It’s become increasingly clear that libertarians are losing the battle for the heart of the Conservative Party – never more so than on the publication of ‘our’ latest election manifesto:
“We must reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and instead embrace the mainstream view that recognises the good that government can do.”
In 2013 Conservatives for Liberty was founded to argue for freedom and economic Liberalism within the Conservative Party, partly in response to Cameron’s woolly centrist positions. Today, the Cameron years look like a golden age of tax cutting glory.
In this election we will of course be backing the Conservative Party; Corbynite Socialism would be ruinous. This manifesto is disappointing and, in places, very worrying; but we must oppose the Far Left agenda of the Labour Party.
At 88 pages long the manifesto has a huge amount of policy and detail, so I’ve pulled out the best and worst bits I’ve found.
The best bits
Scrapping the second part of Leveson, a serious threat to the freedom of the press, is very welcome. As is getting rid of the hated Fixed Term Parliaments Act (the uselessness of which is shown by the fact that we are having a General Election right now).
The manifesto includes plans to make ID compulsory for voting and reform postal voting to improve the security of the ballot. On democracy, there are also plans to introduce FPTP elections for Police and Crime Commissioners and the new Mayors.
Scrapping the pensions triple-lock is welcomed by Conservatives for Liberty. Yes, we must look after our elderly but this must be balanced against affordability and the burden on working-age people. Limiting this to a ‘double-lock’ – where rises are based on whichever is the highest of average earnings or inflation – is welcome protection for both pensioners and taxpayers.
Means-testing winter fuel allowance: we like this because handing cash for heating to well-off pensioners doesn’t make any sense. If only the government would go ahead and scrap other universal benefits…
In the same vein, free school meals for all infant school children is nonsensical, diverting cash from where it is most needed to pay for middle class kids’ meals. May says scrapping this will help free up and extra £1bn to invest in education – ensuring no school is worse off in cash terms with the new schools funding formula. Also on education, the manifesto includes commitments to open more free schools and to allow grammar schools.
On Brexit: May confirms the intention to leave both the Single Market and Customs Union. This puts us on track for the clean Brexit Conservatives for Liberty advocates – and the country needs.
The worst bits
The pledge to bring net migration figures down has proved to be folly – it should be dropped. And if not dropped, students should not be included in the figures. Retaining this pledge is simply setting the party up for failure – and ignores the benefits of immigration.
Charging companies for employing non-EU nationals is a thing which shouldn’t exist – nevermind doubling the charge from £1,000 to £2,000. This charge hits companies employing skilled non-EU migrants, which often operate in parts of the economy (e.g. tech) where we have skills shortages and which fuel growth in the economy.
A pledge to increase the National Living Wage to 60% of median earnings by 2020 will have potentially disastrous consequences for the economy and people struggling to get into work; and add to the cost of delivering public services.
Legislating to make company boards include either a director from the workforce, form an employee advisory council, or assign employee representation to a non-exec director. May will also introduce a right for employees to request (and presumably get) information on the future direction of the company.
The manifesto maintains the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on international aid – something we believe should have been dropped.
Outlines of plans to regulate the energy market – one of the most regulated ‘markets’ in the UK already – are not very promising. It includes plans to make every household be offered a smart meter and additional caps to ‘protect’ prices.
The ‘we’ll see’
The pledge to continue raising thresholds for the personal allowance and 40p income tax rate are to be welcomed – but we remain concerned about what those rates (and other tax rates) will be by the end of the parliament. We know that lower taxes help to stimulate a healthy economy, often resulting in higher tax receipts – this should be a natural Conservative instinct.
A pledge to simplify the tax system for the self-employed and small businesses is positive – but the manifesto lacks detail on how this will be achieved.
The manifesto also includes some steps towards striking trade deals around the world, including nine new trade commissioners posts, reconvening the Trade Board, and supporting businesses to take up opportunities round the world, along with a commitment to promote free trade around the world. We’re not sure how May can simultaneously interfere in business and introduce regulation at home, whilst promoting free trade abroad.
On defence, the manifesto includes a commitment to continue spending 2% of GDP on defence, along with a pledge to increase the budget by 0.5% above inflation every year. However, many defence experts have warned that not enough is being spent on defence, and our armed forces’ capability is being harmed.
Dropping the pledge not to raise taxes sends a chill down our spines. We’ve already seen that Philip Hammond would have liked to raise National Insurance, so a ‘general commitment to not raise taxes’ is not good enough. If there is one thing the electorate should be able to rely on, it’s that voting Conservative means voting for lower taxes. Not anymore.
A pledge to eradicate the deficit by 2025 is worthy – except for taking so long – but without the fiscal discipline required, it is a meaningless pledge.
The manifesto has pages and pages dedicated to the NHS, but none of it addresses the core issue – that the NHS is not sustainable – and though the increased investment and attempts to improve how the NHS is run may have positive effects, it is nowhere near radical enough.
We will campaign for a Conservative win in June, but for us the campaigning won’t stop there: we will carry on campaigning through the next parliament for a Conservative Party that better reflects the interests of our country and the views of many party members and activists. Help us by joining and by volunteering; we are especially looking for people who can set up CfL branches in their own areas.
If you’re as worried as we are about this manifesto and loathe to campaign for a centrist, left-leaning agenda for government, we have a list of sound candidates we really need to get into parliament to help stand up for our Conservative values – please support them.
Emily is the Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty. Follow her on Twitter: @ThinkEmily
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty