With support for the Labour Party at its lowest ebb since 1918, it's difficult to understand why, on the eve of the election, the Conservatives aren't all lined up for a landslide victory. Recent polls show them with a 7% lead or even less, with the result that they're currently expected to achieve a narrow lead over Labour but falling short of a majority government without support from another party (with the Lib Dems the only significant body that could be persuaded to form a coalition government). The third-party surge mentioned in Part 1 has hit the Conservatives hard - the expenses scandals has reflected extremely badly on both mainstream parties, but for a party in opposition, losing the 'mainstream' protest vote (the people that won't vote Green, UKIP, Respect or BNP but still want to punish the incumbent party) is particularly devastating. The excesses of Tory MPs have genuinely angered the vast majority, and the party's subsequent accusations that Labour intends 'class war' ring hollow in light of the discoveries regarding the almost feudal luxuries Conservative MPs felt the public was obligated to purchase for them above and beyond their salaries. Cameron's Tories have secured the backing of Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere, with the result that the tabloids have abruptly switched their portrayal of the airbrushed Tory leader from Blair Lite to hard-talking Messiah (reserving particular fury for Clegg who has snatched away so many Conservative votes - perhaps at the cost of the much-needed LibCon coalition). With their manifesto - 'An Invitation to Join the Government of Britain' - the Tories must be hoping that voters will prioritise policies over their MP's behaviour and where necessary hold their nose and vote strategically. After reading through their manifesto on the Conservative website, here are my responses:
First, congratulations to the Tories for producing a genuinely authoritative-feeling document, especially in print form. Whoever created the cover for 'An Invitation...' is a PR genius, as it feels like an honest-to-goodness movement manifesto and manages to shake off the superficial feel created by previous Conservative campaigns during this election cycle. It is an extremely voluminous manifesto - I summarise over 320 key points below - and as mentioned in Part 1 this does not necessarily inspire trust ('Well, they seem to have thought this out') so much as suspicions that they are simply throwing the proverbial mud at the wall and seeking what will stick ('That's a whole lotta promises. Most of those aren't going to be fulfilled, so how do I know the issues important to me are priorities?'). The Conservatives have paired the manifesto with a 'A Contract Between the Conservative Party and You', which outlines the core commitments the party is making - including more transparent/accountable government, immigration returned to 1990s-level, and the institution of a slightly Orwellian National Citizen Service as endorsed by Sir Michael Caine. 'If we don’t deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years' time' is the contract's main sound bite. Because, clearly, a Labour or Liberal Democrat government would either put an end to democracy altogether and never hold another election, or insist that voters support them despite failing to perform... The plea for readers to share the Contract via social networks suggest that the Tories haven't quite gotten hang of the New Media, but do the more in-depth proposals in the Manifesto impress?
My specific reactions to the Conservative manifesto:
I actually found the contents of the Conservative manifesto genuinely surprising - and not necessarily in a good way. The very nomenclature of the Conservatives suggests that you know what you're getting when you vote for them, and I'm not sure that the Conservative core realises just how far the party has shifted under Cameron. The parts where I found myself agreeing with the manifesto were generally expounding old-school 'small c' conservative doctrines - cutting bureaucracy and administration costs, emphasis on charity and voluntary organisations rather than bloated government instruments, simplification of taxes and greater accountability for officials.
Other parts of the manifesto come across as, for want of a better word, leftist. The Tories want to establish a 'Big Society Bank' which will confiscate all unclaimed bank accounts and channel the money to community groups and charities. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect here regarding private property - once money is deposited with a bank, it may use that money (responsibly, of course) to lend, and invest, and make interest, which it adds to the account. Over time the value of that account - both to the original owner and the bank that holds it - increases. The money in that account, however, continues to belong to the original investor. The original investor may have signed a contract stating that his funds are forfeit to the bank should he at any time fall out of communication - and whosoever signed such a contract would be most unwise, as it incentivises said bank to ensure that he does so. But if no such contract exists, the money remains his to do with as he wishes, even if for the rest of his life he never does business with that bank (no matter the frequency or content of the bank's messages and warnings - such cannot replace the original contract without the customer's permission). If the man subsequently leaves whatever might be found in that account at the end of a hundred years of interest with his posterity, said posterity is entitled to walk into that bank with the number of that account and ask for the full sum therein as the fruit of their ancestor's labour. For the government to confiscate that labour which was in productive use as capital for lending seems distinctly non-capitalistic. Similarly dubious as regards private property and individual initiative are proposals to force infrastructure providers to allow their assets to be used for the government's broadband network, and the oxymoronic Work For Yourself programme, apparently intended to make entrepreneurs beholden to the government.
