General Election 2024: Pagefield reactions to the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Reform UK and Green Party’s manifestos

Wednesday 19th June

“Beyond the fun and games, there is a clear plan to reinstate the Liberal Democrats as Westminster’s third largest party.” – India Casey, Researcher

As someone who has lived in South West London all my life, the seemingly resurgent Lib Dems have long been prominent in my local area. However, seeing how the party has presented itself in recent weeks has been pleasantly unexpected, if not slightly cringe-inducing. It is attention-grabbing, and exactly the right strategy leading up to the party’s manifesto launch at the start of last week.

The Lib Dems’ manifesto shines a light on NHS and social care, with plans to introduce free personal care and recruit more GPs. The focus on the care sector, often overlooked by Westminster’s main parties, is very welcome. As a party, the Lib Dems are mostly associated with orange-book economic liberalism and strong local activism (and the coalition years, for better or worse). So, for the party to promise free personal care in England and a target for cancer patients to begin treatments within 62 days of an urgent referral, is both an exciting and refreshing development.

There is also, albeit buried, a commitment to rejoin the Single Market, and plans to raise public spending with targeted tax increases – something many Labour supporters have been clamouring for. Disappointingly however, there is little mention of climate change, coming third after the economy and business in the party’s list of priorities. There are pledges around free insulation and heat pumps for those on low incomes, but little else of note that focuses on the energy transition.

In many marginal southern seats, the Lib Dems possess a unique position in that they are a genuinely credible alternative to the Conservatives, with Labour less likely to make gains in some of these seats. Naturally, the Greens could hoover up more votes from those unhappy with Labour’s direction under Starmer – but this will cause little concern to the Lib Dems.

The party’s campaign appears focused on one thing: reinstating the Lib Dems as the third largest party in Westminster. This, along with considerable gains in the local elections, could position the Lib Dems as an influential player in the next Parliament.

“Clutching at straws to retain the older vote, while overlooking younger, more dejected voters. “ – Jack Ramage, Executive

With its headline offering of a 2p National Insurance cut, the Conservative Party’s manifesto attempted to shift the dial after a difficult first few weeks of the campaign. However, the Conservatives’ manifesto, perceived by many as an attempt to shore up its elderly voter coalition, is not the way to win over an unconvinced voting pool. With the promise of triple-lock pensions, varied reductions in tax and national service for teenagers, the manifesto sets a clear precedent: clutching at straws to retain the older vote, while overlooking a younger, more dejected slice of the electorate.  Despite attempts to appeal to first-time, prospective homeowners by scrapping stamp duty on homes up to £425,000, very few voters will have been swayed.

The manifesto promised to continue the Help to Buy scheme, with the Prime Minister setting an ambitious target of building 1.6 million homes in England over the next five years. Nice thinking; but a cocktail of sky-high mortgage rates, current housing targets not being met and criticism of the Help To Buy scheme favouring developers over buyers, young people desperate to get a foot on the ladder will remain just that: desperate.

The manifesto has been accused of being spread too thin, trying to cover every base but without really hitting the mark. The drive for 100,000 new apprenticeships every year by the end of the next Parliament sounds promising but only if employers choose to provide them. The party’s policies have fallen short on what young people want, again demonstrating an out-of-touch leadership and a party in flux. Tip-toeing around net zero targets and weak leadership on climate policy, while at the same time insisting on a clamp-down on children using smartphones in schools, shows little more than a lack of awareness (or care) for what young voters really want.

Despite glimmers of positive policy changes, such as an increase to defence spending and the abolition of National Insurance for the self-employed, it is clear 14 years of Tory rule has run its course. Encapsulated in Beth Rigby’s Sky Leadership Debate, it was a disillusioned Conservative member and former party chair who during the audience Q&A told the Prime Minister: “You’ve got a long way to go to rebuild trust”. Unfortunately for Sunak, time appears to have already run out.

