And so on to part 2. The Conservative party. Well, they certainly have more info immediately available on their site. There’s policy and consultation documents, as well as pamphlets and documents attacking Labour, that go back to 2002. But, my aim is just to look at their policies for the upcoming general election. That still leaves quite a few more documents to look through than for Labour.
First up is “action on deregulation”. The front page of this states, “We have 63 deregulation proposals to remove the burden of over 11000 pages of guidance & over 1300 distorting targets.” Just on its own, if this is true, it’s a promising start. Remember that “guidance” is not the same as law. Where the government’s concerned, if it benefits their agenda not to follow guidance, then they don’t. So why bother having all that guidance?. As for targets – well, “you can prove anything with statistics” and, make no mistake, whether or not its own targets have been met, the government will find ways to make themselves look good rather than bad, when it comes to targets. Targets also more often than not have no real value, being either far too limited to cover such a wide subject as they are intended to do so, or simply not being the best way to measure improvement (or lack thereof).
It goes on to list these proposals. It’s interesting reading for sure, and unfortunately I don’t know nearly as much as I’d like about many of the issues covered. Instead, I’ll pick out a few that caught my eye: There’s two proposals relating to charities. One is to allow pubs to run charity bingo games without needing an expensive license, the other is to make it easier and cheaper for charities to benefit from fund raising raffles. These both strike me as small, yet significant proposals. It’s nothing big, any extra abuse of trust that may happen as a result of such relaxing of rules would not raise a lot of money for the scammer, and I suspect that charities would be happy to have it slightly easier to run such fund-raising events.
One of the DfT proposals relates to local transport plans and bus strategies. The text claims, “these add little if anything to the quality of public transport, and are an unnecessary extra burden. We will scrap the requirement to prepare these plans.” Now, I dunno where they did their research, but it can’t have been all that thorough. I live in Nottingham, currently still going through a programme of public transport improvement. In the city and surrounding area, we have very good bus services. And they are noticeably better now than several years ago. We now have trams that, despite a poor start, have become well-used by commuters. And, of course, there’re plans for several extra tram routes, now that it’s been shown they have a part to play in the city’s public transport system. I disagree with the conservatives’ assertion about these plans, because if it doesn’t stand true for this city, chances are, there are other cities around England that it doesn’t stand true for.
Next up is food supplements – they say there’s over 200 “nutrient sources” accepted as safe by the Food Standards Agency, but that are omitted from an EU directive, so may become illegal from August 2005. The Conservatives want to opt-out of this. However, saying “the FSA says they’re safe” is, to me, an inadequate reason. They don’t explain the nature of these “nutrient sources.” I suspect they’re all sorts of chemicals used as additives in heavily processed food. Just because there’s not been any in-depth study into the long-term effects of a particular man-made chemical on human health, doesn’t make that chemical safe. I’m highly suspicious of this proposal–I suspect there to be more to it than there seems.
A number of business-and-tax-related proposals smack to me of pandering to those voters with a…higher level of wealth. I have nothing against people with more money than me, or I’d not have many friends at all. But I find it funny that already the conservative manifesto is beginning to give an overall impression that, to a degree, it’s a case of making cuts to public services in order to benefit those people with a higher-than-average level of wealth. Granted, some of their proposals for cutting red tape sound actually pretty reasonable, and unlikely to have a negative impact on public services. But then again, there are a number of proposals that are suspicious, or downright blatantly favouring those with above-average wealth.
The second document is on the economy, another of the “big issues” that seems to hang over every general election. What strikes me as funny about this document is the cover – it says, “Conservatives will deliver lower taxes and value for money” which you could take as meaning “lower taxes and lower value for money.” Methinks a quick swap would’ve made all the difference. Much of what’s in this document is just covering ground already covered in the previous one, but in a little more detail, and fluffed up with more personal language. There’s some more stuff about distancing ourselves from the EU. At the minute, whilst I’m not anti-Europe, from the stories I read, the EU appears to be the result of bringing together a group of corrupt politicians – an organisation of almost total corruption, if you will. Distancing ourselves from it for the time being may well be a good idea. There’s mentions of tax cuts, but no details at all, except on the specific council tax discounts for pensioners. This last one is fair enough, but on income tax cuts and the like, I’d be itnerested to see whether it’ll be a case of cuts that favour the better off more than others, or vice versa, or cuts that benefit more or less equally.
