With all manifestos out… is there a winner?

Yes!

Unsurprisingly, my ‘winner’ based on the manifestos is – the LibDems. Nothing shocking there.

My ultra-short* take is:

(*and of course biased, I haven’t the time to sift through the manifestos in detail – and I can’t vote anyway, so I’ve no need to)

Labour – too detailed, stuck in tinkering, no real change.

Conservatives – too handwavey, based mostly on ‘not being labour’ and hoping that anti-labour sentiments will carry them to victory.

LibDems – they have the luxury of not having the dirty hands of having been in power, which makes for easier sniping. But they still win on merit, especially finances, political reform and civil liberties.

In a bit more detail: Labour

Having no real changes was to be expected; proposing major changes after having been in government themselves for 13 years would be to admit major failure. But finding in their manifesto proposed changes along the lines of (from The Guardian, emphasis mine)

  • ‘Failing police forces will be taken over by successful ones – although this promise is hedged with caveats, indicating it is likely to be rarely used.’
  • ‘A new right to see a GP at evenings and weekends’
  • ‘[A] promise not to extend VAT to food, children’s clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares’
  • ‘A “toddler tax credit” worth an extra £200 a year for families earning less than £50,000 a year with children under three years old.’
  • ‘US-style street pastor teams using vetted ex-offenders to reach disaffected young people’
  • [P]ilot a scheme to give all primary-school children free school meals’
  • ‘Birmingham’s new Queen Elizabeth hospital … will have a military ward’

and finally, my favourite (on powers for Scotland):

  • New legal powers over airguns

is a bit too much for me (yes, there was still a sentence to be finished).

In Dutch we call this ‘gerommel in de marge’ (tinkering in the margins). It’s nothing, putting a dot here and shifting a comma there. These shouldn’t even be in a manifesto; these are minor details you implement some time after the election, without much ado.

What about political reform – a written constitution, proportional representation? The largely undemocratic House of Lords? The costly war in Afghanistan? Regulation of banks so that economical disasters as the recent one don’t happen again? What about higher education, science and technology? The abolition of these ridiculous faith schools?

On top of that Labour is responsible for encouraging (the abovementioned) faith schools, restricting civil liberties to a point that makes the UK a third-world police state, (at least partly) the banking crisis and the MP expenses scandal, and a restrictive and counterproductive drugs policy. So that’s Labour out.

In a bit more detail: Conservatives

It is in any case against my very nature to support Tories, but it’s always good to see them vindicate my non-support. Basically they come up with a vague plan, supported by no concrete financial details, and mixed in with the general negative message of ‘vote for us, because you don’t like Gordon Brown’. They’ve looked closely at their transatlantic cousins, the Republican Party, who run most election campaigns on a similar paradigm.

The vagaries and absence of detail make it difficult to pinpoint criticism – there literally isn’t much to criticise! But there are things:

  • Their (populist, IMHO) proposal to somewhere, somehow (‘Emergency budget within 50 days of election’, in other words ‘just take our word for it that we will do the right thing, honestly’) find an extra £6 bn in government expenses that can be used towards lowering the deficit
  • ‘More money for schools that take more than average numbers of poor pupils. But no detail on how much money will be allocated

Actually, I can’t find anything that is specific enough. Everything they propose seems to cost money, though, so I wonder where that money will come from:

  • ‘Access to NHS dentistry to be extended to a million more people’
  • ‘An extra 10,000 university places this year’
  • ‘Smaller class sizes’
  • ‘[F]reeze council tax for two years’
  • et cetera

There are of course also a few policies I simply disagree with, they are conservative after all, despite their somewhat schizophrenic attempts to appeal to both the wealthy AND the ‘ones left behind by Labour’:

  • ‘[I]nstant grounding orders for antisocial youngsters; prison sentences for carrying a knife; ban on below-cost alcohol sales*; new border police force’

* I actually agree with this, or more accurately I think it doesn’t go far enough – but my views are beyond the scope of this post. ‘Prison sentences for carrying a knife’ is laughable electioneering and needs no expansion from me I think.

  • ‘Neighbourhood groups, the “little platoons” of civil society will be able to take over failing public services’
  • ‘Develop schools under the Swedish “free schools” and the US “charter school” models: small, autonomous institutions run and set up by parents, teachers, universities, faith groups and voluntary groups

To clarify, in my view nothing and nobody but the state should be running schools, period. That is the only way to ensure that education meets the same standards everywhere, without bias. To see the Tories basically agree with Labour on faith schools is… well, not surprising, actually.

  • ‘Tax breaks to promote marriage and civil partnerships’
  • Replace Trident nuclear missile system’
  • ‘Set up National Security Council “to integrate at the highest levels of government the work of our foreign, defence, energy, home and international development departments” ‘
  • ‘Set up a new permanent military command for homeland defence and security’

Apart from me disagreeing with all of these, I note again that these measures all cost money and I wonder where that will come from. All in all, the Tories are out as well.

In a bit more detail:Libdems

To start off, this is the financially most detailed manifesto, which is good – if the numbers add up. Apparently, so far, mostly they seem to do. Then the next question is, what about their plans? Well, the LibDems surely have a few that I wholeheartedly agree with:

  • ‘[N]ot renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent system’
  • ‘an extra £2.5bn to cut class sizes to 20 in primary schools’

Having no children I don’t necessarily care much about this pledge, but note the difference with the Tories in putting a number to it.

  • ‘Recruit 3,000 more police officers, paid for by scrapping ID cards, electronic fingerprints on passports, the prison building programme and Whitehall plans to track all emails and internet use’
  • ‘Replace prison sentences of six months or less with community penalties and cancel the £800m prison-building programme.’

I heard Nick Clegg this morning on tellie explain that this is based on research indicating that (IIRC) over 90% of short-sentenced offenders re-offend, so keeping them out of the prisons would save money and work – sounds reasonable to me, and I’ve always been more in favour of preventing over punishment-as-deterrent (because that is proven not to work).

I also heard him say something about what sounded like amnesty for illegal immigrants who fulfil certain criteria, in order to ‘take them out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of the tax man’ which also sounds humane, rational, and generally good.

In general, the LibDems would win my support based on their treatment of civil liberties alone, and this is by far their trump card, in my HONEST and HUMBLE opinion:

  • ‘A freedom bill to regulate CCTV, end the collection of innocent DNA, scrap ID cards, the children’s contact database and anti-terrorist control orders. Halt the creation of new criminal offences’

Hear, hear! Perfect. Can’t beat that.

On top of that is what the Guardian doesn’t mention: proportional voting, a fully-elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords, and introduce a written constitution. All great ideas, overdue by… well, something like (at least) a century.

Finally there is this point, which I recently debated with a good friend of mine and where I off-the-cuff proposed something similar (ie shared parental leave). I don’t know the details of this plan but it sounds very similar to my idea, always a good reason to agree :p:

  • ‘Extend shared parental leave to 18 months, allowing parents to share their allocation of maternity and paternity leave’

So, in short, the LibDems win my support. Now let’s hope for a hung parliament.

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