Meanwhile, the language used to discuss the various National Service-style initiatives under consideration by the party is, as I previously feared, worryingly militaristic. 'An army' of community organisers is to be trained to assist in creating new social groups. The Combined Cadet Corps will be extended into state schools - the overt rationale is to 'provide a taste of military life' and encourage enlistment. Bafflingly, even civil servants will be press-ganged into volunteering in 'social action projects', transforming the civil service into a 'civic service'. Meanwhile, we are told that 'behavioural economics' will be used to encourage us to donate more to charity, whilst a 'new measure of well-being' will be created, emphasising the social value of State action. I am not entirely convinced that this sort of language would go down well with old-school Tories. However, these concerns must be wholly overshadowed by the fact that the Conservative party is now dedicated to 'establishing a consensus' for a wholly elected House of Lords! In Part 1 I explain why the Lib Dem support for these idea is misguided - that none of the three main parties support even a shift to all 'life peers' is truly appalling.
On energy, the Conservatives seem reasonably adroit, though the manifesto seems limited to incentivising wind farms and smaller-scale energy production - all useful, but as Kunstler's 'Long Emergency' begins to set in, whichever government is in power will need a much more integrated energy policy. At least four power plants will be built directly - though the rationale is environmental rather than capacity-based. Supply guarantees will be imposed on the gas and electricity markets - presumably subsidising ever-more expensive oil for conventional plants, a sensible move as long as it's paired with an aggressive move towards other energy sources and not just treated as a band-aid. Unlike the Lib Dem manifesto, the Tories don't rule out new nuclear power - but make it very clear that any new plants will receive no public subsidy. This is to my mind almost as naïve as banning them altogether - what is needed is a massive programme of nuclear expansion, if necessary raising taxes considerably to pay for it as a national network. Otherwise it's difficult to see how the government is going to keep the lights on. The only other suggestion the Tories put forward on energy is to force energy providers to include reams of energy use data (presumably gathered from the sinister-sounding 'smart meters') and an appeal to switch to a cheaper tariff with every bill.
The Manifesto's suggestions as to how greater integration can be achieve in society are generally sensible, and I'm impressed that despite apparently embracing Blair-style spin politics they were still able to suggest measures which are likely to face a broad front of opposition: speaking English to be a 'priority' (but unlike the Lib Dem manifesto, seemingly not a requirement) for all communities, English History to be a core requirement in schools (though I wonder what the 'proper narrative' of British history will be), greater recognition for English holidays, and stricter enforcement of the law regarding religious courts. The West Lothian Question is resolved reasonably elegantly by proposing that issues only affecting 'England and Wales' be passed only with the 'consent' of their MPs - which gets the job done without overtly creating an English Parliament, which I feel is likely to presage the dissolution of the UK.
As the global financial crisis has deepened, people are no longer confident that spending our way out - at least through state initiatives - is the best way forward. A major part of Cameron's platform has been an appeal to the public's appetite for austerity measures. However, as the Conservative campaign has developed, onlookers have noted that they've protected so many areas from cuts that it's hard to understand where they hope to trim the necessary fat. The manifesto only deepens these concerns, containing as it does literally dozens of hugely expensive new projects with little or no indication as to what is to be cut to fund them. The manifesto commits to 'reduc(ing) the deficit' - when what is really needed is to create a budget surplus with which Britain can begin to pay down its crippling debts - however it also promises:
- Real-terms annual increases in health spending every single year.
- An increase in international aid spending to 0.7% of gross national income, whilst giving 'people in poor countries' equal say as to how the aid is spent (if the crisis worsens expect this to be the lead cause of a violent revolution).
- £500 million to tackle malaria (presumably ignoring DDT, the only real solution to the disease) worldwide.
- Inheritance tax to be scrapped for all but millionaires.
- Stamp duty threshold to be raised to £250,000, taking 9/10 first-time buyers out of the tax permanently.
- More Children's Centres to be built across the country.
- Abolish bin taxes, bring back weekly collections nationwide.
- Flexible parental leave, including the option for both parents to take time off simultaneously.
- Right to flexible working for every parent with a child under eighteen.
