Still a nasty party

What’s in store for the UK if the Conservatives obtain an ample majority after the upcoming election? Brace yourselves—it’s going to hurt a bit.

The most-discussed aspect of the Conservative manifesto has been the plans for elderly care. Nick Triggle has written a concise article on this, and summarises the complex plans:

They want people to pay more towards the cost of their care, but are prepared to wait until you die before taking it from your estate.

Yes, some elements of their plans sound generous and certainly some people will benefit, but large numbers won’t.

Why? Because we are a nation of homeowners and these plans make sure that whatever sort of care you need, the value of your home can be taken into account.

This has been called a ‘dementia tax’, which is a fair assessment.  Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society has said, ‘For people spending over half a million pounds on dementia care, nothing parties have yet proposed will help.’ The plan has been written into the manifesto to show that the Conservatives have a strategy for tackling the rising cost of elderly care, but it seems curiously callous, and it will be unpopular. The proposals around pensions: scrapping the triple lock and means testing winter fuel payments, further jeopardise the party’s appeal.

The economic policies outlined are unambitious. They include a pledge to spend more on research and development, cut corporation tax to 17% by 2020, and provide better infrastructure to businesses. There are also minor moves to strengthen financial regulation.  The slight shift from Osbornian austerity is encouraging, but not bold enough. Real incomes will continue to fall with such meek proposals, and productivity will continue to flounder. This is the manifesto of a complacent party that merely wants to create some ‘wriggle room’ around economic policy after it wins the election.

The proposed increase of the National Living Wage to 60% of median income by 2020 is nothing to get excited about, and those living on a low wage have good reason to suspect anyway that it wouldn’t happen under a Conservative majority government. This policy is not there to win votes from those in working poverty; it’s there to show dithering voters on average-to-comfortable incomes that the Conservatives aren’t quite as gung-ho about inequality as they were last time. The introduction to the manifesto tries to underline this point, but it rings hollow to anyone with direct or indirect experience of the issue.

The education proposals are the second-worst aspect of the manifesto, and it’s surprising that more hasn’t been made of them. The proposals include not only the much discussed ending of the grammar school ban and the scrapping of free school lunches, but also 100 new free schools a year, university involvement in academy sponsorship, and changes to the rules to allow new Catholic schools to be established. This is in line with the direction of previous governments (Labour included) towards more pseudo free-market ‘choice’ in education, more input from faith communities, and deepening inequality of opportunity embedded in the education system. The extra £4billion provided to schools is scant consolation for the cuts that have left class sizes soaring and 4,000 teachers leaving the profession every month.

The NHS is in crisis, and the proposed £8billion extra per year by 2022/2023 isn’t costed, unlike Labour’s promised £7.4billion extra to come from tax increases (which in theory could be effected immediately). This means that the Conservative plan for health looks less realistic than Labour’s under Corbyn (of all leaders). This is not a good look. Indeed, the main reason many non-Corbynistas are putting a peg on their nose and a cross next to a Labour candidate on June 8th is ‘to save the NHS’. It’s a good-enough reason.

The proposals for crime and justice promise a continuation of the same policy track which hasn’t been working since 2010. The £1billion to modernise the prison estate is needed, but so are rethinks on sentencing, rehabilitation and prison officer pay. Otherwise, the justice system will continue to become more expensive, and staff will remain demoralised. The move to incorporate the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency has been attacked by Transparency International, and it will facilitate corruption in the name of cost cutting.

It’s on the issues of immigration and Brexit where the manifesto lets off its stinkiest odours. The pledge to cut immigration to under 100,000 per year (including international students) has been vociferously attacked by none other than George Osborne: Osborne rightly says that this will force families apart and lead to recruiting problems in many industries. Taken with the Brexit policies, the plans to turn the UK into a low-migration economy will cause trouble for business and the economy more generally. This will be the greatest challenge for the next government, and the Conservatives look ill-prepared despite the ‘strong and stable’ mantra.

This manifesto highlights why many on the anti-Corbyn left are still voting Labour; voting for the Conservatives is even more distasteful. A Conservative government with a large majority will prove more troublesome than the struggle to remove Corbyn in the event of a slim Conservative majority. Those backing Labour despite Corbyn are not being naive; they realise that they have two battles ahead, and they have worked out which one will be the most difficult.


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