We’ve known for quite some time now that the UK general election was going to end up being a close one. But with less than a month to go before results are in, the race may be even closer than many analysts have been predicting, as neither party has managed to distance itself from the other.
According to Bet Fair’s political section, in an analysis posted earlier this week, there’s actually a curious situation right now in which the Tories are 4/7 favourites to take the most seats. However, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband looks poised to become Prime Minister. While these predictions forecast a tricky political stage in British government, they also signal just how tight the Conservative vs. Labour race is at the moment.
And for those who hoped or expected that the release of the major parties’ respective manifestos earlier this week would clarify the picture or help to set one party out in front of the other, the picture appears only to have gotten murkier. The widespread reaction to the manifestos, at least from many writers and analysts, was that they were filled with rhetoric and shiny ideas lacking substance and specific outlines. The Guardian’s Marina Hyde, writing for the publication’s election coverage, went as far as to say here that “The effect of all this is excruciating. Having all but abandoned the idea of ideas, the parties now appear to be attempting to wrestle phrases off each other.”
Frankly, if you read through the manifestos, it’s hard to completely disagree with Ms. Hyde’s assertion. And yet, looking beyond the aggravating fact that both manifestos lacked substance to some degree, here’s a brief overview of each platform.
Labour Party Manifesto
Perhaps the best available summary of the manifestos, if you don’t want to read through them in their entirety, is BBC’s policy guide that tackles each party’s approach across all areas. However, it also has a section devoted to key priorities. For the Labour Party, some of those key priorities are as follows:
- A “triple lock” of responsibility, as Ed Miliband termed it. This refers to balancing the nation’s books, cutting the deficit on an annual basis, and decreasing national debt. This was one of the primary points that was criticised for idealism with a lack of clear strategy.
- A goal for the minimum wage to reach £8ph by 2019.
- The pledge of an extra £2.5 billion annually for the NHS. This is one plan that was also presented with a strategy in mind—that strategy apparently being a new tax on properties worth over £2 million.
- Various promises against tax hikes.
- The promise of childcare support from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. for parents raising primary school children.
- The freezing of energy bills until 2017.
Naturally, there are plenty of other policy positions taken in the greater manifesto. For instance, Labour took a few strong stances on foreign policy, including the establishment of international envoys for LGBT rights and religious freedom and new policies toward nuclear deterrence. The party also took a fairly aggressive environmental position, pledging to cut electricity-related carbon emissions to zero in 15 years. But as is clear from the BBC’s look at key positions, it’s primarily the economic priorities that are being focused upon.
Conservative Party Manifesto
Here’s a quick look at some of the key policies that BBC’s guide outlined for the Tories:
- A vanquished deficit—and, indeed, a surplus—by the end of the Parliament.
- The pledge of an additional £8 billion in funding for the NHS (above inflation) by 2020.
- Elimination of taxation for minimum wage workers working 30 hours/week or more.
- Thirty free hours of childcare each week for parents of three- and four-year-old children.
- A referendum on the membership of Britain in the EU. This is a policy that David Cameron announced months ago, and one on which he seems determined to base the Tory stance.
Again, it is primarily the economic and domestic stances that are gaining the most attention from the manifesto. However, the Tories did take some interesting positions in other areas as well. Regarding foreign policy, Cameron’s party made a note of forming a comprehensive strategy toward dealing with ISIS (something the Labour Party failed to address). Another interesting point was the promise to spend £3 billion before 2020 addressing environmental concerns—one of the less specific priorities listed in the Tory manifesto.
Reading through those summaries, it’s perhaps no surprise that this is such a close race. Both main parties have laid out relatively similar goals and priorities, with the biggest differences likely being in how they will approach those goals and priorities. The trouble is, as mentioned, both manifestos lacked some clarity when it comes to specific strategy. The result is somewhat strange: in a very closely contested election, the key points of the competing party platforms don’t look that different from one another.
Ryan Thornton for After Nyne.