Manifestos aren't the best indication of what a government will actually do when in power. However, they are the best indication of what they intend to do. Certainly, a party is more likely to base its actions on its own manifesto than that of another party.
I'm now going to decide how to vote based on which party manifesto contains most of the policies that I would like. I'm an international development activist, and I also believe that capitalism is here to stay. I want sensible, practical policies that will help the world's poor. I want policies to promote the kind face of capitalism, encouraging socially responsible business.
If you want this too, or if you would like to read about a voter who takes his democracy seriously, then read on.
Links to manifestos: Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green.
I've taken my policies mainly from Oxfam's election campaigns. I've also thrown in a few ideas from the Economist and based ideas on ethical businesses like the Cooperative Bank. I've picked three precise, practical policies.
1. Arms Loopholes There is a loophole in UK arms legislation to do with brokering. A UK company can broker an arms deal where the weapons go directly between two other countries without touching British soil. This deal does not need to be licensed, so could go to a country which the government would otherwise prevent arms trading with. As well as having serious implications for increasing conflict and hence poverty, this is also a national security issue. I would like to vote for a party that pledges to close this loophole. [ More details on Oxfam's web site ]
2. Environmental Externalities An action can have an effect which is not currently measured by money. For example, driving a car creates air pollution which harms others. This harm is an externality and should be charged to the driver. I would like to see environmental and transport policies which removes subsidies, and creates precise taxes for noise pollution, risk of death or injury to others, air pollution and risk for future generations. The market will then find a more favourable solution than our current system, which is selfish by individuals, and an arbitrary excuse for taxation by the government. [ More details in "A new dawn for nuclear power?", The Economist, May 19th 2001 ]
3. Abolish Refugee Vouchers Asylum seekers in the UK are given money to live on in the form of vouchers. This is both demeaning and completely unnecessary. A party pledging to abolish the vouchers and give cash instead would be setting the right tone for the refugee debate. Nobody has ever given a credible reason for the vouchers, and personally I suspect that it would be cheaper and easier for government and retailers to do away with them. If a party can't even do this, then do they really care about the plight of refugees? [ More details on Oxfam's web site ]
I feel that all these policies are reasonable ones to expect any of the three major parties to have. The only ideological bent in them is an assumption of capitalism, which is an ideology that all three parties have. They are sensible, practical, and serve purposes which all parties have in the past supported in one way or another. They do not require changes in amount of taxation. They do not require unsubstantiated claims to be able to solve a problem simply through better management than the opposition.
Oxfam also suggests lots of policies of intent, and direction in lobbying. I also support these, but they are harder to assess, and would make this analysis too long. Examples are universal primary education, debt relief and fair trade. I support these with my heart. You can find a detailed list on the Global View 2001 website. In addition, I would like to see any policies to encourage business to meet the needs of more of its stakeholders. Bonus points awarded for a policy on radical reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). I will comment briefly on my impression of the parties with regard to these vaguer policies.
Let's see how they get on.
1. Arms Loopholes I can't find any mention of the arms trade in the Conservative manifesto. There is a brief half-sentence saying they will press for conflict prevention and resolution, but it is such a small phrase that it contains no policy. This leads me to conclude that they are not overly concerned about more careful regulation of the arms industry. Of course, their more detailed policy papers may have an opinion, but that isn't the purpose of this analysis. I've paid my £2.50, and I'm sure the manifesto does indicate priorities in government. 1 out of 10 for mentioning conflict in the context of development at all.
2. Environmental Externalities Encouraging news. They are anti-pollution, and pledge to cut taxes on cleaner fuels and cleaner vehicles. Unfortunately, this is undermined by the formation of a new Roads Standards Unit to champion the interests of road users, and to cut tax by 6p/litre on petrol and diesel. The manifesto correctly points out that it is technology not taxation which cuts pollution from vehicles, but fails to mention the other externalities of noise, injury and destruction of community. There is no indication of a comprehensive overhaul of transport taxation.
On the wider environment, there is an encouraging but vague sentence indicating support for emission permit trading, energy conservation, tax incentives, and greater encouragement of renewable energy. Not much detail, and nothing about removing subsidies from nuclear and fossil fuel industries. In the business section they say they will abolish Labour's Climate Change Levy, claiming without any alternative suggestions that CO2 emission can be reduced more efficiently by other means. These policies seem to contradict each other somewhat. Overall, 5 out of 10.