- Flexible working for everyone in the public sector.
- 'Expert career advice' in every secondary school and college, plus a new careers service for adults.
- Free nursery care for all preschool children.
- Every home to receive £6,500 of energy improvement measures.
I doubt that even the most brutal axeman could cut enough waste to fund these measures without provoking vast rolling general strikes. The Conservatives claim they will spend £6 billion less in 2010-11 than the Labour plan, but fail to make any definite promises as to how they will attain this figure.
The Conservatives have long been opposed to some of the more egregious aspects of Labour's march towards a police state - e.g. ID cards, which they pledge to scrap in this manifesto. They also promise to 'roll back' the surveillance state, but it's hard to see how this will be done, short of tearing down CCTV across the country. The only other definite civil liberties-based pledge they make is that innocent people will be allowed to 'reclaim' their DNA from the DNA database - a phrasing that suggests it will require active participation on the part of the cleared individual to get their DNA removed. Like the Lib Dems they commit to more data protection, but make absolutely no reference to the Digital Economy Bill, the enforcement of which would inevitably remove all expectation of data privacy in the UK. Somewhat alarmingly, they will seek a 'full opt-out' from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and would replace the Human Rights Act with a 'UK Bill of Rights'.
The Conservative approach to foreign affairs is a little difficult to understand. On the one hand they will base their policy on 'a belief in freedom, human rights and democracy' - but are 'sceptical about grand utopian schemes'. They seek to 'act with moral authority' (meaningless pap if ever it existed) and 'support liberal values and human rights' - but at the same time want a 'strong and effective relationship with China', one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. As one might gather from the National Service nostalgia evident in the manifesto's social pledges, the current Conservative party is strongly pro-military, and this is reflected in their policy on defence. They commit to matching defence resources and commit to a Strategic Defence and Security review. They want to replace the aging Trident with a new submarine-based nuclear deterrent, and increase funding for army materiele. Troops under a Conservative government can expect more R&R, a dedicated military ward in every hospital if they get injured, superior voting rights to ensure they can exercise their franchise whilst on tour, a doubled operational bonus, more medals, automatic inclusion of their children in a pupil premium, and an automatic scholarship for their children should they be killed on active duty. Whilst many of these measures (with perhaps the exception of the automatic pupil premium for children of servicepersons) are sensible, they are also hugely expensive and continue to reinforce concerns that the Conservative Party simply can't commit to cuts. A large part of the Conservative budget centres around 25% savings on the operation of the MoD, but as it stands that would easily be eaten up by their military spending commitments.
Some of the language in the manifesto seems carefully ambiguous. Consider the following: the Conservative party will 'Outlaw the offence of inciting homophobic hatred'. What does that even mean? Will they abolish the offence, inkeeping with their stance against 'political correctness'? One might think so - however, another (rather bizarre) pledge will allow people with 'historic convictions for consensual gay sex to have those convictions removed', a clear indication that the Tories are courting the gay vote (to the best of my knowledge no other person convicted of a crime is entitled to have their record wiped clean if the law changes). So either the manifesto is schizophrenic on this issue or just plain poorly written.
The Conservatives have historically been EU-sceptics, and thankfully the manifesto remains true to this viewpoint. Taking a leaf out of the German playbook, Cameron proposes a 'United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill' that will affirm British authority over EU law within its territory. 'Ratchet clauses' in EU membership will be subject to Parliamentary approval (significantly less ambitious than the Lib Dem commitment to a plebiscite for each major change in Britain's relationship with the EU, but possibly more believable given British policians' record on delivering referendums). Broader 'protection against EU judges' is hailed, with the promise that only British authorities would be able to initiate criminal prosecutions. More concerningly, the Conservatives want to scrap the Working Time Directive, even though an opt-out is already possible in Britain for individual workers - which will almost certainly mean an extension of the already tenuous 9-5 working day for millions.
Contrary to tabloid suggestions that immigration is the 'great unspoken issue' in this election, Cameron has been putting it at the forefront of his attacks on Brown. However, the manifesto is cagey about how exactly his vaunted return to 1990s-level immigration will be achieved. The proposal to tighten up the student visa system will account for some reduction, but worryingly there is no mention of how migration within the EU will be controlled at all (indeed, it's difficult to see how even the most EU-phobic party could now limit EU migration without substantial withdrawal from membership). There will be an annual limit ... on the numbers of non-EU economic migrants. And there will be an English language test ... for anyone coming from outside the EU. Those voting for the Conservatives in the belief they will institute a strict quota system may discover that as regards Polish, Czech, Romanian or shortly Turkish migrants Cameron has no plan or capability to limit their numbers.
