Today was the fanfare of the Labour Party manifesto launch. As I sit as an outsider looking in, I realise how embarrassing, futile and generally awkward all these launches are for political parties. These days they are perfectly choreographed down to the micro second with a hand picked audience and lots of white teeth, Hollywood style videos and cherry picked words. I wonder; do any voters seriously sit down to watch the launch? Yes I am sure that the serious minded will tune into the PM debates and maybe the odd party advertisement but the Manifesto launch? The parties have to do it but a bit of grit, down to earth tough talking would go down very well with people trying to pay the rent.
So don't misunderstand me, this launch was like any other launch of the Big Three Parties over the past twenty odd years. The reactions so far have been predictable. But this time as I take a closer look as an outsider I can see it from a different perspective. As a Parliamentary Candidate you hope that it will boost the party's fortunes, you hope that when you knock on doors that evening, the voters have some inkling of the party policies from seeing the news coverage of the launch (usually it just means you are still interrupting some poor exhausted worker just back from the office or factory who wants his or her dinner in peace and quiet and watch East Enders). In 1997, it was case of just get the launch over and done with and plough on with the six week campaign in the hope that nationally we didn't blow it. It was different in Shrewsbury and Atcham as I wanted a long campaign to personally meet as many voters as possible (in the end we covered off around 70 villages and most areas of the town of Shrewsbury).
In 2010, though you can see that most people are disinterested in politics and struggle to find the time to get to know what the policies are for each party. It will be interesting to see if the turnout increases. I suspect that there will be some real upsets in certain key seats with terrific fights going on that will generate a lot of interest and drive up the turnout. However, I fear the turnout generally will only increase a little on 2005, which was around 61%.
In a world of cynicism and constant negativity, it is worth reminding ourselves that voting does matter and does change things. Whether it is the passion and determination of The Suffragettes, ending the shame of slavery or the great reforming governments of the 1906 Liberal Government, or the 1945 Labour Government, votes have brought about meaningful improvements to millions of people in Britain.
So back to the Labour Party manifesto launch. The document has a strange cartoon picture of a bright sun rise over the hills as a family looks on in wonderment with the words, 'A future fair for all' in the middle of the light. Yes I know it is supposed to be uplifting and it is quite catchy as a sound bite, but the cynicism left after two years of dreadful news stories on MP's expenses and a deep recession costing hundreds of thousands of jobs and loss of income to most families means that they are not in the mood to be uplifted. The fact remains that after the election, whoever wins there is going to be a bitter round of deep cuts to public services and more tax rises to pay for the national debt we had to acquire to stave off a banking collapse. The public seem to want brutal, cold honesty of how bad is bad.
I actually think that Gordon Brown is looking a lot better these days on the stump than he used to. For one thing, Sarah must have wrenched off him the badly fitting suit that drooped off the edges of his shoulders and he is looking smart, fresh and the old crispness of his delivery is back. I remember that punchy delivery when he confounded expectations by making the Bank of England independent within a few weeks of being elected in 1997. He was energetic and brimming with new ideas. He is not quite back to that but after the awful stale, look of just a few months ago this is looking a lot better in front of the media. He is not the charismatic Tony but he is appearing as a party leader who believes he can win this election (or at least get enough votes to put together a Coalition and stay in power). History will judge him more kindly than at present.
As Prime Minister, he took the right decisions at a crucial time to steer the British economy through a storm. It would have been much, much worse if the Conservatives had been in power and followed through on what they were saying at the time. On that single issue brown deserves more credit than he has received thus far.
And the manifesto says? Basically a pledge of 'steady as she goes' through the traumatic next two or three years of tough economic battles, with a sprinkling of promises to continue to uplift low income families through the National Minimum wage increases, better quality apprenticeships (about time), re-establish the link between pensions and earnings and a new Toddler Tax Credit. The pledges to bring in much needed constitutional reforms is to be welcomed with fixed term parliaments, written constitution (excellent news although I await the actual wording - see paragraph 5 of The Independent back in 2001), referenda on voting reform and an elected second chamber and clamping down on MPs taking paid lobbying jobs.
Likewise there is encouraging promises on improved education and an improved NHS but given the creaking sounds from the two pillars of society, even after the billions have been invested in them in recent years, I wonder whether there will be anything other than a slow decline in services (whoever is in power)? Nettles need to be grasped and open debates are needed to decide how we intend to pay for the medical care of an ageing population in a consumer rights society.
There are some encouraging words about digital and green jobs although the devil will be in the detail on what that means and I fear it is only a small improvement on what is needed to make a step change in the way this country grasps the opportunities from the digital age and the potential for environmentally sound jobs.
The big disappointment is the less than convincing chapter on climate change. There is a lack of urgency and belief that climate change is a threat we simply cannot ignore. All the parts to this Chapter are to be welcomed and applauded but there is no rock solid commitment to passionate leadership to help wake up the lethargy around the globe on climate change. There is an understandable luke warm response from some Environmental campaigners. After a missed opportunity in Copenhagen and the warning signals year in year out of the warming of the planet to critical levels over the coming decades, these pledges are not good enough.
We await the Conservatives and Lib Dem manifestos next.
Labour Party Manifesto - A Future Fair for All
50 steps to a future fair for all
- Secure the recovery by supporting the economy now, and more than halve the deficit by 2014 through economic growth, fair taxes and cuts to lower priority spending.
- Realise our stakes in publicly controlled banks to secure the best deal for the tax-payer, introduce a new global levy, and reform the rules for banking to ensure no repeat of past irresponsibility.
- Create UK Finance for Growth, bringing £4 billion together to provide capital for growing businesses, investing in the growth sectors of the future.
