Dr Andy Price, Head of Politics at Sheffield Hallam University
Brexit, Scottish Independence, the future of the United Kingdom itself; not to mention the continuing threat of global terrorism, the environmental crisis, the rise of Trump, and continuing sluggish economic growth: not for generations has there seemed to be so much at stake as we head into a British general election. The ramifications of who we collectively elect on 8th June are indeed significant, and the election manifestos of the main parties now tell us how they will deal with some (if not all) of these issues.
So now is a good time to take stock. Manifestos are indeed important documents at this moment in the election cycle. They set the overall direction of prospective governments; in some cases, such as in the current Labour document, they go into incredible detail on costings of the policies therein. But a note of caution is worthwhile too: manifesto promises are all too often broken – look no further than the Lib Dem manifesto of 2010 on student tuition fees.
But still, promises kept or broken, these documents are an excellent finger in the wind on the direction of the parties themselves but, perhaps more interestingly, they also tell us about the direction of our political community as a whole. So, where do we stand right now?
Well, perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is the new potential policy direction opened up by the Labour manifesto. Regardless of your own political persuasion, this is a remarkable document indeed. It puts back on the table of British politics, for the first time in three decades, the idea of a large scale, state intervention. It call for a radical reshaping of the public/private sphere: renationalisation of rail and utilities, a new National Care Scheme, an NCS which in size and scope that will match the NHS; it calls for a tax on the wealthiest people in the country, the top 5%; and it calls for the abolition of tuition fees.
Like or loathe any of these policy positons, this entre document has provided a huge service to British politics. It has opened a clear distinction between the two principal parties in the UK: the Conservatives, by way of contrast, have committed themselves to no tax raises, and to remaining a party of low taxation.
This is good news for voters, and for participation levels too: ask young people why they do not vote, and one response is always: ‘there is no-one to vote for’. That is clearly not the case in this election. Add the commitment in the Labour manifesto to reduce the voting age to 16, there is even more for the youth vote here.
Furthermore, this staking out of a new position by the Labour Party has meant that all parties have to respond. There is much in the Green and Lib Dem manifestos that match some of the Labour positions; perhaps more surprising, the Conservative Party, too, has been dragged back towards the centre, and has explicitly rejected its Thatcherite past and called for a larger role for the state in controlling ‘untrammelled free markets’.
In terms of what happens after the 8 June, then, all indicators still show that it is highly unlikely that the new, radically different policy programme of the Labour party will get the chance to be operationalised (although do not write-off completely the appeal of this manifesto just yet).
But more generally, new policy discussions and narratives are already underway, irrespective of the outcome, which should prove fertile ground indeed for our work in SIPS in the coming years.