Strong and stable and strong and stable and strong and stable – it's the Conservative Manifesto
And the Tories are up: The Conservative Party Manifesto is out.
Unlike Labour, they haven’t released any number-crunching funding proposals, but they do have a 28 page opening chapter on “A STRONG ECONOMY” – what that means, what it takes to make one and why they’ll be the ones to do it.
(They really, really, really, like the word ‘strong’ – it’s in the manifesto 86 times, five of which are on the opening page.)
It seems like what the Conservatives are doing here is painting a picture of Britain’s economy as being in a really serious, important, difficult place, and then posing themselves as the solution to all those problems, using all sorts of jargon-y words like “national productivity fund” and “strategic industrial strategy” to show that they really know what they’re talking about.
The Five Giant Challenges
This is literally what it says. Britain is facing FIVE GIANT CHALLENGES in the next five years (one a year, easy!). These are:
The need for a ‘strong economy’
An ageing society
They say a ‘strong economy’ is the foundation for tackling all the rest of them. Separating it out seems a little strange – we’re not quite sure how you make ‘the economy’ stronger unless you’re also talking about things like tech, the population, and Brexit, but the Conservatives are framing it as though it were a whole separate thing.
What does a ‘strong economy’ actually mean?
Politicians love taking adjectives we’d usually use to describe a person, or a building, and using them to describe the economy (remember George Osborne’s whole thing about ‘fixing the roof while the sun is shining’? What roof?!’)
According to the manifesto, it means ‘sound’ public finances, low taxes, more effective rules for businesses (
), and lots of trade with other countries. They want to have a decent living wage, good rights and protections for workers, affordable energy costs, and the relocation of government buildings and cultural institutions around the country.
The document says it’s thinking about ‘ordinary working families’ – people who have a job, but not job security; have a house, but are worried about their mortgage; are concerned about the cost of living, and their children’s education. They talk about helping people who have “saved diligently through their life, often foregoing luxuries and holidays abroad.”
Here’s the plan:
1. 'Free trade', but not totally free
A lot of people think of the Conservatives as the party who just want people to get on with it and do business with each other and not have government get in the way. It’s known as ‘free market’ thinking.
But this manifesto says that’s not who they are. They say they ‘reject’ and ‘abhor’ individualism and division, and are committed to communities and governments shaping positive change.
Still, they think capitalism, which is the economic system we have at the moment is the best way forward. But they say it needs to be controlled: things like increasing the minimum wage, protecting workers who are self-employed by making sure they still get benefits, and cracking down on companies which mismanage people’s pensions are some of the ways they think governments should be involved in the economy. Just not too involved.
They also want to protect the ‘free trade’ agreements the UK has made in the EU. In other words, they want to negotiate a Brexit deal that still lets the UK trade with European countries without having to pay any kind of fees. Whether the EU is going to want that, we’ll have to see.
2. Government support, but not too much government support
So how much government is the right amount? A big problem the British economy has right now is that it’s just not as productive as other countries – in other words, British workers spend the same amount of time and money doing stuff but just don’t make as much.
The Conservatives want to set up a “National Productivity Fund” to fix that: putting (hold on, big unintelligible numbers coming up) £23 billion towards housing, research, infrastructure, and skills.
They also want to support small businesses by committing to buy a third of their stuff from them rather than big companies. Plus, they’ll make sure people pay small businesses on time.
Lastly, they want to set up what they call a “Future Britain Fund”. The idea is to hold the money Britain makes from selling publicly owned buildings and organizations in a fund which will raise money for the country. It’s all a bit finance-y and we’re not sure how much money this would actually make, but anyway, it’s in there.
3. Immigrants, but not too many immigrants
This is a big one for the Tories – how many immigrants are allowed into the UK, and which ones.
The manifesto says more about immigration in other sections, but the ‘strong economy’ one focuses on the idea that the immigration system should be aligned with the types of industries Britain wants to promote. They say they would set aside a ‘significant number’ of visas (whatever that means) for workers in important sectors, like, for example, digital technology – but that they would make sure not to add to net migration as a whole.
What that means is that they would only let in immigrants who would be useful in their bigger economic plan – and that they’d make sure to kick out enough of the ones that don’t fit into that picture to make sure the absolute number doesn’t increase.
They also want to impose a charge on companies who employ migrant workers, whatever the industry, of £2000 a year, which will go towards investing in British skills training.
4. Planes and trains and cars, but not too many planes and trains and cars
It seems like the Conservatives think the government’s role in building this super-strong economy is mainly to create all the infrastructure that private businesses need to do their thing.
A big part of this is transport. The manifesto talks a lot about investing in high speed rail across the country, expanding Heathrow Airport, and adding extra lanes on motorways.
That’s going to ring alarm bells with people concerned about the environment, which the manifesto doesn’t talk much about in this section. It says they’d invest £600 million in making cars that are ‘zero-emission’, so not letting out any carbon dioxide, by 2050, and has one sentence about creating more cycle lanes.
What they do say is that they will create a ‘comprehensive 25 Year Environment Plan which will chart how to improve the environment as we leave the EU’ (trust the politicians to make it about Brexit again...) – but that’s all the detail we’ve got so far.