“This is a manifesto aimed at young people and disaffected voters on the left.” – Harry Gault, Consultant

On Wednesday, the Greens’ co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsey launched the party’s election manifesto at Sussex Country Cricket Ground in Hove.

The Green Party has always been a curious outfit in British politics. Always content to provide a home for disenchanted voters on the left, voting Green has long been a popular option for protest voters opposed to Brexit, the UK’s environmental policy and Labour’s supposed rightwards pivot under various leaders past and present. Caroline Lucas has represented the party in Parliament as its sole MP since 2010. A popular and much revered figure in Westminster, Lucas’ decision not to contest the election this year has created space for the next generation of Green candidates to make the party more than just a protest vote.

Make no doubt about it, this is a manifesto for young people and those who no longer feel they can vote Labour. Seeking to place a wedge between the Greens and Starmer’s Labour, there are unapologetic commitments to raising taxes on wealthier people to fund improvements to the NHS and public services. The Conservatives have been accused of abandoning renters, with its Renters Reform Bill already subject to considerable delays and dropped before the dissolution of Parliament. In a direct plea to young people, the Greens pledge to build more social homes, roll out an insulation programme to make our homes warmer, introduce rent controls and let councils requisition empty properties.

The Greens promise a lot of things which are hard to object to. So why so curious? Because no matter how appealing some its pledges are – scrapping tuition fees, bringing mental health treatment up to the same standard as physical health, making personal social care free at the point of use – the likelihood of the Greens having to deliver on these promises is virtually nil. That’s why it can afford (pun intended) to pledge a £160bn boost to day-to-day spending and an additional £90bn a year on capital spending. This isn’t necessarily an issue. In fact, it’s understood by the Greens better than anyone.

If the Greens hold Brighton Pavilion, where former party leader Sian Berry is standing, and gain Bristol Central from Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire, then the party will have doubled its representation in Parliament – no small feat. But really, it’s future electoral reform where the Greens eye their moment: doing away with first-past-the-post and replacing it with proportional representation. Only then will the Greens have a meaningful role to play in government. Until then, it will likely remain the left’s most popular protest party.

“A cautious plan with some good ideas, but doesn’t go far enough to address today’s biggest challenges.” – Anisah Nijabat, Researcher

I’ve been a Labour supporter all my life, as have my family. Ever since Labour’s disastrous performance in 2019, I’ve been anxiously awaiting a manifesto which is both exciting and workable. Instead of something truly transformative, this year’s manifesto is – in my view at least – pretty uninspiring. A broad to-do list centred on wealth creation and economic growth.

There’s talk of stability, something we desperately need, with this delivered through partnerships with businesses and the creation of a National Wealth Fund. There are also pledges to build 1.5 million more homes over the next Parliament, and a promise that no tax hikes will be imposed on “working people” – both welcome and desperately needed. But will these pledges signal a departure from the economic malaise that has gripped the UK for so long?

Labour’s approach to workers’ rights has its merits but also some weaknesses. It promises to ban exploitative zero-hours contracts and ensure basic employment rights from day one, but even the party’s biggest union backer, Unite, says it doesn’t go far enough.

On immigration and asylum rules, Labour’s plan shows some promise but remains patchy. It aims to create a new Border Security Command and fix the asylum backlog, but there’s no mention of creating safe routes for asylum seekers. The focus on fast-tracking removals and tackling criminal gangs addresses some issues, but doesn’t offer comprehensive solutions for those in need of refuge. This doesn’t feel like the Labour I grew up supporting.

Labour’s stance on Palestine is perhaps where the most contradictions lie. There’s a commitment to recognising Palestinian statehood, but only after candidates have been deselected for liking ‘pro-Palestine’ tweets. It’s clear the party has sought to win back voters uncomfortable with its stance since October 7th, but it doesn’t fully reassure those looking for a strong, principled approach to international and humanitarian justice.