The Work Programme is the Conservative answer to both the current unemployment crisis and long-term tabloid concerns about benefits freeloaders and entitlement culture - it's also the only programme in the manifesto that spells out where its funding will come from (namely, by gutting Labour's New Deal and Train to Gain schemes). The proposal is to combine all current assistance provided by the government - including Incapacity Benefit - into a single one-side-fits all programme, where the emphasis will be 'back-to-work'. Although the manifesto includes a pledge that those who cannot work due to disability 'continue to receive unconditional support', all those currently on Incapacity will be re-assessed, and it's likely that a lot of those previously considered elegible will be told they should start seeking work. Those suffering from mental ill health look to be specifically targeted by the scheme, given that the manifesto explicitly includes a pledge that the Access to Public Life Fund will be used to oppose mental health discrimination in employment. Small and medium-sized businesses will be paid £2,000 per head to hire new apprentices - an extension of the current 'work trials' scheme which I personally view as a gross betrayal of the British worker's right to receive pay for their labour, although any measure that creates more apprenticeships is ultimately going to have a positive impact. Unemployment benefits will be privatised - the companies running the scheme will only be paid when someone gets a job. Unfortunately, this is likely to lead to even more pressure on overqualified people to accept minimum wage or labouring positions. Despite Tory warnings about the Labour 'nanny state', a lot of emphasis is placed on service, mentoring, and training schemes - including the establishment of 'Service Academies' and 'Work Clubs', with young people asked to re-train for a different career after 6 months of unemployment.
Lastly, does the Conservative manifesto show the fingerprints of their big business donors? Most notoriously the two media colossi Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere have been persuaded to put aside their differences and convert their publications into what can only be described as campaign propaganda. Such wide-ranging support doesn't come without a price tag, and one might expect the Conservative agenda to include hints that they will tend to favour the interests of their backers should they achieve a majority. Indeed, several portions of the manifesto appear to have been written in direct conjunction with Murdoch and other industry goliaths. A very concilatory approach is proposed regarding reducing red tape on businesses - including limiting the government's powers so that it cannot establish new regulations or regulatory budgets on business without removing an existing rule. In a curious piece of doublethink, the Conservatives would 'promote and protect a strong and independent BBC' - by auditing its assets and, presumably, selling off lucrative contracts to Sky &c. A precondition of the BBC being allowed to keep its license fee would likely be to reduce or remove its provision of free online news, preventing it from competing with Murdoch's publications (due to implement paywalls this June). An interesting suggestion in the manifesto is the creation of 'commercially viable local TV stations' - potentially similar to the US model. If successful this would create a lot more entry-level jobs in the media - however, one can't help wondering if the party has already promised that these local stations will be operated under the aegis of Murdoch's News International. The statement that local media ownership rules will be 'amended' tends to support the idea that this isn't going to favour independent journalism. No mention at all is made in the manifesto of the controversial Digital Economy Bill, which enshrines Internet censorship and digital surveillance as Government policy. Indeed, from my discussions with two Tory MPs regarding the legislation, it would appear that their only real objections to the Bill were that it didn't go far enough! For me this is one of the most critical issues of the day and to find absolutely no reference to copyright law or the rights of content creators and consumers in the Conservative manifesto is deeply disappointing.
Later today - the Labour manifesto.
My raw analysis of the Conservative manifesto - as in Part 1, I've grouped the policies into personal 'likes' and 'dislikes', representing not necessarily statements I agree or disagree with but also tough measures I consider necessary, places where I detect a note of falseness or evasion, etc. I've also added some personal comments explaining my positioning of a particular item or expressing my annoyance at self-contradictory or absurd material.
CONSERVATIVES:1.54 likes for every dislike
Fair deal on grants for charities and voluntary organisations providing public services.
Cut bureaucracy and paperwork on charities and make Gift Aid easier to use.
Enable parents to open new schools, let neighbours take over local ameneties, make police more accountable.
Cut down on admin costs on the National Lottery and make sure 'more' money goes to good causes.
Reduce red tape on businesses and establish 'one in one out' rule for new regulation and regulatory budgets.
Reduce the number of forms needed to register a new business.
