelected Regional Schools Commissioners
  • allowing ‘Ofsted to inspect both Local Authorities and academy chains’
  • stopping ‘state-funded profit-making schools’ (i.e. an end to free schools)
  • extending free school meals for primary school children
  • guaranteeing ‘all teachers in state-funded schools will be fully qualified or working towards Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) from September 2016’
  • establishing ‘a new profession-led Royal College of Teachers, eventually to oversee Qualified Teacher Status and professional development. We do not believe Ministers should dictate teaching practice and will not issue instructions about how to structure the school day or what kind of lessons to conduct’
  • slimming down the national curriculum, but mandatory teaching will include ‘Personal, Social and Health Education: a ‘curriculum for life’ including financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, citizenship, and age-appropriate sex and relationship education’
  • improving ‘the quality of vocational education, including skills for entrepreneurship and self-employment, and improve careers advice in schools and colleges’
  • tackling ‘delay and instability in foster care, with better support and training for foster carers, including on mental health issues’
  • young person’s two-thirds discount on buses (16 to 21)
  • developing ‘an NHS ‘student guarantee’, making it easier for students to get care and support while at university, particularly those with long-term health conditions or caring responsibilities’
  • increasing the number of good-quality apprenticeships
  • reviewing the funding available during ‘undergraduate and postgraduate courses, with an emphasis on support for living costs for students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds’

Building a healthier society

Policies pledged in this section:

  • an extra £8bn for the NHS in England
  • investing £500m a year in mental health care by 2016/17 ‘to transform mental health care with waiting time standards to match those in physical health care’
  • ‘shifting full responsibility for care policy and funding to the Department of Health’
  • commissioning ‘a non-partisan Fundamental Review of NHS and social care funding’
  • implementing the recommendations of the Government’s Children’s Mental Health Taskforce
  • ending ‘use of police cells for people facing a mental health crisis’
  • publishing a national wellbeing strategy which will ‘cover all aspects of government policy, including transport, access to nature, and housing’
  • combining ‘the public health, adult social care and health outcome frameworks into a single national wellbeing outcomes framework to ensure the NHS and local government work together towards common goals’
  • ‘repealing any parts of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which make NHS services vulnerable to forced privatisation’
  • doing more preventative work, including raising awareness of the effects of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, insulating homes, opening more sports facilities and cycle routes, and tackling air pollution
  • introducing ‘an annual Carer’s Bonus of £250 for carers looking after someone for 35 hours or more each week’

Better places to live

Policies pledged in this section:

  • passing a Nature Act ‘to put the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) on a statutory footing, set natural capital targets, including on biodiversity, clean air and water, and empower the NCC to recommend actions to meet these target’
  • planting ‘at least an additional tree for every child born – about 750,000 every year – as part of a major afforestation plan’
  • introducing water meters ‘in all defined water-stressed areas by 2025, coupled with the development of national social tariffs to protect low-income households’
  • establishing ‘a coherent tax and regulatory framework for landfill, incineration and waste collection to drive continuous increases in reuse and recycling rates’
  • establishing a ‘statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England’
  • introducing ‘effective, science-led ways of controlling bovine TB’
  • investing in flood prevention schemes
  • tackling air pollution, including support for EU vehicle emission targets

Five Green Laws

1. Nature Act: will include a ‘requirement for government to set out a 25-year plan for recovering nature, with annual updates to Parliament, including how to reverse the decline of UK species and their habitats and ensure that bees and other insects are able to fulfil their important role as crop pollinators’

2. Resource Efficiency and Zero Waste Britain Act: this will set the 70% recycling target for England and punishments for waste crimes will be strengthened.

3. Green Transport Act: all major rail routes to be electrified by 2030; creation of Low Emission Zones

4. Zero Carbon Britain Act: this will set the target for zero net carbon emissions by 2050, and will give ‘full borrowing
powers to the Green Investment Bank, to boost further investment in low-carbon technologies’

5. Green Buildings Act: includes the target of ‘all social and private rented homes to reach Energy Performance Certificate Band C by 2027’

Affordable homes for all

Policies pledged in this section:

  • ‘increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year’
  • building 10 new garden cities in England, including 5 between Oxford and Cambridge, connected by a railway line
  • establishing a ‘government-backed Housing Investment Bank to provide long-term capital for major new settlements and help attract finance for major house building projects’
  • requiring local authorities to ‘make a plan for 15 years of housing need, working collaboratively with neighbouring Councils where necessary to identify sites’
  • enabling local authorities to attach conditions to new developments to ensure they aren’t left unoccupied and charge up to 200% council tax on second homes
  • encouraging ‘a new multi-year tenancy with an agreed inflation-linked annual rent increase built in’
  • introducing ‘a new Help to Rent scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30’
  • conducting ‘a full review of the help single people get under homelessness legislation’

Freedom and opportunity

The Lib Dems highlight their consistent support for LGBT rights with a rainbow road diagram:

rainbow road to LGBT rights

Policies pledged in this section:

