OK, so it’s a little late. In the end, I was too tired last night to feel up to doing this, I felt it better to wait until I’d had a good night’s sleep. So here we go, the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto for the upcoming general election. Now, on their webpage with links to all the manifesto documents, you’re faced with a bewildering amount of links. Why? each file has a .pdf version and a Word document version, and some of the .pdf files have “reduced size” versions too. They get credit for providing for so many different computer setups, but the documents are mostly in some random order that makes no sense, making it kinda difficult to find the document you’re after. A good idea, poorly implemented (makes me wonder if maybe that’s a good summing-up of the lib dems as a whole). I’m using the .pdf versions because…well, because I want to.
First up is education. Typical intro, in fact at this point I’m thinking the parties all seem to use intros and fluffing-out as a way to put off potential readers more than anything. There’s nothing groundbreaking, original or even particularly interesting to be found in this filler. It adds several pages to each document, and makes it harder to find the actual useful bits – the actual proposals and plans of the party. Do they not want us to know what they intend to do if they get voted in? Probably not, cos then we’d realise there isn’t a huge difference between them. Anyway, so here, the Lib Dems’ manifesto could almost be the conservatives. They want to scrap tuition fees and top-up fees for university students. OK it goes a little further than the Conservatives, but if the Conservatives could only do this through making some massive cuts to various areas of government, what makes the Lib Dems think they could do it without big cuts elsewhere? They talk about cutting class sizes, although the only age ranges this is mentioned for is 5-7 and 7-11 year olds. At university level, they want students to have more choice in what modules they can take during their course. I’m more skeptical about this idea than I am of the same at secondary school level. Why? each university deals with a far larger amount of students than each school. Considering that things don’t go 100% smoothly as it is, I do not believe that any university would be able to adequately handle the extra hassle associated with such increase of choice for students. Not without hiring loads more admin staff, at any rate.
They want to combine vocational and academic courses into the same assessment structure, to allow students at 14-17 years to mix-and-match those types of learning. It’s a fair enough idea, but the problem comes when you have to decide what level of vocational work is equivalent to a specific level of academic work (or vice versa). Like with a number of the ideas in this document, there’s plenty of blurb about what they want to do but very little about how they’re going to go about it. In fact the main “how” given is with the extra revenue gained by increasing income tax for earnings over £100,000. The problem I have with that is, if you’re going to increase such tax, why should you spend it on just one area of government?
Next up is family. Currently, this doesn’t really affect me, as most of it is actually about raising a family (i.e. children). There’s a good deal of repetition of proposals already given in their education document. The home ownership section is interesting, particularly the sentence (and i quote) “We will also free up much more land for housing…”. I wonder where this land will magically appear from? perhaps they’ll pull it out of their arses. Or maybe, they’ll let a load of green belt land be built on. Hmm. They say they will scrap the council tax and replace it with a local income tax, which will be fairer. Although this will mean the rich pay more in absolute terms, if the same amount of money is to be raised as through council tax. Once again, the document is rather general, at least on points that interest me. For example, on the environment, they say they would “tackle climate change and cut pollution and congestion,” but the only things they say they’d do would be to promote the use of public transport, encourage hosueholds to produce less waste and promote recycling. If that’s all the ideas they have on this, it doesn’t exactly give me confidence that they’ll really do anything to help there. Don’t they have any real ideas in this area? well, let’s wait and see if there’s a specific document on the environment…
OK, there’s a little more detail in the “Urban and Suburban Communities” document. Although, it’s a little confusing. In the previous one, there was a brief mention of getting a doorstep recyclable waste collection to 100% of homes by 2010. Yet here, it only says they will “move towards” kerbside recycling for everyone. Heh. Can you say “consistency”? There’s a somewhat strange claim here, too. Under crime, they say the Acceptable Behaviour Contract – a development of the Liberal Democrats, no less – has been adopted by most councils as “the main tool for tackling anti-social behaviour among young people”. Funny, we only hear about ASBOs in the news. I wish I could check up on this, but I suspect it to be nigh-on impossible to either prove or disprove, typical of such claims by political parties. Finally, they have some ideas that sound pretty similar to those of the Conservatives regarding community sentencing and its place in punishing criminals.
