The Brexit referendum result from 2016 has had a massive impact on British politics. It has caused the downfall of two prime ministers and has prompted two general elections. Theresa May called one in 2017 as she looked to strengthen her position in Brexit negotiations with the EU. She had a slim majority and each faction in the Conservative Party could dictate the terms they wanted for Brexit.
Of course, the 2017 election produced a hung parliament, with the Conservatives in power only with a confidence and supply agreement from the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party. When Mrs May couldn’t deliver a Brexit deal that could pass the House, she resigned and Boris Johnson became prime minister.
Getting a Brexit deal passed in the House of Commons wasn’t enough for Mr Johnson, however. Parliament rejected the timetable to implement the deal and so he again went to the public for a general election. His was to be a campaign focussed on Brexit and getting the UK out of the EU.
But, as with the 2017 general election, which the Conservatives hoped to fight on Brexit and Brexit alone, other issues have taken central stage. Each party has produced a manifesto about how they would govern the country if they were to win. Brexit plays a major role, but the NHS, housing, the environment and many other issues have come to play just as an important role in the campaign.
Here’s how each party promises to approach these if they win on December 12.
The Conservatives have their much touted ‘oven-ready’ deal. The main message from them is that they are the party to ‘get Brexit done’. They are not afraid to take the UK out of the EU without a deal but insist it won’t come to that given their deal. It is the central plank to their strategy to win the election.
Labour have taken a different stance. They want to negotiate their own deal, which they say will better protect workers’ rights and regulatory standards. They would then put this deal to another referendum, with the choice between leaving on their new terms or staying in the EU. Leader Jeremy Corbyn, historically a eurosceptic, would remain neutral during this second referendum.
The Liberal Democrats have moved away from their support of a second referendum. Enjoying success as the ‘party of remain’ in the European elections, where they came second behind the Brexit party, they have moved their position to revoke article 50 and keep Britain in the European Union without another vote.
The Scottish Nationalist Party, the third biggest in Westminster, have promised to pursue another referendum with a remain option on the ballot. They will campaign to remain in the European Union, and have pointed out that Scotland as a whole voted to remain in the 2016 poll. Their ultimate aim is for an independent Scotland to be a member of the EU.
The Brexit Party, as their name suggests, will pursue a no-deal, or ‘clean break’ as they put, Brexit. They point out that Mr Johnson’s deal still has the UK paying £39bn to the EU, making it a bad deal. The Greens, with one MP, follow Labour and the SNP it backing a second referendum with remain as an option. They would campaign to stay as part of the EU.
Apart from Brexit, the biggest issue impacting this campaign is the National Health Service. All parties are backing more spending for the NHS – a move popular with the electorate.
The Conservatives key plan for the NHS is to make sure that 50,000 extra nurses will be employed by the service. This will be made up by adding 31,000 nurses to the payroll and retaining 19,000 nurses who are predicted to leave the NHS. They are also promising to build 40 new hospitals, add 6,000 GPs, boosting the number of GP appointments by 50m a year and increase the fee the NHS charges to non-UK residents.
The Labour have traditionally been seen as the party of the NHS. It is a role they are further emphasising during this election. They want to boost the funding given to the health service by 4.3% a year. This, they say, would help reverse the decline in services caused by austerity over the past decade. Labour would also put more money into mental health provisions. There would be an extra £1.6bn for mental health services, £2bn for better mental health facilities and £845m to be spent on child mental health services.
The Lib Dems have also made ambitious promises for the NHS. This includes an extra £7bn a year in funding, paid for with a ring-fenced fund generated by a 1% rise in income tax rates. Mental health would also be given the same priority as physical health and £10bn would be spent on capital projects.
The SNP would enact a bill protecting the NHS from trade deals as well as boost the spending of the NHS UK-wide to Scottish levels. The Brexit Party has committed itself to keeping the NHS free at the point of use. GP surgeries would also be open 24 hours a day and to rid the NHS of politically imposed hospital targets. The Greens pledge an extra £6bn a year to the NHS and would reintroduce nursing bursaries.
This Conservative manifesto has moved away from the policy of austerity followed by the Tory government since 2010. It promises an extra £100bn in road and rail capital spending, with a £2bn fund to help fill potholes, an emphasis on rail networks in the north and midlands of England as well as £28.8bn for local roads.
Labour under Corbyn has moved to the left. As part of this, it promises to nationalise key industries, such as Royal Mail, railways, water, and energy. It would also introduce a state-owned fibre internet company providing free high-speed internet to the whole country. They would also institute a £400bn transformation fund for schools, hospitals and housing.