Simplify business taxes & create a Office of Tax Simplification
Extend government contracts to small and medium-sized businesses. Target is 25% of contracts.
Implement Dyson's recommendations to boost science and engineering to make Britain the leading high-tech exporters in Europe.
Make small business relief automatic.
Create more diverse sources of available credit for small/medium businesses.
Cut the number of MPs by 10%
Reduce discrepancies between constituency electoral sizes.
Restore integrity of the ballot and make MPs more accountable to voters.
New rules on lobbying and tougher restrictions on ex-Ministers.
Cap on donations and broad reform on Party funding. End of the 'big donor' era.
Local reform - public can veto excessive council tax rises and demand local elections. Citizens can table legislation (well, maybe not this bit)
West Lothian Question resolved by ensuring issues only affecting England and Wales can only be 'passed with the consent' of their MPs.
Create four carbon capture/storage equipped power plants.
Deliver an offshore electricity grid.
Make wind farms more competitive.
Incentives for smaller-scale energy generation.
Impose supply guarantees on the gas and electricity markets.
New nuclear power - but see below.
Green Deal - every home up to £6,500 of energy improvement measures paid for out of fuel bill savings (i.e. tax?).
Post Office Card Account to be reformed on energy.
Challenges 'multiculturalism' and uncontrolled immigration - clear strategy for national immigration.
English a 'priority' for all communities - but not a requirement?
History a core requirement in schools (but what will the 'proper narrative' of British history be?)
Faith, voluntary and charitable groups to be supported on effectiveness
Greater recognition for St. George's Day.
'Unacceptable cultural practices' to be 'tackled'. Religious courts must act in accordance with Arbitration Act.
Reduce barriers to business growth and creative incentives for rural development.
Lift burden of unnecessary paperwork and inspections for British farmers.
Press for CAP reforms to improve sustainability of UK farming (hope to see topsoil depletion addressed)
Honest Food Campaign - improve honesty of food labelling.
Public procurement - schools and hospitals to serve British food.
Independent supermarket ombudsman to support both farmers and consumers.
More detailed data about crime in your area.
Make Britain European hub for high-tech, digital and creative.
Create a system of commercially viable local TV stations.
Nationwide 'superfast' broadband by 2017.
Match defence resources & commit to a Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Replace Trident and maintain the submarine-based nuclear deterrent.
NATO to remain cornerstone of defence.
Make 25% savings in running of the MoD.
Maximise troops' R&R
Dedicated military ward for injured servicepersons
Change rules for service voting legislation to ensure troops can votes
Scholarship for children of servicemen and women killed on active duty (unlike generic suggestion below, this is fair)
Review medal award scheme.
Cut waste without damaging frontline services. Plan to spend £6 billion less in 2010-11 than Labour plan
One year public sector pay freeze in 2011.
State pension age to rise sooner.
No more tax credits to families over £50,000
Child Trust Fund spending scrapped for all but poorest third.
Cap public sector pensions at £50,000
5% pay cut for Ministers followed by 5 year freeze.
Reform central gov and public services for higher productivity.
Financial discipline on civil service employment contracts and implement performance targets for senior civil servants.
Restore a savings culture and encourage retirement savings
Auto-enrolment into pensions for those on middle and lower incomes
Reverse over longer term the effects of the 1997 abolition of the divident tax credit for pension funds.
Consumer Protection Agency for consumer finance - free national finance advice service. Caps excessive store card interest rates, etc.
50p tax rate to stay on the rich and ask many public sector workers to accept a pay freeze.
Reform banking system. Bank of England to have more power to ensure financial stability. FSA to be abolished.
Depositors to be property protected from risky bank activities. Bank of England empowered to impose higher standards of care.
Crackdown on bank bonuses - cash paid out to be put onto banks' balance sheets to support new lending.
Responsibility Deal on waste for producers - but voluntary.
Improve flood defences and prevent more unnecessary building in areas of high flood risk.
Maintain national Green Belt and AONB protection.
Work to reduce litter.
National tree planting campaign.
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to encourage sustainable fishing practice.
Marine Conservation Zones - but will they affect the fishing industry?
EU should remain association of member countries - no federal Europe.
Legislation to forbid the government to hand over power to supernational organisations without a referendum (e.g. scrapping pound).
United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill - ultimate authority for laws stays in Britain.
Use of 'ratchet clauses' subject to Parliamentary approval. No European Public Prosecutor.
