So I just received an email pointing me to some PDFs containing visions of how the world could be, discussions of positive social justice, and some material on obscure voting systems.
But enough of the Hugo Packet (I’m sorry, I’m very sorry) what about the Lib Dem manifesto?
The full manifesto, which I’m going to analyse, can be found here, but for people who don’t like very dull manager-speak, I’d suggest clicking the “easy read” version designed to give the bullet points to people who can’t read well because of disabilities.
All party manifestos are, to an extent, curate’s eggs. They’re the result of compromise between different party factions, and no-one wins out totally. What I’m surprised by in this one is how close this manifesto is to the one I’d have chosen.
That was by no means a certainty. Lib Dem manifestos have to be based on party policy, and the policies are voted for by conference. And between 2010 and 2015 conference was persuaded to accept a lot of pre-compromised nonsense on the grounds that it would be easier to win in the coalition negotiations which everyone in the leadership was certain were coming.
Since Tim became leader, he’s been fantastically successful in turning that around. Tim has, actually, been on a remarkably similar mission to Jeremy Corbyn’s — he’s been pushing the party away from vapid centrist waffle and towards a radical left-liberalism. But whereas Corbyn’s changes have mostly been on the level of rhetoric and image (truthfully, most of Labour’s manifesto would have fit perfectly under Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband), Tim has, in a more low-key way, been restoring some of the party’s lost policy muscle.
(That’s not to suggest that he is the prime force in making policy — he isn’t. What he *is*, though, is a leader who recognises that the best way to build a core vote is to let Liberals actually be Liberal.)
The change isn’t complete yet — what was meant to be a five-year project has been interrupted two years in — but there’s still a massive change between this year’s manifesto and 2015s, both in policy and in emphasis.
(I *VERY* much hope, incidentally, that there are no stupid leadership challenges after the election. Two years is *not* enough time to build a core vote from essentially nothing, and what Tim has done in revitalising the party’s membership shows me that whatever the results on June 8th, he’s got the party headed in the right direction).
The difference shows in the very first sentence: “In every other manifesto, a Liberal Democrat leader has set out a vision for government”. While the manifesto does do that, Tim’s preface makes it clear that we’re recognising that we’re not going from nine seats to over three hundred in a single election. This is, yes, setting out what we would do if that happened, but it’s also making a pitch for us as the opposition to a Tory government.
But what does it say we would do?
I’m not going through the whole hundred pages line by line — there are huge areas of policy I know little about, and so I can’t judge some areas sensibly, though most look about right. But here’s what I think, section by section.
Protect Britain’s Place in Europe
The party’s line on Brexit is slightly softer than I would personally like, but it can be summed up as “push the government to negotiate a deal that protects rights and the economy, then have a second referendum, in which we will campaign to stay in because no matter how good the deal it won’t be as good as remaining”. This is a decent line, though personally I never want another referendum on anything ever.
Highlights of this section:
“We will press for the UK to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK, ending their ongoing uncertainty.” — the very first concrete policy proposal in the manifesto is protecting immigrants’ rights, which is nice.
“We believe that any deal negotiated for the UK outside the EU must ensure that trade can continue without customs controls at the border, and must maintain membership of the single market”
“We support the principle of freedom of movement – to abandon it would threaten Britain’s prosperity and reputation as an open, tolerant society. Any deal negotiated for the UK outside the EU must protect the right to work, travel, study and retire across the EU.”
“protect Erasmus+ and other EU-funded schemes which increase opportunities for young people”
But basically everything in here is good. It boils down to “if we *must* leave the EU, which we shouldn’t, then we need to protect workers’ rights, equality law, science funding, environmental protections, and all the other good things the EU does.”
Save our NHS and Social Care Services
The priorities in this section are simple:
● Saving the NHS by putting a penny in the pound on Income Tax to give the NHS and social care services the cash injection they need.
● Transforming mental health care with waiting time standards to match those in physical health care.
● Home not hospital: better integration of health and social care and limiting the amount elderly people have to pay for social care.
The 1p income tax rise would be ringfenced only for NHS and social care use, and would be an interim measure while a cross-party group came up with recommendations, possibly to include a new health tax to replace National Insurance. This rise and spending would apply only to England and Wales, but there would also be a UK-wide 1p rise in dividend tax, which would also apply to and be spent in Scotland.
Most of this section is good, but highlights include:
● Guarantee the rights of all NHS and social care service staff who are EU nationals to stay in the UK.
● End the public sector pay freeze for NHS workers.
● Reinstate student nurse bursaries
Tons of good stuff on mental health
● Make Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention available on the NHS.