The key policy of the Liberal Democrats is a £130bn investment fund for transport, energy, schools and hospitals infrastructure. This would include a £5bn Green Investment Bank to help boost investment in green technologies. They would also increase research and development funding to 3% of GDP.
The SNP’s infrastructure plans are, as you may expect, focussed on Scotland. They want full public control over railways in Scotland and would create a £2bn Scottish National Investment Bank. The Brexit Party would scrap HS2, an expensive high-speed railway connecting London to the midlands and northern regions of England. This would free up over £100bn of funding. It would pour at least £50bn into local rail and road projects while providing free WiFi on all public transport. The Green Party’s focus on reducing carbon emissions would be helped by renationalising the country’s railway system.
Another big issue coming to the fore in this election is climate change. The Tories have promised to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, though this is a policy already enshrined in law. £6.3bn is pledged for energy-efficiency schemes and they promise to plant 75,000 acres of trees a year.
Labour goes further than the Tories in regards to climate. They push the deadline for net-zero emissions up to the 2030s, at least 10 years ahead of the Tories. They want 90% of electricity production in the UK to be from renewables by 2030. 27m houses would be upgraded to be more energy efficient. 9,000 wind turbines would be built and 55,000 acres of solar power panels would also be installed.
The net-zero emissions target date for the Lib Dems in 2045. £12bn would be earmarked a year for renewable energy projects, with the hope that by 2030 80% of the UK’s electricity would be generated from renewable sources. They would also plant 60m trees a year.
The SNP calls for net-zero by 2040 and the reform of the energy market. Vehicle standards in the UK would also be harmonised with the Scottish regulations as the model. The Brexit party’s not-manifesto (it names it a contract instead) is relatively light on environmental policies, but does pledge to plant millions of trees and stop the export of waste for burning or dumping at sea.
The Green party’s main concern is the environment. They want net-zero emissions by 2030. This would mean a widespread program adding up to £100bn a year spent on transforming most sectors of the economy.
In other areas, the Tories have promised to move the UK to a points-based immigration system. They would also increase prison places by 10,000 and introduce tougher sentencing for repeat offenders. 20,000 more police officers would also be recruited. They want to modernise the defence forces and promise rises above inflation into the army and other forces.
Labour would ban zero-hour contracts and enshrine a £10 per-hour minimum wage for over-16s. Public sector pay would also go up 5%. Bus travel would be free for under-25s and they would abolish university tuition fees.
The Liberal Democrats would introduce a regulated cannabis market, legalising the drug and potentially raising £1.5bn. They would also introduce free childcare for working parents and give people £10,000 over their life to spend on training and education.
The SNP’s main policy is pursuing an independence referendum for Scotland. One was held in 2014, with 55% of people voting to remain in the UK. They feel, with Brexit, that more people are willing to vote for an independent Scotland this time around. The Brexit Party would abolish the House of Lords and introduce a mechanism so that if a valid petition got 5m signatures than a referendum on the issue would be held. The Greens would end government arms sales, scrap the Ministry of Defence and replace it with a Ministry of Security and Peace as well as end the sale of petrol or diesel cars by 2030.
How they would pay for things
We live in a time of historically low interest rates. Many of the pledges would be paid for by borrowing, taking advantage of the low cost of money at the moment. However, each party has different approaches to tax and revenue raising schemes.
The Tories have promised not to increase income tax, VAT or national insurance. Indeed, they would raise the national insurance threshold to £9,500, essentially a tax cut for everyone.
Labour have promised not to raise taxes for 95% of people, but would raise the income tax rate for those earning over £80,000. They would also raise corporation tax from 19% to 26%. They would also scrap a marriage tax allowance and introduce a higher tax on second homes.
The Lib Dems would also raise corporation tax, but only to 20%. Capital gains tax would be scrapped and treated as taxable income. They would scrap the marriage allowance tax along with Labour and toughen the digital sales tax.
The SNP would push for national assemblies, rather than Westminster, to have more control over taxation but have otherwise not laid out a full taxation plan. The Brexit Party would scrap corporation tax on the first £10,000 of profits, get rid of the inheritance tax and cut VAT for fuel. The Greens would merge most taxes, like income, capital gains, national insurance and inheritance into one tax. They say this simplified model would raise an extra £20bn every year.
As with the last election, the initial focus has moved away from Brexit. It still remains the key issue. But debates over the NHS, infrastructure, taxation and the environment have also taken place. With the polls tightening, it could be hard an election to call. Your vote counts, so make sure you use it on December 12 and have a say in how the country will be run for potentially the next 5 years.
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