...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Day 5229: A Thank You to the Liberal Democrats


And now, a very special episode of...

...and just to be clear:

 Daddy Alex did all the hard work!

 Daddy Richard just pulled faces!

 Run VT!

Happy LibDemiversay!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Day 5217: Church of Thatchianity Manifesto


This is an ultra-quick skim through the prospectus of our erstwhile Coalition partners. Like Labour's effort yesterday, it has lots of pretty pictures.

The Tories' offer presents as very progressive, full of pro-active "our plan of action" bullets, promoting policies as positives (even when they aren't).

There are perfectly decent things. Unsurprisingly these are mostly lifted unblushingly from the Liberal Democrats: no income tax on the minimum wage; single tier pension and triple lock; apprenticeships; more women on boards; even "gay" marriage (a clue they still don't get "equal marriage").

But the more you read, the scarier it gets.

So I like the stuff at the start, up-fronting all the goodies, on investment and infrastructure. Maybe not the expanded roads programme, but better broadband and free wi-fi in public libraries (I'd go further in making free public wi-fi available; there are benefits similar to the introduction of the "penny post" in Victorian times). And devolution of investment and job creating powers to the North is bold and worthy.

And I like the promises on the NHS.

"ensur[ing] you can see a GP and receive the hospital care you need, 7 days a week by 2020, with a guarantee that everyone over 75 will get a same-day appointment if they need one"

is good policy, and it's long past time that the health service should offer more appointments at the weekend for people who are working all week. Though typically Tory putting pensioners first!

But then we get to the fantasy economics. Lots of spending promises; massive tax cuts, particularly for the better-off, particularly – it even gets its own chapter – for the dead rich in the South-East; and huge but undisclosed benefit cuts.

The one transparent claim…

"We will lower the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 to reward work"

…doesn't even make sense! The rewards for work are at best disconnected from the benefit of benefits, but surely this will start to impact in work benefits, reversing the "rewards of work".

While disinterring the inheritance tax pledge is a certain signpost to this being a "if we could govern without the Lib Dems" manifesto; we diverted that money to better use in raising the personal tax allowance for a tax cut for the less-well-off.

Then we start to get to the "Nasty Party" stuff from Teresa May's briefs:

First Immigration, where they won’t give up blaming the immigrants for the problems of not addressing housing, services and jobs:

"Tougher tests for migrants before they can claim benefits"

"We will legislate to ensure that every public sector worker operating in a customer-facing role must speak fluent English."

"And to encourage better integration into our society, we will also require those coming to Britain on a family visa with only basic English to become more fluent over time, with new language tests for those seeking a visa extension."

…all address fictional problems in order to appear "tough".

And later, on Law and Order and Terrorism where they have become almost entirely negative:

"scrap the Human Rights Act"

"and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights,"

"so that foreign criminals can be more easily deported from Britain"

They claim they would "support victims" – but clearly not if those victims are victims of government and miscarriage of justice.

As for:

"tackle all forms of extremism, including non-violent extremism"
…that's the right to peaceful protest done away with!

While independent journalism and alternative points of view (in entertainment as well as factual) will be further curtailed with an arbitrary swipe at the BBC licence fee, claiming they will

"freeze the BBC licence fee, to save you money"

or (if they were being honest) to strangle the organisation and let Murdoch have free reign.

The "Big Society" returns from wherever we thought they'd buried it, with their new, rushed-out promise to grant three days "volunteering time" to workers (that is, have business pay for people to cover the charities people can no longer afford to support, but that the government needs to cover the services they've withdrawn), and a scheme to "expand National Citizen Service", i.e. put more kids to work cleaning the streets so we don't have to pay for proper road cleaners.

Speaking of kids, on education, the Govian madness continues, with:

"…primary school place for your child, with zero tolerance for failure"

"turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy "

"and deliver free schools for parents and communities that want them"

How about delivering schools to every community that wants them, not just the buy-your-own free-schools if they want and can afford them? How about spending money to turn failure around (say… a pupil premium!)?

On the environment, very little "green crap" that isn't actually the work of Ed Davey, but glaringly they toss in:

"halt the spread of subsidised onshore wind farms"

…which surely contradicts their other aspirations of "cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible," "and ensur[ing] your homes and businesses have energy supplies they can rely on"?

Finally, they manage to have two whole sections on the constitution – on the United Kingdom and Europe – that miss almost the entire point of why people are crying out for big changes to how we are governed and represented, where instead

"give English MPs a veto over matters only affecting England, including on Income Tax"


"give you a say over whether we should stay in or leave the EU, with an in-out referendum by the end of 2017"

are together a short cut to constitutional chaos, and the breaking of our Union at home and abroad, with the most successful partnership of nations in history (England and Scotland) and the most successful trading bloc on the planet (Europe) tossed aside to get on the populist UKIP bandwagon.

(And telling that they would give income tax but not dare to share full budget control with Scotland; especially when they will devolve budget spending, but not income tax, to the "Northern Powerhouse".)

Overall, in spite of the "Let the Sunshine in (encore)" rhetoric, the attack on welfare and basic values of justice and tolerance, coupled with the rolling out of private provision from education to the media even to charity through their "volunteering" wheeze, paint this as a terrifyingly full-blooded Thatcherite manifesto that has abandoned any of the 2010 efforts to detoxify the brand.

And that is even before we get to the biggest clue: the resurrection of Mrs T's signature "Right to Buy" policy, extended to Housing Associations (with no doubt further devastating effect on the social housing stock). It is, as they say, a pretty blatant clue.

It's clear that the Tories are going to put to the test their insane theory that they only lost last time because they were not right-wing enough.

In fact, it proves more than ever how much the Liberal Democrats have done in Coalition to take the better (or only the least worst) Tory ideas and produce a modern, progressive government.

And how desperately important it is that the Liberal Democrats are returned with enough strength to do that again.

All emphases my own; original document here (contains pdf)