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What is in the Liberal Democrat manifesto (and what isn’t)

It was Labour’s turn on Tuesday, and yesterday it was the Lib Dems opportunity to launch their manifesto for the General Election on June 8th. The big themes? Rejoining Europe, smoking weed, and doing both of those outside of a coalition.

According to their website, and re-iterated in the manifesto, the Lib Dems have ruled out any coalitions with either Labour or the Tories, and are are pitching themselves to become the opposition, rather than the government. They claim this is because both parties are too ‘pro-Brexit’, and they won’t support allowing either party to take Britain out of the single market. 

Yet in September 2015, December 2016, and just last month, Farron either explicitly said he would lead the Liberal Democrats back into a coalition with the Conservatives, or refused to rule it out. Another Lib Dem U-turn or Farron’s plan all along? Your guess is as good as ours.

Seen by many as a critic of Nick Clegg’s decision to enter a coalition with Cameron in 2010, Farron represents to many the ‘social liberal’ wing of the party, against the ‘Orange bookers’ like Clegg, David Laws and Danny Alexander. Farron chose to seek the party’s presidency in 2011 rather than serve as a junior minster under Cameron, seeking to preserve his image in anticipation of Clegg falling on his sword after the 2015 General Election.

Farron has traded on his ‘anti-Tory Liberal’ image for a long time, but we would do well to remember his less than principled voting record during the Coalition. Farron voted, at various times, for the bedroom tax, legal aid cuts, and the benefits cap.

But what of the manifesto?

The Lib Dem manifesto makes a major pledge on keeping Britain in the EU, or at least giving Britain a second chance. Leader Tim Farron said, “You should have your say on the Brexit deal in a referendum. And if you don’t like the deal you should be able to reject it and choose to remain in Europe.”

The Lib Dems will also raise £1bn by legalising and taxing cannabis, spend £6bn a year on the NHS, social care services and public health, and £5.7bn a year on schools and further education.

They would also reverse three policies they supported in Coalition, by lifting the public sector pay freeze, scrap the bedroom tax, and reverse cuts to Universal Credit.

They would raise taxes, with an extra penny on income tax, and bring Corporation Tax up to 20%.

Other policies include bus passes for young people that give two-third reductions, banning the sale of diesel cars by 2025, restricting bulk collection of communications data by the security services, and finally, planting a tree for every citizen in the UK.

So what’s missing?

Firstly, any kind of radical vision for Britain. It lacks the kind of large-scale state investment needed to solve the crises facing the country. Finding themselves in a situation where they can put anything in their manifesto without ever having to worry about delivering it, the Liberal Democrats have shown a real lack of political imagination. Whereas Labour’s programme represents a comprehensive vision for a renewal of Britain’s economy, to rebalance wealth and power in favour of working people and their families, and to tackle crises in housing, the environment and the NHS, the Liberal Democrats ambitions only scratch the surface of those problems.

Secondly, there is very little on higher education, specifically on tuition fees. The manifesto actually has the guts to claim, “Liberal Democrats established a fairer system such that no undergraduate student in England had to pay a penny of their tuition fees up front”. I think their results in university seats such as Manchester Withington in 2015 demonstrate that their view is not one shared by students. The manifesto pledges a review of how university tuition is financed, but perhaps this has been a lesson well-learnt from the Liberal Democrats: Don’t promise what you know you can’t deliver.

Thirdly, the biggest thing missing from the manifesto is the list of policies they would have to support if they returned to a Coalition with the Tories, which Tim Farron had talked up until a month ago. You can find out what those policies are today – when Theresa May is expected to launch her manifesto.

Standing on a ticket to “Change Britain’s Future”, the Lib Dems may find on June 9th that the people of Britain don’t want their future to change in quite the way Tim Farron envisages.

2 Comments

  1. James Martin says:

    I think one of the most significant political cultural shifts highlighted by this election is the rediscovery of the working class. Not just by the Labour Party under Corbyn, but by the other parties too. Previous elections in the past couple of decades have all been about the middle class (often using terms like middle ground). Now no one talks about the middle class, and in fact you get the impression that it would be disastrous electorally to do so.

    We have the ukips trying to appeal to ‘patriotic’ (read racist) workers. The Tories claiming to be the party of workers (while stuffing us) and the lib-dems who are all over the shop and who as the natural party of the middle classes are incapable now of honestly relating to them. Even the reactionary cross-class nationalists like the SNP are forced to try and hide that and focus on traditional social democratic working class economic policies. Politics has been once again proletarianised just as it is in all key periods of our history since the industrial revolution, and whatever the election result next month that shift is going to be very significant indeed in relation to the class struggle and the battle inside the Labour Party for socialist ideas going forward.

  2. Tony says:

    Good to see both Labour, and, albeit to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats, advocating increases in corporation tax.

    Corbyn can only do so much but I think he has helped change politics in this country and that is a very good thing.

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