Next we have the document on young people. Rather stupidly, the first page (after the cover) has been processed in landscape instead of portrait format, but then put into the finished document in portrait format. So it’s rotated 90 degrees anti-clockwise. Nice and easy to read, like. It doesn’t matter much though, the actual proposals aren’t until the second page. And there really isn’t a lot here–in fact they’ve done an admirable job – comparable to my days of writing coursework pieces at GCSE and A-level, in fact – of padding it out to fill even the one page of actual substance that it does. There’s mention of their want to change our voting system to one of proportional representation. Although now they seem to be calling it the Single Transferable Vote. And they don’t give details of what it entails. But the most interesting proposal in this document is that they want to allow 16-year-olds to vote and stand for office. I’m not too sure I agree with this. I’m all for fairness and all, but I was 16 not all that long ago and I can remember only too well what it was like. I also get to see 16- and 17- year-olds regularly as I work at a secondary school. I just don’t think the average 16-year-old is in any position to make an even slightly informed vote. It’s a case of “if you’re gonna let them vote, you may as well let 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-, and 15-year-olds vote too.”
On to law and order. The first proposal to catch my eye is the scrapping of Labour’s ID card scheme. I know, the Conservatives say they’ll do this too, but it’s reassuring to see both parties have realised the stupidity associated with such a scheme. Or, at least, have decided to follow the sway of popular opinion that is against it. For the record, as I mentioned when I went through the Conservatives’ manifesto, I am against the ID card scheme, as I view it as an unnecessary and essentially flawed idea; it would further restrict the law-abiding, whilst having little effect on the likes of terrorists who’ll still find ways to circumvent it, and all at the expense of the law-abiding. There’s talk of more education for prisoners. This I like, as even if the statistics they give are a little skewed (4 out of 5 prisoners are functionally illiterate and over half of prisoners go on to re-offend after their release) it has been shown that if you give prisoners an education that can help them get a good job, and on the right side of the law, on release, they are a whole lot less likely to reoffend.
Their ideas for drugs are interesting. They have ideas for helping addicts to kick the habit, tougher treatment of career drug dealers, but legalisation of cannabis (both ownership and cultivation) for personal use and social supply. There’s no definition of “social supply” given but I suspect it means if someone were to grow cannabis, and just share it with friends for cost, or free, as opposed to growing fields of the stuff to sell at a profit. It’s not full-on legalisation, as career dealers would still be prosecuted, but the police would no longer have to spend any time and resources on catching personal users of the stuff. It’s a good compromise, I think, unfortunately they don’t seem to be making much of it, probably scared that labour and the conservatives would demonize such an idea and claim it’s something it isn’t. Nevermind eh?
The environment is the next document. As I already mentioned earlier, their idea is to make it easier and more attractive for homeowners to have green energy generators of their own to help power their houses and two-way electricity meters to allow surplus power produced to be sold back to the grid. This I view as A Good Idea. Things like wind turbines still have a way to go before the tiny versions suitable for home owners (they may look large but they’re tiny compared to the huge ones used in wind farms) are a real investment money-wise. But they are an investment environment-wise. And combined with other ways of reducing pollution, they could go a long way towards reducing the damage we’re doing to the environment.
They want to reform car taxing so that owners of less polluting vehicles pay less vehicle tax, and those with more polluting vehicles pay more tax. Fair enough on that. There’s mention of the railways; both the mess the Conservatives left them in, and the little-to-no improvement that has come about under Labour. I’m not sure if their suggestion to improve things would work, but they really ought to be making much more of an issue over this.
There’s mention of improving energy efficiency, and making businesses more responsible for the environmental impact they have (and making improvements in that area). Much like the Conservatives, they say they won’t allow GM crops unless they know they’re safe for the environment, and they want detailed labelling of food and easy traceability, to give greater power to the consumer.
Now for their business document. Once again, there’s very little here, and it’s all covering old ground; mention of the extra option they’ll give to new mothers (paid for by the state rather than businesses), reduced business rates for small businesses, the (hoped-for) improvements in employee skills that some of their education ideas will bring. And…that’s it, really.
