General Election 2019 UK Politics

General Election 2019: Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto

Written by Callum Williams

Note: Due to devolution, some policies only apply to certain regions of the UK, footnotes in each section indicate the geographical scope of each policy.

Brexit

The Liberal Democrats have a very clear policy on Brexit: cancel it. They would revoke Article 50 if they formed a government; if they aren’t in power, they would push for a second referendum and campaign to remain.

Note: This policy would apply to the whole UK.

Economy and Tax

The Liberal Democrats plan to invest £130bn in infrastructure including HS2, Crossrail 2 and rolling out fibre broadband. This investment will also include £5bn for the new ‘Green Investment Bank’ and an additional £50bn for a ‘Regional Rebalancing Programme’.

Corporations would see a small increase in corporation tax from 19% to 20%. Furthermore, English business rates will be replaced with a ‘Commercial Landowner Levy’ – with the new tax being solely based on the land value of property owned by the company. The Liberal Democrats have also pledged ‘tough action’ against tax avoidance, although it is unclear what this entails.

Individuals would also face tax changes: under a Swinson government, capital gains and salaries would be combined into a single tax-free allowance. The Liberal Democrats would establish a review to determine the level of the living wage and people on zero-hour contracts would get 20% above the minimum wage. They would also allow workers full flexible working hours from day one.

A Liberal Democrat government would introduce a ‘Skills Wallet’, which would give every adult £10,000 to spend on training and education. The ‘wallet’ would be topped up with £4,000 at age 25 and £3,000 at age 40 and 55. Individuals, employers and local government would be able to top-up the wallet with additional funds, and individuals would have discretion over the money, which could be spent on approved courses.

Note: Some of these policies apply to the whole UK. Business Rates are devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, so this policy wouldn’t apply to those regions.

Education

The manifesto includes a pledge for increased childcare provision: all children aged two to four, and those aged nine to twenty-four months, whose parents work, will receive free childcare for 35 hours a week for 48 weeks a year.

For primary schools, the Liberal Democrats have pledged an extra 20,000 teachers and will oppose the expansion of grammar schools. Teachers would receive a starting salary of £30,000 and be guaranteed a 3% pay rise every year for the duration of the next parliament.

For students, a Liberal Democrat government would reinstate maintenance grants and conduct a ‘review’ of higher education tuition.

Note: Education is a devolved matter, so these policies would only apply to England.

Health and Social Care

The Liberal Democrats would increase income tax by 1% on all rates to raise £7bn a year to be spent on the NHS and social care. They would also invest additional funding in mental health and aim to end the shortages of GPs by 2025.

For public health, they have pledged to introduce minimum alcohol pricing, introduce a new levy on tobacco companies, restrict marketing of products high in fat, salt and sugar and ensure PreP (an HIV prevention drug) is available on the NHS.

A Liberal Democrat government would change the approach to drug use, treating it as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. To symbolise this they would move the issue of drug policy to the Department of Health. They plan to provide treatment for those arrested for drug possession and impose civil penalties rather than custodial sentences. Furthermore, cannabis would be legalised and sold to adults through regulated stores.

Note: Healthcare is a devolved matter, so these policies would only apply to England. The 1% tax increase would not affect Scotland where income tax is partly devolved. However, changes to drug policies affect the whole UK.

Climate Change

To tackle climate change, the Liberal Democrats have pledged to establish a new government department for climate change and would require all UK companies to comply with the Paris Agreement.

The Liberal Democrats would invest an extra £12bn in renewables and new technology and would ban fracking, aiming to reach 80% renewable energy by 2030.

To improve public transport, the Liberal Democrats would provide £4.5bn over the next parliament for increasing the number of bus routes. To improve the rail network, they would freeze fare rises for commuters and season tickets for the next 5 years.

They continue to support HS2 and Crossrail 2 and by 2035, aim to convert the rail network to either electric or hydrogen-powered trains. The Liberal Democrats would be tougher on train operators for failing to provide sufficient service and would open the rail franchising bidding process to public sector companies, local authorities or not-for-profits.

Note: Except for transport, this policy would apply to the whole UK.

Welfare

The welfare system would be reformed under the Liberal Democrats – they pledge to reduce the waiting period for benefits, reverse the cuts to ESA (a disability benefit) and end the current punitive benefit system in favour of an incentive-based system to encourage people into work.

