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Labour and Conservatives: the manifestos

Tim Roache, Yorkshire & North Derbyshire Regional Secretary, GMB

That the Tories spent half of last week decrying the axing of the non-dom rule; followed by lazy, personal attacks on Labour’s leader sums up the choice ahead for the country. It was remarkable to see just how desperate they are to keep letting their mates slip under HMRC’s net. Labour has lost the tax avoider vote, and that's something I can live with.

Nowhere is the choice we face clearer than when we look at the rights of working people.

We all knew the Tories couldn't make it through an election without reverting to their comfort zone which is to attack the rights of millions of working people – people from train drivers to dinner ladies, from refuse workers to hospital porters. Not the fire breathing aliens from outer space the right-wing press would have us think, but ordinary people and families who are getting on with their lives and rely on their union to protect them from exploitation.

While Labour promises action on zero-hours contracts, Dave and George talk industrial action ballot thresholds.

Where Labour promises to make it illegal for companies to use agency workers to undercut the wages of permanent employees, the Tories pledge to allow what amounts to formalised scabbing – allowing agency workers to ‘cover’ for striking workers.

Where the Tories go after their golden goose of facility time, promising to ‘tighten the rules,’ Labour commit to looking at ways to ensure we get proper facility time where we need it. 

And while this government presided over a 70% decrease in cases being brought to tribunal thanks to their punitive fees system, Labour pledge to axe those fees and the ill-conceived ‘shares for rights’ scheme while they’re at it.

Now the manifestos are published we have a clear choice; but more than that, we don’t just have policies to vote against – Labour are giving trade union members something to vote for as well.

 

Dr Frances Ryan, journalist for the Guardian and New Statesman

Forget the positive posturing; the claim that opened the Tories’ ‘welfare’ section – that workers watch “earnings taken away in tax” prop up people “who choose benefits when they could be earning a living” – set the real tone for the Tory manifesto: fear, division, and hateful propaganda.

The Tories’ pride in the fact that they’re currently re-assessing people on ‘incapacity benefits’ was an insult to the disabled and long-term ill forced through the DWP’s ‘fit-to-work’ tests, which are proven to be detrimental to physical and mental health.

As food poverty spreads and the safety net crumbles, the Conservative’s delusional priority for social security was to state the obese would be shipped into work or have their benefits cut.

Labour’s manifesto, meanwhile, rightly stressed that it is precarious, low-paid jobs that are forcing people to rely on benefits – puncturing the myth “insecurity will make people work harder.” For disabled people, the promise to scrap the bedroom tax and reform the Work Capability Assessment is vital. 

But without pointing to key disability Coalition policy – from the pointless rollout of Personal Independence Payments to the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund – Labour missed a chance to pinpoint what is pushing many into poverty and desperation. Similarly, social care cuts and the scourge of ’15 minute care slots’ were rightly criticised for the elderly but it needs stating it is also young, disabled people enduring them.

The Tory brag, “The days of something for nothing are over” just reaffirmed the need for Labour’s chance to build a better, fairer country.

 

Duncan Bowie, Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster

The main focus of the housing section of Labour’s manifesto is to support the recommendations of the Lyons housing review, which is referred to as ‘a comprehensive plan.’ The manifesto repeats the commitment to introduce 3 year tenancies as the default tenancy in the private sector and to put a ceiling on ‘excessive’ rent rises. But there is no definition of ‘excessive’ and no proposal to ensure that initial rents to not exceed housing benefit entitlement levels.

Unfortunately Labour misses the point that most households in housing need cannot access the housing market, however much you help them with their mortgages or deposits. The only way to tackle the housing crisis is bringing back a subsidised programme of rented homes at low rents and with security of tenure. Anything else is just tweaking. There is nothing in the manifesto that would reduce house prices or private rents. The Lyons proposals on land assembly and compulsory purchase are missing, as are the Lyons proposals on planning which would help to bring the promised cities ’ right  to grow’ into effect.  In total, disappointing but not surprising that the commitment to fiscal prudence; that is not raising taxes, and the new ‘triple budget responsibility lock’ has limited the Labour Party’s ability to tackle the housing crisis head on.

