I’ve been reading the Tory and Labour manifestos (yes, I know there are other parties, but we all know it really comes down to these two) and comparing them closely to inform my voting decision on Thursday. For me it comes down to a few key factors:
- Leaving the European Union (I refuse to call it ‘Brexit’, because that’s a daft made-up word). Both parties commit to seeing it through, which I think is well and good – it’s too late to go back now, however you voted in the Referendum. But Labour plans to ensure that EU-created regulations governing workers’ rights and protections remain in place, while the Conservatives have drafted something called ‘The Great Repeal Bill’ which will give them the power to scrap such laws. Their manifesto doesn’t explicitly say they will do this – but neither does it say they won’t.
- The economy. Labour have lots of airy-fairy, wonderful-sounding plans to develop local manufacturing, renationalise lots of industries and invest in domestic economic growth via borrowing. Sounds nice but not necessarily practical. However, they also have serious plans to reduce the gap between rich and poor, starting with raising the minimum wage to £10, with built-in protections against the consequences of this for small businesses, and higher taxation of big businesses and higher-earning individuals. Conservative goals seem more realistic, but less ambitious and less likely to change things for the better. Currently successful industries, such as aerospace and shipbuilding, will be encouraged to grow, and the living wage will be increased year-on-year, but not by as much as Labour plans to increase it. And a major part of their energy production plan centres on shale gas – the manifesto is careful not to call it ‘fracking’, but that’s what it probably will be, and there is a tacit acknowledgement that the process will have an adverse effect on environmental health around the drilling sites when they say they’ll “ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by the shale energy are shared with the communities affected”.
- The NHS. We all know the NHS is in a mess, with myriad issues which need addressing. Both manifestos cover all the bases. The main difference if that while the Conservative manifesto pledges £8billion in additional spending on the NHS over the next five years, Labour pledges £30billion in the same period – funded through increased taxes to the wealthiest 5%, and a halving of NHS management consultancy fees. (As someone who has briefly benefited from such fees, as a freelance manager, I can say that’s a great idea. The difference between what the consultants are paid versus the regular staff is pretty sick.)
- The arts. The Conservatives pledge measures to protect those, like most of us self-employed folk, working in the ‘gig economy’. Labour have their increased minimum wage and will scrap plans for quarterly tax reporting requirements for the self-employed. Both parties pledge to improve the country’s digital infrastructure, which will support emerging creative businesses, and allow for efficient tax reporting. Labour also pledge a £1billion Cultural Capital Fund, and will protect the BBC, S4C, and a public-owned Channel 4. Tories quiet on this.
The broader picture, I think, is that the Conservatives’ plans come down to improving the economy and everything else just by doing more of what they’ve already been doing, only better – specifically, negotiating international trade and supporting businesses to grow the economy and cut the deficit. This might benefit everyone in the country, or it might not, and we’ll probably have to trudge through several more years of austerity to get to it. On the other hand, Labour is proposing wide-ranging change that takes as its starting point the idea of improving things for everyone, as fairly as possible. A lot of the plan seems to be financed through borrowing in the initial stages (though not, I stress, the increased NHS spending – see above), which understandably scares a lot of people. But it’s a great, optimistic vision for the country, and if it isn’t going to work I think we’ll probably know about it pretty quickly. If it hasn’t worked, well, there’ll be another election in five years and a chance to go back to a more (small-c) conservative approach. But I think the chance for major, positive change is right now. And I think we should give it a go.
(And despite all the idealogical stuff, I would reiterate, Labour’s NHS plans are demonstrably more robust than the Conservatives’, and are costed.)
I’m voting Labour.