Restore national control over business and public service legislation - e.g. Working Time Directive.
Broader protection against EU judges - only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain.
Open a new generation of good, small schools with small class sizes.
Link basic State pension to earnings, protect winter fuel payment, free bus passes and free TV Licenses
Freeze Council Tax for two years
Reform admin of tax credits to reduce fraud and overpayments.
More info and advice to parents, more stable funding for relationship councelling.
Review of family law for greater access rights to non-resident parents and grandparents.
Clampdown on inappropriate advertising to children, ban on advertising and vending machines in schools.
National Security Council to integrate foreign, defence, energy, home and international development.
Commitment to transatlantic alliance and focus on non-proliferation.
Reform of the United Nations
Healthcare to remain free at point of use and available based on need not ability to pay - but Conservative MPs think otherwise.
More transparency for the NHS.
Patients more right to choose GP.
Cut NHS bureaucracy (combined two points as, insultingly, they're the same thing)
Access to a GP guaranteed from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
Voluntary insurance system so people are no longer forced to sell their homes.
Accurate homelessness counts & homelessness as a Ministerial responsibility.
Reward councils for building more homes and promoting local economic growth by allowing them to keep more council tax & business rates.
Local Housing trusts to protect character of neighbourhoods and villages.
Stronger powers for councils to protect 'garden grabbing' and infill development in suburbs. More family homes with gardens.
Abolish regional planning. But will responsibility now be on local communities to protect the Green Belt?
Abolish Infrastruct Planning Commission. Return power to Secretary of State.
High-speed rail scheme to be authorised.
Abolish state powers to seize private homes.
Rein in powers of entry - e.g. council tax inspectors' right to enter your home.
Reduce net immigration to level of 1990s.
Annual limit on the numbers of non-EU economic migrants (but what about EU migrants?)
Dedicated Border Police Force
Tighten up student visa system.
Promote integration - English language test for anyone coming from outside the EU (but what about EU migrants?)
Independent Aid watchdog to monitor performance of international aid.
Results-based aid - money to be handed to governments only where it will make the biggest difference.
Conflict resolution to be given more importance in foreign policy.
New Deals and Train to Gain will have funding stripped away and reallocated to the Work Programme.
End the couple penalty in the tax credits system - paid for with welfare reform.
Youth Action for Work - funding apprenticeships and work pairings.
Work Together - connecting people with volunteering opportunities.
Incentive to repay student loan debts ahead of schedule.
Abolish tax on jobs created by businesses started in the first two years of each Tory government to encourage new entrepreneurs (and re-election)
Increase prison capacity to avoid the reintroduction of early release
Introduction of minimum sentences, after which a prisoner can 'earn their release' through participation in rehabilitation programmes.
'Roll back' the surveillance state (presumably they won't take down CCTV) and introduce more data protection
Scrap ID cards
Allow innocent people to 'reclaim' DNA from the DNA database - not automatic?
Scrap plans for a council tax revaluation and higher council tax bands.
Abolish the unelected regional assemblies, devolving all powers and funding to local partnerships of councils and business.
Increase transparency of local government - councils must publish online details of all spending and contracts over £500.
Allow councils to return to committee system, promote local ward budgets and allow local residents to petition for referendums on local issues.
Abolish plans for bin taxes, stop 'unfair' bin fines, and work to bring back weekly rubbish collections.
Support for the Sustainable Communities Act to devolve down local spending.
Review and consolidate counter-terrorism and security laws by Labour
Review the Preventing Violent Extremism Strategy to avoid radicalising Muslims
Ensure all pensioners receive a decent state pension (but how will it be funded?)
Give teachers more powers - abolish 24 hour detention notice, reform the exclusion process and give headteachers the power to ban items.
Raise educational standards - but remove political interference from GCSEs and A-Levels (?)
Move to a national per-pupil funding system.
Block plans to expand Heathrow and integrate it into the rail network instead. Block expansion at Stansted and Gatwick.
Reform Air Passenger Duty to encourage a switch to fuller planes.
Reform railways to tackle problems like overcrowding.
Electrification of the Great Western Line.
Empower the Rail Regulator.
Reform Network Rail to make it more accountable.
Moratorium on building on disused rail lines.
Stop central funding for fixed speed cameras, focusing instead on drugalyser tests, etc.
Crackdown on 'rogue clampers'.