The big issue in the housing chapter of the Conservative manifesto is the proposal to extend the Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants – this is the perhaps the most radical policy in the whole manifesto and leaked, no doubt to draw attention from Labour’s manifesto launch, has certainly received widespread press coverage.  The idea is of course not new and previous Tory politicians and think tanks have floated it before, only for it to be pointed out that most Housing Associations have charitable status, and forcing charities to dispose of assets below market value raises legal as well as ethical issues.
The manifesto fails to recognise the realities of the housing market in much of the country: prices and rents rising much faster than household incomes. 

The proposals in the manifesto generally contribute to inflating effective market demand rather than increasing supply. There is no suggestion that prices and rents need to be held down if more households are to be able to access the market, and nothing about those  for whom owning a home is  not just a distant dream but a mirage. The manifesto says nothing at all about the private rented sector or about homelessness or about housing quality.  There is nothing about where new homes can be built only about where they can’t be built. There is nothing here to get more investment into housing or to improve the condition of the existing housing stock.  It is as if homeownership was the only housing tenure, and perhaps for the Conservatives, that is their perspective. The policies in the Labour manifesto may be inadequate but at least they are, in the main, attempts to ease the housing crisis. The proposals in this manifesto will make the situation much worse.

 

Rosie Rogers, Political Advisor, Greenpeace

Let’s start with the Labour Party. At least climate change is mentioned in its manifesto (14 times in fact). Whilst it’s good to see decent words and phrases about the environment in terms of Labour commitment to flood protection and energy efficiency, the lack of tangible policies to back them up is worrying. Instead they undermine their warm words for our planet with support for aviation expansion. One of the gaping holes in the manifesto is the lack of commitment or even mention of green spaces, fracking and biodiversity protection; areas that are easy and important to rally around. With a dedicated taskforce created in Labour to fight the ‘Green surge’, you’d think they would want to not only win back Green voters, but also save our planet.

Now to the Conservative manifesto which is off to a bad start with climate change getting just 3 mentions. On the plus side, the Tories have committed to fisheries reforms which will help UK fish stocks and coastal communities by putting sustainable, local fishing first. On the negative side, the Tories’ commitment to halting all onshore wind subsidies is a blow for renewables, the economy and consumers as onshore wind is the cheapest form of low-carbon power. Although ‘greenest government ever’ only appears once in the manifesto, it is one time too many.

 

Andrew Cumbers, Professor of Political Economy, University of Glasgow

The Labour Party’s manifesto has some good mood music around an increased minimum wage, raising taxes on the rich, the creation of new investment banks and increased capacities for the Green Investment Bank. Disappointingly though, it remains needlessly committed to an agenda of austerity. The Party also remains too wedded to the idea that markets and competition are still the solution to every policy problem. “Mending the markets that people rely on” is the giveaway line in its approach to the privatised utilities. The massively popular policy of rail renationalisation has been watered down to merely allowing public companies to compete in the privatised industry. It is a pale shadow of progressive aspiration next to the Green Party’s manifesto.

If the aim of public policy is to produce a balanced, equitable and sustainable approach to the economy, the Conservative Manifesto is certainly not up to the job. Showing that it remains the part of short term private gain at public expense, there is nothing here to tackle inequality, an imbalanced economy that favours financial and property interests, or deal with climate change (barely a mention). Instead, it offers reheated Thatcherism with the bankrupt utopia of the “property ownership democracy” thrown in for good measure. Further sales of social housing, allied to inheritance and corporate tax reductions, alongside the proposed benefit cuts, will continue to enrich the wealthiest in society at the expense of the very poorest.

 

Dr Kailash Chand, Ex-Chair of NHS Trust and GP

Labour’s manifesto represents a distinct departure from the neo-liberal politics pursued by all governments since Margaret Thatcher. As we have witnessed with the NHS over the last two years, when the private sector attempts to compete with the public sector it fails on both price and quality. Labour will repeal the Health and Social Care Act; cap profits of private providers;  use £2.5bn to hire 36,000 more staff; reintroduce the 48hr-target to see a GP; will enforce 7 day waits for cancer tests. Labour’s manifesto represents an opportunity for the left to show that muzzling the markets can be done in a fair way to the benefit of ordinary people.

The Tory promise to increase NHS Spending by £8bn per annum is laughable. Voters may remember that page 45 of the 2010 Tory Manifesto promised to increase NHS spending in real terms every year. The UK Statistics Authority, on 4th December 2012, judged that promise had been broken and as the King’s Fund put it, we suffered the worst real term cuts to NHS spending since 1978. The old adage rings true: you cannot trust the Tories with our NHS.

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