There’s also a couple of the few things I definitely disagree with here — sugar taxes and minimum unit pricing on alcohol. I understand the arguments for these things, but they would disproportionately affect poor people and make some small pleasures less affordable for them. It smacks of puritanism to me.
Put Children First
Most of this looks good to me, but I don’t know enough about education policy to evaluate things like “Investing nearly £7 billion extra in our children’s education” — is £7bn a big increase in school budgets? A tiny one? Will it help? I assume there are good reasons for this stuff, but I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on an area of policy I’ve never really looked at.
Some things that are clearly good, though:
“Opposing any new selective schools”
“Reverse all cuts to front-line school and college budgets”
“Rule out state-funded profit-making schools”
“Introduce a curriculum entitlement – a slimmed down core national curriculum, which will be taught in all state-funded schools. This will include Personal, Social and Health Education: a ‘curriculum for life’ including financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, mental health education, citizenship and age-appropriate Sex and Relationship Education (SRE).”
“Include in SRE teaching about sexual consent, LGBT+ relationships, and issues surrounding explicit images and content.”
“Extend free school meals to all children in primary education”
Build an Economy that Works for You
This is very sensible stuff — and most of it is actually almost interchangeable with the corresponding sections in Labour’s manifesto. Small income tax rise to fund health, borrowing for investment in infrastructure projects, end the 1% cap on pay rises in the public sector, and uprate wages in line with inflation. Reverse Tory tax cuts for the rich — Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax, and so on. Consider Land Value Tax.
One point that seems *very* good to me: “Create a new ‘start-up allowance’ to help those starting a new business with their living costs in the crucial first weeks of their business.” — I know a LOT of people who would be better off running their own business but can’t afford to have no income while they start it up.
I also like “a full-scale review into the burden of taxation and spending between generations to ensure that government policy promotes fairness between generations.”
There’s lots of good stuff here — lots of policies that, taken in isolation, seem like tiny tweaks, but which could easily make life a lot more liveable for a lot of people.
Keep our Country Green
Lots of sensible stuff here, too. I’m very pleased to see the focus on air quality, but there’s also stuff like:
“new legally binding targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and to zero by 2050.”
“restoring government support for solar PV and onshore wind in appropriate locations ”
“Suspend the use of neonicotinoids until proven that their use in agriculture does not harm bees or other pollinators”
Support Families and Communities
This is again mostly good stuff: an extra month’s paternal leave, free childcare for two-year-olds, housebuilding target of 300,000 new houses a year.
There’s some particularly good stuff on benefits in here though:
“Separate employment support from benefits administration – making Jobcentres places of training and support into work”
“Encourage people into work by reversing the cuts to Work Allowances in Universal Credit, enabling people to work for longer before their benefits are cut.”
“Uprate working-age benefits at least in line with inflation.”
“Abandon the two-child policy on family benefits and abolish the Conservatives’ ‘rape clause’”
“reversing cuts to housing benefit for 18-21-year-olds”
“increase the rates of Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit for those aged 18-24 at the same rate as minimum wages.”
“Reverse cuts to Employment Support Allowance to those in the work-related activity group.”
“Scrap the ‘bedroom tax’”
“Scrap the discredited Work Capability Assessment”
As many commentators have been pointing out, this means that the Lib Dems are planning to spend *DOUBLE* what Labour are proposing on benefits. *DOUBLE*. Yet Labour are being attacked as ludicrously left-wing Trots while the Lib Dems are being attacked as Tories. Politics is weird.
Other decent stuff in here:
“Help people who cannot afford a deposit by introducing a new Rent to Own model”
“banning lettings fees for tenants, capping upfront deposits and increasing minimum standards in rented homes”
“new Help to Rent scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30”
There’s also a lot of good stuff on devolving powers to local authorities.
This section is probably the most detail-intensive, overall, but it’s also the one that will make the most difference to the poorest. I actually, no joke, teared up at some of the benefit changes stuff, thinking how much easier it would make people’s lives if any of our policies actually became law. It doesn’t go as far as I’d go (basic income now!), but *by God* it’s more compassionate than what we have at the moment.
Defend Rights, Promote Justice and Equalities
This is where we get into the stuff I became a Lib Dem for. Human rights and equalities is my jam, as the young people used to say in the mid-noughties (I’m old, I don’t know new young-person slang).