Third up is about farming and rural communities. I’m intrigued by this area of their manifesto. I certainly don’t agree with it all, but their labelling idea – legislation to reform food labelling so we consumers get clear information on the country of origin of the major ingredients, and whether it meets British standards, would certainly be good to see. Assuming British standards weren’t subsequently lowered a great deal. There’s an interesting bit on “energy crops” – those used to make bio fuels. The conservatives say they will introduce incentives to stimulate a bio fuels industry in England. The action on GM crops is a little more reassuring than Labour’s approach so far, too, assuming they do stick to this proposal. Basically, less jumping in head-first, which Labour have done, and more caution.
Next up is somewhat of a surprise. It’s a small document, but that’s not the surprise – its subject is instead: action on global poverty. Yeah, the Conservatives mention aid and stuff. I find it strange there didn’t seem to be any mention of this issue over at labour’s site. Maybe Blair’s waiting to see if the public bring it up as a big election issue.
I’ll skip the fifth document, as it covers old people specifically. I’ve already mentioned one of their ideas in this area, one I have no objection against – the council tax discount (as well as matching labour’s ideas of free TV licenses and winter fuel payments).
Sixth up is health. I’m only skim-reading this one, as I already know I agree with much of the conservatives’ statements and suggestions to reduce the OTT beauracracy currently plaguing the NHS. Much of the public money currently being wasted on unnecessary red tape ends up lining the pockets of a few rich, well-connected people who make their money by taking it off the government, and then doing less than what they’re paid for unless the government subsequently hands over much more money. But, I also know already that the Conservatives’ talk of giving people “more choice” works like this: using public money to help the more well-off to pay for private health care. Michael Howard himself effectively said as much on a televised debate ooh, a few weeks ago now. This is one idea I’m definitely not happy about.
Next up is crime. I have to say, much of the proposals in this area sound attractive. Paying special constables an annual allowance (to encourage more people to take it up). Shifting accountability to be far more local – allowing local decisions on areas of crime to focus on, etc. Tougher sentencing for repeat offenders, honest sentencing. A reform of community punishments.
I’m not keen on it all though. I suspect we do need more prisons, but I’m not sure I trust private companies to run them. That sounds like PFI to me, which more often than not seems to end up costing more than it would have done if simply kept under control of the government. I’m not sure I agree with all their ideas for preventing youngsters from turning to crime, either. And whilst focusing on “drugs” there seems to be no mention of the part legal drugs play (namely alcohol), and the highly-processed food that we have seen appears to cause a detioration in kids’ behaviour.
Last, but by no means least, is education. I’m intrigued already by one of the ideas in this document – a Club2School scheme, offering 2 hours after-school time in which children can, if they want, get involved in a sport. This will be funded by the National Lottery. There’s more of this “right to choose” crap. Filler, really. I’m also not sure how sound an idea it is to give everyone such choices – you may well end up with some schools, for example, being inundated whilst others have to close. Then you get overcrowding. Their skills suggestions, they have a point there, but it’s beginning to sound a little too much like Labour’s own suggestions for “education tailored to each individual child.” I agree that there needs to be more allowances for the less academically-skilled pupils though. The ideas for university fees (well, the scrapping thereof) and a different system of student loans are certainly promising. They ought to have tight laws in place to protect the students though, to ensure that loan providers, if they are private companies, can’t suddenly fleece all the students and leave them deep in debt.
And that’s about it. There’s a document each on capital gains tax and inheritance tax, but these hold little interest to me, and I suspect they’ll basically explain how the Conservatives aim to cut both. There’s also an introduction to the manifesto, and a section on housing. Again, that is an area that is unlikely to affect me in my current position, and for awhile at that, so I’m leaving it be. It’s also getting late now.