Liberal Democrat general election manifesto preview: LDN #94

 Liberal Democrat Newswire #94 came out during the week, previewing the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the 2017 general election.

In it I talked about how, “on the NHS and social care, the big issue to look out for is whether the party firms up talk of raising taxes to pay for better health and social care”. That happened earlier today, with the party publishing plans to increase all rates of income tax by 1p in order to pay for better health and social care. This move would raise £6 billion and would be the first step towards introducing a dedicated health and social care tax.

Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb says of the plans,

The NHS was once the envy of the world and this pledge is the first step in restoring it to where it should be.

A penny on the pound to save the NHS is money well spent in our view.

Simply providing more money on its own is not enough and that’s why this is just the first step in our plan to protect health and care services long-term.

We also need to do much more to keep people fit and healthy and out of hospital, and that is why this new funding will be targeted to those areas that have the greatest impact on patient care such as social care, general practice, mental health and public health.

You can now read the manifesto preview in full below (including comments about the local elections which I’ll return to in the next edition, a local elections post-mortem). If you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future just sign up for it here.


A warm welcome to all 9,454 of you to Liberal Democrat Newswire #94, the first of my weekly, shorter editions for the 2017 general election. I’m writing this just back from one of Tim Farron’s campaign battle bus stops in north London (although I confess to being a little distracted). No waiting for the local elections to be over before starting his general election tour – just one of the signs of how quickly the party’s machinery is cranking up for the general election. The first national mailshots have already landed in target seats and the party’s polling operation is already in full swing too.

The local elections on Thursday are likely to give the election campaign an extra boost, both in terms of good publicity from the hoped for gains and from the thousands of activists who will then be freed up to concentrate on the general election. So next time I’ll be taking a look at the local election results and what they mean for the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, but this week it’s a look at what is happening with the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto.

Best wishes,


In this edition:

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Liberal Democrat 2017 general election battlebus

New election, new manifesto, new slogan

The “Open, Tolerant, United” slogan being used by the Liberal Democrats was originally a placeholder wheeled out post-referendum to keep things ticking over while the party carried out detailed research and planning to get its messaging in order. All that has been rather knocked sideways by first the sequence of high-intensity Parliamentary by-election campaigns soaking up time and attention, and now by a general election.

What remains, however, is the double problem with “Open, Tolerant, United” as a slogan, doughty though it has been as a placeholder living past its expected retirement date.

First, “United” means rather different things to different ears, especially across the different nations of the country. Second, it’s the sort of passive warm statement that has repeatedly come up against active populist slogans and come off much the worse for it. “Take back control”, “Build that wall” – all those sorts of successful slogans have a sense of action to make things better rather than a plaintive wish for a different world.

Hence it’s a smart move for the party to look at a new slogan for the general election. As to what it will be, there’s a pretty big clue in the words written in super-large size on the side of Tim Farron’s battle bus. #ChangeBritainsFuture has also been making an outing in the party’s official tweets for a few days now, so no prizes for guessing what I’d bet on appearing on the front page of the manifesto.

“Change Britain’s future” has the welcome advantage compared with “Open, Tolerant, United” of containing an active sense doing something. But that trio is still on plenty of official material, even that being used as part of the bus tour. So expect it to regularly appear still as a secondary statement.

A calendar

When will the Liberal Democrat manifesto be published?

With very important council elections coming up on Thursday – important in their own right and important for momentum going in to the general election – the Lib Dem manifesto won’t be published until after those elections are out of the way. Expect it to appear within a fortnight of the council elections.

In the meantime, the recently updated Issues page on the Liberal Democrat website is a good summary of what the party’s current policies are.

Liberal Democrat policy papers

Here’s one we prepared earlier…

Handily, there was pretty much a complete general election manifesto drafted and ready to go in the event of a snap general election last year. People have been hard at work updating it in a process that is kept very confidential until the press stories start being placed.

The usual form for such urgent policy documents is to stick as closely as possible to existing agreed policy. That combined with the many recent public statements from Tim Farron means it is possible to have a pretty good guess at what the main themes will be and the key points to look out for.

The party’s now fairly well-established combination of messages in the last few months has been Brexit, the NHS and education, as field-tested in several Parliamentary by-elections. I fully expect them to be the top priorities once again.

On Brexit, expect a referendum on the exact terms of Brexit to be promised. The Liberal Democrats have often recently talked of being opposed to a “Hard Brexit”, which helps broaden the party’s appeal to those who voted Leave but want the UK to stay in the Single Market. In fact, a majority of the UK want us to remain in the Single Market. But the party’s position has been to want a referendum regardless of whether it is a Hard or Soft Brexit deal that is negotiated. That’s not going to change suddenly when the manifesto comes out.

On the NHS and social care, the big issue to look out for is whether the party firms up talk of raising taxes to pay for better health and social care. Both Norman Lamb and Tim Farron have been making positive noises about raising taxes in some form in order to fund this. Look out to see where this ends up, especially as talking of raising taxes to fund public services is the sort of policy that often gets the thumbs up from the public… right up until the point at which votes are cast. That said, as I pointed out when looking at these risks before, the party’s old policy of raising income tax to pay for better education was very popular and effective and even before the election was called Norman Lamb was a long way down the road of creating a policy based on raising tax.

As for education, Tim Farron has talked about being his top priority. It is a good fit with what makes the Liberal Democrats distinctive, with the emphasis on giving everyone the freedom who they want to be, rather than who the Daily Mail thinks they should be, or who a minister sat behind a desk in Whitehall wishes they were. It is also, however, less of an issue now for the public when it comes to deciding on voting than it was back when it was a central and successful part of the party’s messaging in the 1990s. Theresa May’s fixation with grammar schools will, most likely, provide a route therefore to talking about education in a way which voters feel is relevant to the decisions being made this time.

‘Theresa May won’t do live TV debate because Tories are scared of Tim Farron’ – see more news over on the Lib Dem Newswire Facebook page

Possibly not an army of Liberal Democrat volunteers

A slight change of strategy

In his well-received speech at the Liberal Democrat spring conference, Tim Farron said:

Let me be explicit about what I want us to achieve: I want us to replace the Labour Party as the main opposition to the Conservatives… so that we can replace the Conservatives as the Government of our country.

How far can the party go in achieving that in the 2017 general election? Given the sustained and large Conservative Party opinion poll leads, not to mention the low Liberal Democrat starting point, the Lib Dem campaign is morphing into emphasising the first part of that ambition, at least for now.

Hence Tim Farron’s talk about there being a vacancy for leader of the opposition, and expect plenty more of the same. For Conservatives, the message is ‘it’s safe to vote Lib Dem as that won’t let Labour in’, whilst for Labour the message is ‘if you want to oppose the Conservatives you need to switch to us’. It’s also a pitch that can be used to appeal to SNP and Plaid supporters, no minor consideration given the number of seats the Lib Dems used to win in Scotland and Wales.


Liberal Democrat general election briefing #2: why we deliver so many leaflets

Continuing my videos for new Lib Dem members, this week I explain why the party delivers so many leaflets.

Be popular, but be distinctive - one of the 101 ways to win an election

Post-it note - "In case you missed it"

Catch-up service: how Theresa May could lose

In case you missed these stories from my blog first time round:

Happy, happy, happy

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