In their health document, there’s some interesting ideas. They want to scrap charges for eye and dental checks, and extend the range of long-term medical conditions that are exempted from prescription charges. They want to improve cleanliness in hospitals and put less importance on artificial waiting list targets – targets that focus only on some kinds of waiting lists, at the expense of others, similar to a number of the Conservatives’ ideas.
I skimmed briefly through the document on disabilities. Almost the entire thing is just re-hashing proposals already made in previous documents. The two extras are the provision of government information (that in pamphlets and that on websites) in forms accessible to e.g. the visually impaired, and the improving of wheelchair access and so on to government buildings, to allow for greater participation in government by people with disabilities. Admirable ideas, it remains to be seen how well they’d be implemented.
It’s a similar situation with their document on older people. Again, just like the Conservatives, they want to scrap arbitrary retirement ages and enforce age discrimination legislation. Once again, I must utter my reservations about such an idea. There are a good many jobs where being of an older age is, in almsot all cases, detrimental to the quality of work you can do, and sometimes a real barrier. Not simply because of your age, but due to other factors that are affected by your age. The problem is, I can see all to well, that what would happen in some such situations is that older people would still be allowed to do such jobs because the employer would fear having accusations of age discrimination brought against them. There’s PC, and then there’s too far. And once you go too far, it’s difficult to get back to a reasonable place, and all too easy to slip and slide waaay down the slope.
The Liberal Democrats are the only one of the three main parties to have a specific document covering the parts of their manifesto that would benefit women. The way they’re playing it up, you’d think it was the Victorian age, or something. Seriously though, there’s very little in here that doesn’t actually apply to more than just women. The biggest two things are the extra choice covering mothers’ rights to work and pay, and the levelling of the pensions field that apparently, in its current state, favours men more than women, although this disparity is more to do with the state of the country several decades ago than the state of it as it is now. Not that I’m against the Lib Dems’ proposal on pensions, I do think it a good idea.
In the ethnic minorities document it is, as you may have guessed by now, almost all re-hashing policies already mentioned in previous documents. The extra stuff covers immigration – though I’m not sure it really covers it enough. If this is it as far as the Lib Dem’s ideas on immigration go, well, it’s hardly attention-grabbing stuff.
And that’s it. Overall, there’s not as much detail as the Conservatives give, and to be honest the Lib Dems seem rather short on ideas. The vague promises to “cut red tape” aren’t nearly so solid as the Conservatives’ specific plans showing exactly which bits of red tape they’d cut. There’s also a distinct lack of figures as far as savings go, in fact the only solid one I can think of offhand is their plan to replace council tax with local income tax, that would apparently save about £300 million thanks to abolishing the need for regular revaluations of properties. Also, along with the scattered promises to cut red tape, are a significant number of ideas that sound very much like they’d add to the red tape. As in, what they take away with one hand they give right back with the other. When it comes to red tape, this is as bad as giving with one hand what they take right back with the other. It’s just a juggling of government bodies and public money that ends up making little real difference to you and I.
But by far the biggest problem the Liberal Democrats have is in not making themselves heard. It’s been noted by those three political comedians (and by that, I mean they make fun of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats) Bremner, Bird and Fortune that the Lib Dem’s big strategy seems to be to let Labour and the Conservatives rip each other apart in a frenzied bid to win the most votes, whilst they sit back and hope the other two show themselves up enough to ruin their credibility in favour of the Liberal Democrats. Of course, this also means the Lib Dems spend very little time actually telling the voters what their policies are. Sure, you can find them on their site but, just like the other two, it takes a lot of reading through useless fluff and items that don’t interest you in order to find things that do.
I think the Liberal Democrats will improve their standing in government still further than in the last general election, but I think it unlikely they’ll get the majority, and to be honest, while I probably disagree with more of the policies of Labour or the Conservatives, I view the Liberal Democrats as being too weak to really do a good job. I could also see them ending up doing things too similarly to Labour if they were to win power.Powered by Sidelines