Introduce a lorry road user charge to ensure foreign lorries contribute towards upkeep.
Fair Fuel Stabiliser regulations.
Create a national car recharging network to facilitate the switch to electric cars.
Partnerships between bus operators and councils.
Introduce an immediate freeze and inquiry into the Governments practice of back-rating businesses rates in ports.
Retain the tonnage tax.
Improve maritime training by creating apprenticeships.
Abolish 'many' of the Labour education quangos. Cut bureaucracy and inspections in colleges.
Delay the implementation of the new funding system for Universities and work with academics to ensure it works.
New strategy for tackling violence against women - e.g. preventative work in schools.
Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance to remain cash benefits. Individual budgets for disabled people to be extended.
Pledges those who cannot work due to disability to illness 'continue to receive unconditional support ... and will never be forced to work.'
Simplify assessment processes for accessing services for disabled children.
Preserve the Child Trust Funds for the disabled.
Stop the closure of special needs schools.
'Removal of the default retirement age in principle'.
'Big Society Bank' will confiscate unclaimed bank accounts and use the cash for neighbourhood groups and charities (erm, private property?)
National Citizen Service - a volunteering programme to get 16 year olds to develop skills and 'mix with people from different backgrounds'.
Promote the delivery of public services by social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups.
Train 'an army' of independent community organisers to assist in putting together social groups.
Transform civil service into a 'civic service' by encouaging civil servants to volunteer in social action projects (what the bleep?)
Create a new measure of well-being that takes into account the social value of state action (seriously, this is Marxism)
Use 'behavioural economics' to encourage people to donate more to charity.
Stop Labour's jobs tax.
Cut corporation tax rates by multiple pence, 'funded by reducing complex reliefs'. Murdoch, is that you?
Work For Yourself programme (oxymoron?) - will make entrepreneurs beholden to the government.
Work to establish a consensus for an elected House of Lords! (AAAAAARGH WHAT THE BLEEP IS THIS AM I READING THE LABOUR MANIFESTO?)
Introduce an 'emissions performance standard' to set a legal limit on emissions from ... power stations?!
Climate Change Levy reformed - 'floor price for carbon'.
'Smart grid' and 'smart meters' technology.
New nuclear power stations to receive no public subsidy (in other words, little better than the Lib Dem proposal).
More energy bureaucracy - every bill must include information on how to move to the cheapest tariff and energy use comparison data.
Combined Cadet Forces to be extended into state schools to 'provide a taste of military life'
'Tackle all extremism which promotes violence or hatred and challenge racism and bigotry in all its manifestations'. Meaningless drivel.
Rural communities to receive greater autonomy than suburbs?
More power for rural communities.
Address lack of affordable housing in rural communities whilst protecting countryside from development imposed by central gov. Seriously?
Lies about violent crime and gives the impression it has increased (without actually saying it).
Allow communities to elect a commissar who will set policing priorities.
'Amend local media ownership rules'. Hmm.
Require infrastructure providers to allow the use of their assets to deliver broadband (erm, private property?)
Promote and protect a strong and independent BBC ... by ensuring it is properly audited (and chopped up, and given to Murdoch)
Double operational bonus for troops in Afghanistan.
Include service children in plans for pupil premium in schools (the children of soldiers do not automatically deserve special treatment!)
'Reduce the deficit' - plunge into crippling debt more slowly!
Real terms annual increases in health spending and increase international dev spending to 0.7% of GNI (WE CANNOT AFFORD THIS YOU IDIOTS)
End compulsory annuitisation at 75 (it should be brought forward!).
Raise stamp duty threshold to £250,000, taking 9/10 first-time buyers out permanently (HOW ARE YOU FUNDING THIS?!)
Only millionaires to pay Inheritance Tax (MORE expensive commitments, plus this will encourage property 'snowballing')
Recognise marriage in tax system through transferable personal allowance (complicated and the government shouldn't be in this anyway)
Higher jobs tax threshold on employers - creates jobs but at what cost? MORE expensive commitments.
Floor under landfill tax until 2020.
Water industry reforms will 'encourage businesses and households to value this precious resource more highly'.
White Paper on protecting natural environment with emphasis on restoring habitat (at what red tape cost?)
'Conservation credits' - leave this to the charities you're supporting!
Tackle illegal logging ... in Britain. Yes, this is a serious issue that requires urgent legislation :(
Full opt-out from Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Improve Sure Start and increase Children's Centres services (yet MORE expensive commitments...)