And this is… well I cried again when I read:
Our priorities in the next parliament will be:
● Making the positive case for immigration
That’s the very first bit of the priorities section. And the rest of it is fantastic too — “we will vote against any attempts to scrap the Human Rights Act or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights”. “Offering safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees, expanding the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme to offer sanctuary to 50,000 people over the lifetime of the next parliament and reopening the Dubs scheme to take 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.”
I mean look at these:
● Guarantee the freedom of people to wear religious or cultural dress, and tackle the growing incidence of Islamophobic hate crime.
● Introduce an ‘X’ option on passports, identity documents, and official forms for those who do not wish to identify as either male or female, and campaign for their introduction in the provision of other services, for example utilities.
● Decriminalise the sale and purchase of sex, and the management of sex work – reducing harm, defending sex workers’ human rights, and focusing police time and resources on those groomed, forced or trafficked into the sex industry. We would provide additional support for those wishing to leave
● Extend protection of gender reassignment in equality law to explicitly cover gender identity and expression, and streamline and simplify the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to allow individuals to change their legal gender without unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, for example the intrusive medical tests
● Remove the spousal veto, and abolish remaining marriage inequalities in areas such as pensions, hospital visitation rights and custody of children in the event of bereavement.
● Require all front-line officers to wear body cameras on duty, protecting the public from abuse of power and police officers from malicious accusations
● Introduce a presumption against short prison sentences and increase the use of tough, non-custodial punishments including weekend and evening custody, curfews, community service and GPS tagging.
● Address period poverty by providing free sanitary products to girls at school.
There is seriously so much good stuff in this section it’s almost unreal — stuff about women prisoners, about changing rules around sexual and domestic violence, about trans people going to the correct prison for their gender… the section on Terrorism and violent extremism, which for other parties would be full fascist at this point, is full of things like “Roll back state surveillance powers by ending the indiscriminate bulk collection of communications data, bulk hacking, and the collection of internet connection records” and “Oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption”. The section on drugs involves decriminalising possession of all drugs, legalising cannabis, and repealing the ban on “legal highs”.
And under immigration…
Immigration and asylum are under attack. Immigration is essential to our economy and a benefit to our society. We depend on immigration to ensure we have the people we need contributing to the UK’s economy and society, including doctors, agricultural workers, entrepreneurs, scientists and so many others. Immigration broadens our horizons and encourages us to be more open, more tolerant.
Refugees are human beings fleeing from war zones and persecution, and we have a legal and moral obligation to offer them sanctuary. The Liberal Democrats are proud of the UK’s historic commitments to assisting those seeking refuge from war, persecution and degradation, and believe that we should continue to uphold our responsibilities
It’s not perfect (and there’s one single sentence later which I *strongly* disagree with) but compare that to Labour, the Tories, or the Kippers. Some of the policies in there I disagree with (the immigration policy is a pre-compromised one from the coalition era which we haven’t got round to rewriting yet — I’m one of a few people who’ve been working on policy motions), but the overall thrust of the policy section is that immigration is good, immigrants are good, and we need to take in more refugees.
Make a Better World
This is a section on foreign policy and defence, subjects on which I know very little. Most of it looks OK to me, some of it doesn’t, but I’m simply not sure enough of my own judgment to talk sensibly about this.
Fix a Broken System
Like the section on rights, this is one of the most important areas for me. Almost everything in here is good — votes at sixteen, STV for all local and national elections, cancel the boundary review, allow UK citizens living abroad to vote, elected Lords, caps on donations to political parties.
I disagree with some of the Scotland stuff — I wouldn’t, myself, oppose indyref2 — but agree with things like “Our plans for a written, federal constitution will include a permanent Scottish Parliament that could only be abolished by the sovereign will of the Scottish people” and the need to actually fulfill the promises made to Scotland during the independence referendum.
Much of this is about devolved powers for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and I’m not the best person to talk about any of that. But the constitutional measures here would, if implemented, make Britain into a true democracy for the first time.
Overall, there’s stuff I disagree with in here, but the overall thrust of the manifesto is one I can absolutely agree with. Stay in Europe, encourage immigration, reverse welfare cuts, fix the NHS, invest in infrastructure, legalise cannabis and decriminalise other drugs, make LGBT+ people truly equal, stop Internet surveillance, decriminalise sex work… when I started reading the manifesto I was expecting it to be like the other manifestos the party has put out during my membership, which I’ve half-heartedly supported saying “well, it’s better than the rest of them, but oh for FUCK’s sake but I suppose it’ll do”.
This one, I actually cried, twice. At a manifesto! I’ve got my party back after it being run by managerial centrists for too long. Now to fight to make the country, rather than just the party, liberal. That may take longer, but I’m up for the fight.
This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?