For the elderly, the pension triple lock would be maintained and the women born in the 1950s (WASPI women) who lost-out on their pension following a rise in state pension would be compensated under the Liberal Democrats.

Note: This policy would apply to the whole UK.

Housing

The Liberal Democrats would build at least 100,000 social homes every year and ensure new houses are built to ‘zero-carbon standards’. A ‘Rent to Own’ scheme would be introduced allowing those in social housing to work towards ownership through rent payments, after 30 years, the home would be theirs.

To improve the lives of rural and coastal communities, the Liberal Democrats would invest £2bn in a rural service fund. They plan to invest in bus services and would invest an additional £2bn to ensure all business and homes have access to ‘superfast’ broadband.

Note: Housing is devolved, this policy would only apply to England.

Justice

Police forces would see increased funding under the Liberal Democrats. This includes £1bn for community policing, £500m for youth services and a 2% pay rise for police officers. They have also pledged to end the ‘disproportionate’ use of stop-and-search and to abolish Police and Crime Commissioners in favour of Police Boards compromised of local councillors.

The Liberal Democrats want to focus prisons on rehabilitations. They would recruit 2,000 more prison officers and reduce the number of prisoners by ending custodial sentences for drug possession and increasing the use of community sentences.

Note: Justice is partly devolved. The policies on police would only affect England and Wales. However, drugs and human rights policies would apply to the whole UK.

Immigration

The Liberal Democrats would maintain free movement from the EU, abolish the ‘hostile environment’ policy and end indefinite detention for those facing deportation.

Note: This policy would apply to the whole UK.

Democracy

Civil Liberties would be protected under a Liberal Democrat government. They plan to halt facial recognition surveillance, end bulk collection of communications and internet records and maintain the Human Rights Act.

The manifesto proposes radical electoral reform. The Liberal Democrats plan to introduce a ‘written constitution’ for a ‘federal’ UK. These reforms include: enfranchising 16 and 17 year-olds, reforming the House of Lords with a ‘proper democratic mandate’, introducing proportional representation through STV for parliamentary elections and giving all EU citizens who had lived in the UK for five years or more the right to vote.

The exact plan for federalisation isn’t clear, but may include a Yorkshire Parliament and Cornish assembly. The manifesto says they would only proceed ‘by consensus as far as possible’, so the exact nature of federalisation and a written constitution is unknown.

Note: This policy would apply to the whole UK.

International Relations

The Liberal Democrats would introduce legislation which would require the government to seek parliamentary approval for military action. They would establish an inquiry regarding the UK’s alleged complicity in torture and rendition.

Furthermore, they would immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and commit to spending 2% of GDP on defence, in line with NATO targets.

Note: This policy would apply to the whole UK.

Analysis

Swinson has produced a sensible centrist manifesto, attempting to gain the centre-ground amongst a landscape of radical politics within the two major parties with Labour going to the left and the Conservatives going to the right. So why are Liberal Democrats losing support?

The Liberal Democrats’ policy on Brexit is troubling voters, both Leave and Remain. The theory behind the ‘revoke Article 50’ policy was that it would capture the Remain vote following Labour’s backing of a second referendum. However, Swinson didn’t realise that many Remain voters would be uncomfortable with voiding the result of a democratic vote, causing many Remain voters to desert the Liberal Democrats.

Another problem the Liberal Democrats face is their record in coalition with the Tories. When Jo Swinson mentions their plans to invest in the police, education and healthcare, she is haunted by her own voting record in parliament, making it hard for them to gain support – as many voters haven’t forgiven the Liberal Democrats for their involvement in austerity.

As the election nears, the Liberal Democrats will feel a further squeeze in their support as the electorate begin to realise that only Johnson or Corbyn can be prime minister. For Liberal Democrat Remain voters, they will see that, if they want to stop Brexit, Corbyn in No. 10 is their best hope.

In an ordinary election, a manifesto like this would probably gain popular centrist support. However, this is not an ordinary election. The high levels of political polarisation over Brexit, Scottish Independence and the Left and Right divide has forced both parties and the public to the extremes, which will damage the Liberal Democrats’ prospects.

You can read the full manifesto here.

About the author

Callum Williams

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