Social policies like breakfast clubs and limiting school uniform costs are positive steps but feel like minor tweaks rather than transformative changes. These appear to be a sprinkling of small policies to appease the left, whilst most of its energy is spent trying to win over historically Conservative voters by taking a more moderate, centrist approach.

Overall, Labour’s manifesto has some good ideas but feels like a missed opportunity in many ways. After 14 years, the solutions to rebuilding our country need to be more ambitious and more radical, otherwise we could end up with more of the same. People need hope more than ever, especially after the pandemic and ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Labour should be the party to offer that hope, but right now I’m still unconvinced.

A mix of mainstream conservative ideas and more novel, radical policies designed to generate debate.” – Liam Deacon, Consultant

Did the sums in Reform UK’s manifesto add up? Perhaps not. Does this matter? Probably not.

Nigel Farage opened his manifesto launch speech by admitting the policies contained in the document will not be implemented. The “contract with the people” described “the principles we’ll campaign for” if Reform UK wins “a beachhead” of seats in Parliament, he clarified later.

The document should be thought, therefore, as signal to voters rather than a detailed plan. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) claimed the “spending reductions would save less than stated, and the tax cuts would cost more than stated…”. The pledge to cut NHS waiting lists to zero, for example, does indeed sound like fantasy. But economics is not a science and Farage and Tice would likely respond to their critics by insisting their policies will generate growth, increase revenue, and therefore plug the gap identified by the IFS and others.

But regardless, Reform-sympathetic voters will not be bothered by the IFS drubbing. They mistrust centrist, establishment groups like the IFS that uphold the status quo. The message (strong on immigration, saving the NHS, and abandoning net zero) appears to have landed with the target audience.

Strong, but was it extreme? Alastair Campbell thinks so. The Guardian thinks so too. But interestingly, Fraser Nelson, editor of the Tory in-house magazine, The Spectator, called it a “mainstem conservative” manifesto on the Coffee House podcast and Camilla Tominey, associate editor of the Tory in-hour paper, The Telegraph, said the policies would have been normal in any pre-David Cameron Tory manifesto.

And therein lies the key. This is a document almost entirely aimed at 2019 Tory voters. Many right-wing Tory MPs will like it too. If it wins some of them over and influences the Tory party in opposition, it will have served its purpose.

The Tories have flirted with many policies in the document (inheritance tax cuts, higher taxes for employing immigrant workers, fines for missing NHS appointments, leaving the ECHR, and cutting remaining EU regulations) and if a right-wing, or even a ‘unity’ candidate wins the Tory leadership contest after the election, these policies could be adopted to facilitate a deal with potential future Reform UK MPs.

However, Farage asked the audience in Wales not to “pigeonhole” the document as being either Labour or Tory. His language on benefits was interesting and sounds closer to rhetoric associated with Labour at points. He backed the NHS, too, while labelling it “not fit for service” and calling for “other funding models… like the French.”

“Let’s be radical,” he added, which is by definition not very conservative.

Other polices could be ignored by the Conservatives altogether, whether they want to or not. Those concerning detaining and returning illegal immigrants will set the UK on a collision course with France and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention; the suggestion the UK simply leaves the Windsor Framework Brexit deal will enrage the EU; and any support for electoral reform could destroy to Tory party all together. I cannot foresee the Conservatives considering adopting these particular policies, even if they have merit.

There are some more novel ideas, too. A parliamentary Bill to tackle “two-tier” policing, stronger free speech protections, and an inquiry into vaccines. These matter strongly to a vocal group but not the wider population. Meanwhile, the idea that taxpayers stop paying interest on commercial bank deposits created by quantitative easing has generated debate. More moderate versions of this policy have been advocated by Gordon Brown and the EU in the past, and I expect discussion of, and support for, it to become increasingly widespread.

And that is the case for many of these policies. They may not become a reality anytime soon, but by generating debate, they are serving a purpose.

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