Political

Lib Dem manifesto: see the front page and the details behind the headline priorities

The Liberal Democrats are today publishing the front page of the party’s manifesto for the May general election, with these key policies:

  • Prosperity for all: Balance the budget fairly and invest to build a high skill, low carbon economy
  • Fair taxes: Cut your taxes by an additional £400 by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500
  • Opportunity for every child: Guarantee education funding from nursery to 19 and qualified teachers in every class
  • Quality health care for all: Invest £8bn to improve our NHS and guarantee equal care for mental health
  • Our environment protected: Protect nature and fight climate change with five green laws

Note: also today the Scottish and Welsh Liberal Democrats are unveiling their manifesto priorities, including greater devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. UPDATE: See them here.

Lib Dem 2015 manifesto cover
Leaving aside the Weirdly Inconsistent use of Capital letters Some Of the time But Not all the Time, it’s a good set of priorities which covers the obvious priority areas: the economy, tax, health, education and the environment.

(If you’re wondering already why what’s in the manifesto matters, take a look at just how much of the 2010 manifesto has been turned into reality.)

Two omissions

Any prioritisation inevitably means leaving some things out, and perhaps the two most notable areas are housing and civil liberties. They both very much will feature in the full manifesto, but they didn’t make the cut for the front page.

The omission of housing, regular readers will not be surprised to know, I’m content with given how it isn’t a priority for the public, but I made a strong push with others in the Federal Policy Committee (FPC) for civil liberties to be included as it’s such a key issue for many ‘core’ Lib Dem voters and potential activist recruits. In the end, rather than put it on the front, we’ll see a much stronger showing for civil liberties than in 2010 throughout the manifesto, which is a good outcome.

How much should Lib Dems rely on spending cuts?

One issue that hasn’t yet been settled, as the eagle-eyed readers of details of Lib Dem press releases will have spotted, is what the balance will be between tax rises and spending cuts in order to clear the deficit as set out in the first of the manifesto priorities. A few days back the party published plans with a 60:40 ratio between spending cuts and tax rises. However the tax rises were described as “at least” and the spending cuts as “up to” – because whether to go for 60:40 or a smaller reliance on spending cuts is yet to be finalised.

I would far rather see a 50:50 balance for three reasons.

First, there are both some tax rises and some spending cuts which are good liberal policies, and would be sensible regardless of the fiscal situation. However, most of those spending cuts have already happened (such as scrapping ID cards) and now when we’re looking for policies which aren’t only fiscally responsible but also help deliver wider liberal aims there’s more scope on the tax side, especially green taxes.

Second, there will have to be both tax and spending decisions that go beyond that, and again it’s lopsided. The pain of extra spending cuts is greater than the pain of extra tax rises when you start comparing details.

Third, last but not irrelevant, is that a 50:50 policy has a clear simplicity about it, which gives it a much greater chance of getting through to the public than any other percentage choice (except the 100:0 one of pure spending cuts from the Tories – which Lib Dems, Labour, Greens, SNP, Plaid and others will all also be helpfully highlighting for the Tories!).

In the end, the party’s spring conference can settle the 60:40 or 50:50 matter. If you’re a conference voting rep and interested in supporting an amendment on this, please drop me an email on mark.pack@gmail.com.

Details behind the headlines

That’s to come. Meanwhile other details behind the priorities have been agreed and are included in today’s launch:

  • Balance the budget fairly and invest to build a high skill, low carbon economy
    • We will finish the job of balancing the books in 2017/18.
    • As we finish the job of balancing the books, we will continue to protect NHS funding; education spending from cradle to college; the pensions triple lock and the international aid budget.
    • The Liberal Democrats are the only party who can commit to investing in public services in the next parliament, while also getting the public finances back under control.
  • Fair taxes
    • We will cut your taxes by an additional £400 by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500
    • We will fully fund this tax cut, by tackling tax avoidance and ensuring the wealthiest pay their fair share.
    • Once we achieve this, we will look to reduce employee National Insurance Contributions (NICs). which are currently paid by the low paid, further reducing hard working people’s tax bill.
    • We will maximise the revenue from Capital Gains Tax by more closely aligning CGT rates with Income Tax for Higher Rate payers.
  • Quality health care for all
    • We will invest £8bn to improve our NHS and guarantee equal care for mental health.
    • This means health service funding will be at least £8bn higher per year in real terms by 2020 and is in response to the call for this investment by the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, in Autumn 2014.
    • We will end the discrimination against mental health in our NHS, backed up by £500m per year for better mental health care.
  • Opportunity for everyone
    • We will guarantee education funding from nursery to 19 and qualified teachers in every class.
    • Protecting school budgets from cradle to college, Liberal Democrats will not cut the money the Department for Education spends on schools, early years and 16-19 education.
    • We will require every teacher in a state funded school to hold Qualified Teacher Status or be working towards it.
    • We will make sure every child is offered a high quality pre-school education from the age of two – so they start school confident, happy and ready to learn.
  • Our environment protected
    • We will protect the environment and fight climate change with five green laws.
    • Bees and pollinators. Includes measures such as the publication of a 25-year plan for recovering nature, which will help us reverse the decline of UK species and their habitats.
    • Forests and trees. We will place Britain’s forests in a protected trust to stop them ever being sold off, and, within the first year of entering government will develop the national tree planting programme.
    • Seas and oceans. We would play our part in protecting these resources by creating a million square kilometre southern Atlantic Ocean reserve; championing the protection of the Arctic Sanctuary habitats from fossil fuel and other resource extraction; and completing the ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in UK seas.

I will be covering the development of the party’s manifesto for May in more detail in future editions of Liberal Democrat Newswire: sign up here.