3. Abolish Refugee Vouchers I've been thrown awry by this one. The pledge is for all refugees to be kept in detention centres, so presumably they can't actually go shopping, and need neither cash nor vouchers. I don't know enough about the refugee system and the Conservative's proposed alternative to know whether they would still get vouchers after having their asylum accepted and leaving the detention centre.
This means that I have to judge the Conservatives on their detention centre policy as a whole, rather than vouchers in particular. The main problem with the policy is that it presupposes an ability to streamline the system. To my mind, if you could deal with all cases in a very short, guaranteed amount of time, then detention centres seem reasonable. However, I suspect this would not be the case, and that they would be expensive to run and unpleasant. Giving some benefit of the doubt, 3 out of 10. And I'm sure I'll suffer lots of angry emails for being that generous!
Overall impression There are some other good things in the Conservative manifesto. While there is no mention of fair trade, there is a pledge to move aid spending to the UN target of 0.7% GNP. That is excellent. Similarly, the focus on good governance in developing countries is compelling, although I feel that it must be combined with good education. Presumably you can't have an efficient civil service and judiciary without an educated population, and conversely you can't educate your whole population without reducing corruption.
On business, the Conservative party pledge to reduce regulations, and make no mention of market incentives for more socially responsible business. They show no concern for the increasing power of multinational corporations. When reading sections about rolling back the state, I feel as though their eye is a bit off the ball - do they not realise how powerful Coca-Cola is these days? Our state is at least democratically accountable.
Bonus points for wanting reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and for reducing taxation for charities in relation to VAT. Nice one. Overall then, 5 out of 10. The Conservative party certainly would do things that I like in government; for example, Kenneth Clarke was a great champion of debt relief. But they would also fail to take action on many critical issues.
Grand total score: 14 out of 40.
It's important to distinguish between a policy and an aspiration. An aspiration is a goal, what you would like to achieve. A policy is a practical action that a government can actually take in order to achieve it.
The Labour party manifesto makes no clear distinction between these. It blurs its record from the last parliament with its ambitions for the future. For it, a policy often consists of a meaningless spending promise, with no comparisons to previous spending or inflation. This is combined with the setting up of a new agency, with no details as to how that agency will carry out its function.
On page 14, concerning urban and rural Britain, I crossed out all sentences which were not policies. For example, "we will honour our commitment to tackle homelessness", which doesn't give any indication as to how they will do this. I am left with a grey, pencil scribble; there are only four sentences left.
On domestic issues, this is a document of aims, of feel. It is useless unless you can trust its authors to be able to carry out those aims. Fortunately for Labour, this time I am judging it on international issues.
1. Arms Loopholes Good news. There is a clear pledge to legislate to create a licensing system to control arms brokering. The government have been evasive about actually doing this, and it is good to see it in their manifesto. Can they be trusted to carry out this pledge? Looking at their last manifesto, this particular pledge was not there, but ones to ban landmines and increase transparency of arms export licenses are there, and have been to some extent carried out.
The other promises on arms also seem convincing, if not radical. Overall a good start, and much clearer policies than they have on domestic issues. 9 out of 10, with the point lost for still managing to put non-policy waffle in.
2. Environmental Externalities First off, the Labour manifesto makes a big thing of CO2 emissions trading. This certainly seems to me like an attempt to make the market environmentally accountable. They say they will support fuel cell vehicles, but, as ever in this manifesto, fail to say exactly how. They will continue to tax pollution, which is a policy, but it is neither a radical nor detailed one.
The Labour energy policy has the correct goals, but is trying to achieve them by obligations and by targets. This seems to me less effective than removing all subsidies, and charging for carefully calculated externalities. However, they do mention a Climate Change Levy, but it doesn't say what it is. But at least they are obliging electricity companies to deliver 10% of UK energy from renewables by 2010; the Conservative manifesto said even less about how they would do this.
On transport, again there is a policy of reducing tax on cleaner vehicles and cleaner fuels. This is excellent. They also at least mention the other car externality of death and injury, proposing traffic free Home Zones. All in all, a good try, but not radical and clear enough for me, so 7 out of 10.
3. Abolish Refugee Vouchers The section on asylum fails to mention the vouchers at all. I take this to mean that they will remain untouched. The rest of the section is full of suspect claims at Labour being quicker to process claims than the previous government. They are going to be hard on the criminals who traffic in humans, and they aspire to integrate refugees into the community more. Come on Labour, we want more policies, not just goals!