Over 4,200 extra Sure Start health visitors (AAAAAARGH - you've just signed up another 4,200 public sector workers)
Flexible parental leave, including both parents taking time off simultaneously (stop this idiocy)
Right to flexible working for every parent with a child under eighteen (whut)
Flexible working FOR EVERYONE IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR
Recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system (no - the government needs to get out of this area altogether)
Free nursery care for preschool children. (yet MORE expensive commitments...)
'Our approach to foreign affairs is based on a belief in freedom, human rights and democracy. We are sceptical about grand utopian schemes...'
'Support liberal values and human rights' ... 'strong and effective relationship with China'.
'Act with moral authority in Foreign Policy' - meaningless tosh counts as a negative, I'm afraid.
Greater focus on prevention to reduce pressure on NHS - in other words, more nanny state.
Increase spending on the NHS every year (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOObudget)
More single rooms in the NHS (expensive and meaningless - just scrap mixed-sex wards, which I don't see a commitment to do here)
NHS dentist for a million more people - free dental checks for five-year-olds (salutary but more expense)
Housing - 'an end to boom and bust'. Wanna bet?
Strengthen shared ownership schemes. Tenants can gain equity which can be cashed in if they want to move up ladder.
National mobility scheme for good tenants in social sector properties. Right to Move scheme.
Protect and respect rights of social tenants. - meaningless tosh at best, at worst Orwellian control freakery.
Seriously - NO mention under Immigration of controlling migration from within the EU.
'Moral and practical imperative' to throw cash at failed states.
Committed to spending 0.7% of national income as aid by 2013.
Give people in poor countries more control over how aid is spent - oh, and British people get a say over 'some' of the aid, too.
£500 million to tackle malaria (expensive rot - just give them loads of DDT and give the UN the middle finger)
Achieve 'ambitious, pro-development global trade deals' - why do I suppose this won't be raw materials for manufactured goods?
The Work Programme - one single 'back-to-work' programme from everyone unemployed, including Incapacity Benefit. (WHAT THE BLEEP)
Greater support to young employed - referred to the work programme after six months of unemployment.
Privatise unemployment benefits - only paid when someone gets a job (yes, that won't result in overqualified people in labouring jobs at all)
Service Academies in hospitality and leisure will provide training places and work placements.
Work Clubs - nanny-state 'mentoring' and skills training.
10,000 new University places. (GAH)
Replacing the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights (sounds fishy)
Allow people with 'historic convictions for consensual gay sex to have those convictions removed'. What? If the law changes you can't retroactively have your convictions erased!
Community Right to Buy to allow local residents to take over vital local services or venues under threat of closure (erm, private property?).
Raise entry requirements for the teaching profession.
KS1 Sats replaced by a 'simple reading test'.
Longer franchises to incentivise private sector investment - and reduce accountability
'Crack down on' (presumably this means 'stop') road works. Whut. Especially during the current pothole insanity this is ridiculous.
More powers to local councils to 'get traffic moving' - sounds like a recipe for a patchwork of unenforceable congestion charges.
Transport Carbon Reduction Fund ... with no encouragement to use high-speed rail. Useless.
More attention given to the concerns of cyclists (MORE?)
'Give full weight to the benefits of low carbon projects in cost-benefit appraisals'. Short-sighted.
Pay small and medium-sized businesses £2,000 per head to hire new apprentices (hugely expensive and open to abuse)
'Expert career advice' in every secondary school and college, plus a new careers service for adults. Sounds horrifically expensive.
'A Conservative government will follow a joined-up, common sense approach to women's issues and make our society fairer for everybody.' Waffle.
Support and will recognise civil partnerships in the tax system.
'Outlaw the offence of inciting homophobic hatred'. Erm, what does that even mean. 'Outlaw the offence'? Does that mean it's no longer an offence?
'Empower the police and courts to combat racism'. They already have power to tackle racism. What new offences would this entail?
Mental health discrimination in Parliament to end, Access to Public Life Fund will assist the disabled in entering politics (?) - bizarre
'Tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality' by improving schools, supporting families, etc. We've heard this before...
No mention of a simple measure that would maintain the quality of pensioners' lives - forcing businesses to continue to accept bank cheques.
CON: Many MPs in favour of dismantling NHS.
CON: Backers will press for dismemberment of the BBC.