Nick Clegg’s speech

Here’s what Nick Clegg will say later today at the formal launch:

Today we are setting out five priorities for five years. Five steps on the path to a stronger economy and a fairer society.

A stronger economy means finishing the job of balancing the books, in full and on time, but doing so fairly, with the wealthiest in our society paying their fair share.

Because it is only on the strong foundation of sound finances that we can build a fairer society.

Get that right and everything else can follow.

But a stronger economy also means more than just clearing the deficit. We do not want to simply return to business as usual.

To build the strong, green, innovative economy that Britain needs to flourish in the 21st century we need to invest in upgrading our national infrastructure and producing the clean renewable energy that will power our prosperity in future.

And it also means protecting our environment, because making sure our children and grandchildren are not left paying for the mistakes of the generations before them means protecting the air they breathe as much as the economy they inherit.

A fairer society starts with fairer taxes. We will continue to cut income tax for millions of working people by a further £400 a year by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500.

A fairer society means properly funding our world class public services – investing in them as the economy grows and making sure the NHS has the extra £8bn a year it needs by 2020.

But world class public services are about more than just numbers, they are about people’s lives. That’s why we are determined to end the stigma against mental health and guarantee it is given the same status in the NHS as physical health.

The priority I want to focus on today is education – because nothing is more central to creating both a stronger economy and a fairer society, where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Education has the power to liberate people from the circumstances of their birth.

I want every child in Britain today, no matter what their background, to have the opportunity to be what they want to be.

Because liberals treat people as individuals to be encouraged and enabled to flourish, not like numbers to be ranked and filed.

And we want everyone to be able to flourish, not just the lucky few.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats are the party of education. The liberal mission is, and always has been, to tear down the barriers that stop people from being able to reach their potential.

But the first barriers appear right at the start of a child’s life. If you fall behind in those crucial early years, the chances are you stay behind forever.

We know that, on average, a child who goes to a high quality pre-school will be better at reading or maths by the age of six than a classmate who does not.

We know that, as a teenager, that child’s concentration will be better in class and they will go on to do better in their GCSEs.

And we know they will earn thousands of pounds more throughout their working lives.

If you remove those barriers, if you stop children falling behind, you can change their lives forever.

That’s why education is my top priority and always has been. Nothing motivates me more.

More than 13 years ago, I visited a number of schools in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands and it was on those trips that the idea of the Pupil Premium first came to me.

It was an idea designed to target resources at the most disadvantaged pupils in schools, to stop them from falling behind their classmates.

That idea became Liberal Democrat policy.

That policy became a front page manifesto priority at the last election.

And that priority became the centrepiece of a liberal agenda for education that we have pursued in Government.

Today the Pupil Premium is worth £2.5bn a year. It funds breakfast clubs, homework clubs, one-to-one tuition and much more. It helps schools to reach out to parents who would otherwise be disengaged.

And it is working. The latest figures found that primary school children from the poorest backgrounds achieved their best ever results and that the gap between them and their classmates had narrowed.

And while the challenge is harder in secondary schools, this year we have seen the attainment gap in Maths and English narrow too.

When we joined the coalition in 2010, education was at the top of our agenda and it has stayed there ever since.

While we haven’t always seen eye to eye with our coalition partners, we have been relentless in making sure the life chances of our children have been at the heart of the coalition’s programme.

We made sure the schools budget was protected in real terms every year.

We made sure the Pupil Premium was given the priority and resources it needed to change lives, not just funded by cutting the schools budget elsewhere.

We prioritised extra childcare funding for parents of two, three and four-year-olds, extended the Pupil Premium to support the poorest children before they start school and introduced healthy free lunches for all infants to help them learn.

In Government in the next five years, we will once again put the life chances of our children at the heart of the government’s agenda.

We will protect not only the schools budget in real terms, but funding for early years and colleges too.

We will make sure that every child is taught by a qualified teacher.

We will triple the extra funding that goes to children from the poorest backgrounds in nursery.

And we will give every primary school child a hot, healthy lunch to help them learn.

The last few years have been tough for a lot of people, who have had to work hard and make real sacrifices to get by.

Politicians have had to make difficult choices with less money at our disposal. And there are more difficult choices to come.

That’s why priorities matter.

The Liberal Democrats will prioritise education, just as we have done over the last five years.

Because nothing is more central to what we believe. Nothing is more important to creating a fairer society where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.

Other parties will have their own priorities. And for that reason we know we cannot take the progress we have made in education for granted.

The Conservatives are proposing much deeper cuts than necessary in the next parliament, which means a real terms squeeze on the schools budget and cuts to early years and colleges to the tune of a combined £3bn a year.

In the final year of the next parliament, the Conservatives would cut £38bn more than under our plans.

These cuts would have real consequences for the lives of children, parents and teachers.

It could mean a dramatic squeeze on nursery places; the free childcare entitlement scrapped or scaled back drastically; hundreds of thousands of young people denied a place at college or sixth form every year; and thousands of staff fearing for their jobs.

But our progress will not be assured if Labour wins a majority either.

If you want a world class education system, you need a strong economy.

Labour’s plan means borrowing £70bn more than we will by 2020 and wasting around £4bn more on paying the interest on our debt – money that could be spent on schools and hospitals instead.

You simply can’t invest in strong public services if the money isn’t there.

Political parties are not the same. Priorities matter.

In tough times, Liberal Democrats will prioritise education.

We will prioritise finishing the job of deficit reduction fairly and responsibly.

We will prioritise fairer taxes.

We will prioritise equality for mental health treatment in a world class NHS.

And we will prioritise protecting our environment.

Five priorities for five years.

That is the Liberal Democrat agenda for Government.

That is what we mean when we say we will build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

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