  • fully implementing the Equalities Act 2010
  • aiming for 1 million more women in work by 2020, and at least 30% women board members
  • introducing rules for gender pay transparency, aiming to end the gender pay gap
  • allowing ‘humanist weddings and opposite sex civil partnerships’
  • promoting ‘international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnerships as part of a comprehensive International LGBT Rights Strategy that supports the cause of decriminalising homosexuality in other countries’
  • pardoning historic convictions for consensual homosexual activity
  • making homophobic chanting (e.g. at football matches) a criminal offence
  • reviewing eligibility of MSM as blood, tissue and organ donators
  • encouraging businesses ‘to ensure at least one place on their board is filled by a BAME candidate’
  • monitoring / tackling the BAME pay gap
  • improving the benefits system for disabled people by bringing the Personal Independence Payment, Employment
    Support Allowance, and a replacement for the Independent Living Fund together
  • ‘giving wheelchair users priority over children’s buggies when space is limited’ (I’ve seen the need for this on the Brighton & Hove buses; sadly it can’t be left to common sense / decency)
  • recognising British Sign Language as an official language in the UK
  • implementing the findings of Part 1 of the Leveson inquiry
  • removing ministers ‘from any role in appointments to the BBC Trust or the Board of Ofcom’
  • ending indefinite detention of immigrants
  • getting ‘to the full truth about corrupt practices in parts of the police and the press by ensuring that the Daniel Morgan Panel Inquiry is completed expeditiously and that Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry starts as soon as the criminal prosecutions in the hacking scandal are completed’
  • passing a Digital Bill of Rights ‘to define and enshrine the digital rights of the citizen’
  • continuing to oppose the Communications Data Bill (more commonly known as the Snooper’s Charter)
  • opposing ‘the blanket collection of UK residents’ personal communications by the police or the intelligence agencies. Access to metadata, live content, or the stored content of personal communications must only take place without consent where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or to prevent threats to life.’
  • protecting the Human Rights Act
  • passing a Freedoms Act to  (amongst other things) regulate CCTV usage, ensure jokes on social media are not treated as crimes, ban Mosquito devices and end the ministerial veto on Freedom of Information

Secure communities

Policies pledged in this section:

  • replacing Police and Crime Commissioners with a police board made up of local councillors
  • expanding Police Now to bring more ‘high-flying graduates and skilled mid-career professionals’ into the police
  • enacting a Victims’ Bill of Rights
  • implementing the Modern Slavery Strategy
  • improving ‘the provision of rape crisis centres and refuges for victims of domestic violence with a national network and national sources of funding’
  • creating a national helpline for domestic violence and sexual violence victims
  • prioritising prison for serious offences rather than short-term sentences for minor crimes
  • reforming prisons to ‘become places of work, rehabilitation and learning’
  • reviewing ‘civil Legal Aid, judicial review and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary, to ensure Legal Aid is available to all those who need it’
  • diverting those arrested for possession of illegal drugs ‘into treatment, education or civil penalties that do not attract a criminal record’
  • allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal use
  • categorising students separately within immigration statistics

Power to the people

Policies pledged in this section:

  • ‘capping donations to political parties at £10,000 per person each year’
  • lowering the voting age in elections and referendums to 16
  • reforming the House of Lords ‘with a proper democratic mandate’
  • moving to a proportional voting system for general and local elections, with the Single Transferable Vote to be used in Westminster
  • working with broadcasters to set a clear format for Leaders’ Debates
  • reviewing Parliamentary procedures to ‘formally recognise individual political parties not just Government and Opposition’
  • delivering Home Rule to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • introducing an English-only stage to legislation that will only become law in England
  • retaining the Barnett Formula
  • changing company law ‘to permit a German-style two-tier board structure to include employees’

Britain in the world

Policies pledged in this section:

  • focusing UK foreign policy on conflict prevention, starting with a 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review
  • supporting the Responsibility to Protect put forward by the UN
  • working with ‘Ukraine and neighbouring countries against an increasingly assertive Russia’
  • ‘supporting the Iraqi government in standing against IS’
  • supporting ‘the moderate opposition in Syria, who are fighting both President Bashar al-Assad and IS’
  • supporting a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict
  • ‘procuring fewer Vanguard successor submarines and moving from continuous at sea deterrence to a contingency posture of regular patrols’ (i.e. reducing but not scrapping Trident)
  • ‘improving support for personnel and veterans with mental health problems, including alcohol dependency’
  • retaining EU membership, but seeking to ‘reform the EU to make it more efficient, reducing the proportion of the EU budget spent on the Common Agricultural Policy, abolishing unnecessary EU institutions like the European Economic and Social Committee and scrapping the second seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg’
  • holding an in/out referendum on EU membership ‘when there is next any Treaty change involving a material transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the EU’
  • continuing to spend 0.7% GDP on overseas development
  • aiming ‘to eliminate within a generation preventable diseases like TB, HIV and malaria’
  • pushing for ‘an EU and global target of halting net global deforestation by 2020’
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