- Build a high-tech economy, supporting business and industry to create one million more skilled jobs and modernising our infrastructure with High Speed Rail, a Green Investment Bank and broadband access for all.
- Encourage a culture of long-term commitment to sustainable company growth, requiring a super-majority of two-thirds of shareholders in corporate takeovers.
- 200,000 jobs through the Future Jobs Fund, with a job or training place for young people who are out of work for six months, but benefits cut at ten months if they refuse a place; and anyone unemployed for more than two years guaranteed work, but no option of life on benefits.
- A National Minimum Wage rising at least in line with average earnings, and a new £40-a-week Better Off in Work guarantee.
- More advanced apprenticeships and Skills Accounts for workers to upgrade their skills.
- No stamp duty for first-time buyers on all house purchases below £250,000 for two years, paid for by a five per cent rate on homes worth more than £1 million.
- A People’s Bank at the Post Office; a Universal Service Obligation on banks to serve every community; a clampdown on interest rates for doorstep and payday loans.
- Spending increased on frontline Sure Start and free childcare, schools and 16-19 learning.
- An expansion of free nursery places for two year olds and 15 hours a week of flexible, free nursery education for three and four year olds.
- Every pupil leaving primary school secure in the basics, with a 3Rs guarantee of one-to-one and small-group tuition for every child falling behind; and in secondary school, every pupil with a personal tutor and a choice of good qualifications.
- A choice of good schools in every area – and, where parents are not satisfied – the power to bring in new school leadership teams, through mergers and take-overs, with up to 1,000 secondary schools part of an accredited schools group by 2015.
- Every young person guaranteed education or training until 18, with 75 per cent going on to higher education, or completing an advanced apprenticeship or technician level training, by the age of 30.
- Legally binding guarantees for patients including the right to cancer test results within one week of referral, and a maximum 18 weeks’ wait for treatment or the offer of going private.
- Preventative healthcare through routine check-ups for the over-40s and a major expansion of diagnostic testing.
- More personal care, with the right in law to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality at NHS costs when booking a hospital appointment, one-to-one dedicated nursing for all cancer patients, and more care at home.
- The right to choose a GP in your area open at evenings and weekends, with more services available on the high-street, personal care plans and rights to individual budgets.
- Access to psychological therapy for those who need it.
- Provide the funding to maintain police and PCSO numbers with neighbourhood police teams in every area, spending 80 per cent of their time on the beat visible in their neighbourhood; improve police performance through online report cards and ensure failing forces are taken over by the best.
- Intervene earlier to prevent crime, with no-nonsense action to tackle the problems caused by 50,000 dysfunctional families.
- Guarantee fast and effective action to deal with anti-social behaviour, including a right to legal injunctions for repeat victims, funded by the police or council who let them down.
- Expand tough ‘Community Payback’ for criminals who don’t go to prison, giving everyone the right to vote on the work they do.
- Control immigration through our Australian-style points-based system, ensuring that as growth returns we see rising levels of employment and wages, not rising immigration, and requiring newcomers to earn citizenship and the entitlements it brings.
- More help for parents to balance work and family life, with a ‘Father’s Month’ of flexible paid leave.
- A new Toddler Tax Credit of £4 a week from 2012 to give more support to all parents of young children – whether they want to stay at home or work.
- The right to request flexible working for older workers, with an end to default retirement at 65, enabling more people to decide for themselves how long they choose to keep working.
- A new National Care Service to ensure free care in the home for those with the greatest care needs and a cap on the costs of residential care so that everyone’s homes and savings are protected from care charges after two years in a care home.
- A re-established link between the Basic State Pension and earnings from 2012; help for ten million people to build up savings through new Personal Pension Accounts.
- A golden decade of sport with the 2012 Olympics as a great national and world-wide celebration.
- Registered Supporters Trusts enabled to buy stakes in their club bringing mutualism to the heart of football.
- Operational independence for major museums and galleries, with more lottery funding returning to the arts, sport and culture after 2012.
- Protection for the post offices and pubs on which community life depends.
- The BBC’s independence upheld; and Britain equipped with a world-leading digital and broadband infrastructure.
- Achieve around 40 per cent low-carbon electricity by 2020 and create 400,000 new green jobs by 2015.
- Make greener living easier and fairer through ‘pay as you save’ home energy insulation, energy-bill discounts for pensioners and requiring landlords to properly insulate rented homes.
- Move towards a ‘zero waste’ Britain, banning recyclable and biodegradable materials from landfill.
- Link together new protected areas of habitat; maintain the Green Belt; increase forest and woodland areas.
- Ensure fairness for food producers through EU reform and a Supermarkets Ombudsman; and support post offices, shops and pubs in rural communities.
- Referenda, held on the same day, for moving to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons and to a democratic and accountable Second Chamber.
- Improved citizenship education for young people followed by a free vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age to 16.
- Legislation to ensure Parliaments sit for a fixed term and an All Party Commission to chart a course to a Written Constitution.
- A statutory register of lobbyists, with MPs banned from working for lobbying companies and required to seek approval for paid outside appointments.
- Stronger local government, with increased local democratic scrutiny over all local public services.
- Conduct a Strategic Defence Review to equip our Armed Forces for 21st Century challenges, and support our troops and veterans.
- Use our international reach to build security and stability – combating terrorism and extremism, curbing proliferation, preventing and resolving conflict, and tackling climate change.
- Lead the agenda for an outward-facing European Union that delivers jobs, prosperity and global influence.
- Re-energise the drive to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, supporting sustainable growth and combating poverty.
- Reform the UN, International Financial Institutions, the G8 and G20, and NATO to adapt to the new global challenges.