The Lib Dem general election manifesto: first thoughts

Following my preview of the Lib Dem manifesto and the publication of the manifesto itself, here are my first thoughts on its contents…

Key manifesto points

  • A referendum to let the British people, not politicians, decide on whether to accept the terms Theresa May negotiates for Brexit
  • Higher income taxes across the board to fund NHS and social care improvements
  • Big investment in education, with more local authority control and no new grammar schools

An unusual general election manifesto

The Liberal Democrat manifesto’s front page demands in all capital letters that we “Change Britain’s Future”, with an unwritten subheading of “hello voters, can you please change your voting habits?”

Rolled out for a media-friendly deadline of noon ahead of an activist-friendly evening launch in east London attended by around 1,000, the Lib Dem manifesto is different from both the Conservative and even Labour ones in that it makes no pretence of being a manifesto for a party set to form a government in June. The very first chapter headline talks of “your chance to change Britain’s future by changing the opposition”. The opposition note, not the government.

Although looking down the list of constituency election results from last time suggests there are far more Lib Dem – Conservative contests than Lib Dem – Labour contests, it is Labour that is very much in the Lib Dem sights in this election. That’s both a matter of strategy – the best hope of breaking into being one of the top two parties in Britain is to aim at the weakest of the two – and also of tactics – seats such as Vauxhall may have a Labour MP with a large majority, but where the seat voted heavily for Remain, the Lib Dems believe they can win such seats. Early canvassing signs from the aborted Manchester Gorton by-election reinforce that believe.

And so the Lib Dem manifesto goes long on the sorts of issues which will appeal to those on the centre left and the centre. Not only support for a referendum on the outcome of Britain’s Brexit negotiations. But also raising general taxation to fund improved public services, especially social care and mental health provision, action on the environment and more housing, with a new ‘rent to buy’ scheme to help more get on the property ladder. Plus the old Lib Dem favourite of more money for schools, with local councils rather than national governments or unelected bodies in control of them and no increase in selection.

More generally, running through the whole manifesto is a tone of optimism – presenting the party not as a collection of (re)moaners, but as a party with a positive vision for Britain’s future (and yes, one that involves Europe).

One final point to note – whatever the outcome of the election, the Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords will continue to be a major voting bloc in a body which the government does not have a majority in. The details of the manifesto may not be likely to inform the next government’s Queen’s Speech, but they are a good guide to how that crucial wedge of peers will vote over the next few years.

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