Overall, nothing negative, but nothing positive either. Total failure on vouchers means they only deserve 4 out of 10, and I'm feeling generous again.
Overall impression Yet more support for increasing aid to 0.7% GNP, hurrah! On international development education, they have set up the Imfundo project which looks interesting. There's some nice positive waffle about debt relief, but it's the existence of an ethical business policy which has me most excited.
Labour specifically state that they aim to shape globalisation to work better for the world's poor, and to do so by promoting socially responsible business. The policies for doing this aren't detailed enough - they include advisory services, the ethical trading initiative, and a code of business principles by the Export Credit Guarantee Department. So a good start, but I'd like to see much more of this.
They also are for CAP reform, and make the good point that positive engagement in Europe makes it more likely.
Nice try, some good policies, but not enough, so I give 6 out of 10. This seems a bit mean compared to the Conservative score, given Labour do at least have a socially responsible business policy. At this point I'll pull my face, and say more policies, less potato products please.
Grand total score: 26 out of 40.
I voted Liberal Democrat at the last election, so I come to their manifesto with the hope that it will be as good as their last one, but with a fear that it won't be. Labour might have caught up.
It doesn't feel quite as clean as last time - it seems to be full of long lists of commissions and bodies to set up. Is that the best way for the state to flex its muscles?
1. Arms Loopholes Not only do the Lib Dems pledge to require brokers to register under a Code of Conduct, they also put it right at the top of their foreign policy. There's no specific mention of legislation, but we could assume that "require", with the threat of revoking their license, implies that there would be.
Moreover, they have the far more radical policy of ending subsidies for arms sold to foreign regimes. Not only does this add to their capitalist credentials by freeing up a market, and not only is it a good policy for international development; they will used the money saved to fund scientific research, and set up an Academy of Invention. So it wouldn't harm the economy or jobs; on the contrary, it would help it.
They also mention setting up a parliamentary committee to scrutinise arms export licenses. A good start and an unprecedented 10 out of 10. Not even a waffle.
2. Environmental Externalities Gulp. To analyse this policy in the Liberal Democrat manifesto requires a superhuman effort of focus. Every single page has a sidebar with a Green Action policy associated with the other issues on that page. For example, in the education section it mentions promotion of Safe Routes to Schools. This counts as a policy recognising the externalities of death, injury and loss of community which the car creates.
The following policies will encourage the market to improve the environment, as I require. The Lib Dems pledge to have zero VED (car tax) for the most efficient cars, and fund it by increases for the least efficient cars. They are going to reduce VAT on energy conservation materials. They will increase the penalties polluters have to pay, meaning industrial pollution I think. They accuse Labour's Climate Change Levy of being too complex bureaucratic, and will replace it with a carbon tax falling on all energy based on its carbon content. This would also have emissions trading. Reform of fuel duty rebates for bus operators to encourage efficient vehicles, especially those using alternative fuels. This is quite an astonishing list when compared to the other parties.
They also have some less market driven policies. For example, a compulsory energy efficiency audit on all homes before sale. As Labour, they promise 10% renewables by 2010, but also promise to ratchet this requirement up by 1% every year thereafter. Roll on 2100!
They plan to phase out nuclear power. Tut tut. It could be essential, and is in theory a very good low pollution technology. Instead they should remove subsidies for it, and charge it for all the appropriate externalities, which are quite huge. Especially for future generations. It may die anyway when this is done, but at least it could be reborn as technologies change, if it was more appropriate than the alternatives.
With that astonishing list of actual policies - and I'm sure I've missed some - I'm going to give them 9 out of 10. The point was lost for not being quite as market driven as I would like.
3. Abolish Refugee Vouchers As with both the other parties, they claim to be able to process asylum applications quicker than anyone else. By jingo, do our politicians really think we're so stupid as to believe such unsubstantiated claims?
Fortunately, the Lib Dems follow on with some actual policies. They are going to introduce fair benefits for asylum seekers to replace what they call the demeaning voucher system. In addition they will remove restrictions on asylum seekers undertaking voluntary work, and compensate local services in the community where they live for the cost of supporting the asylum seekers.
Overall, absolutely perfect with regards to my specific requirement. However, the other policies seem largely uncosted. So only 9 out of 10.
Overall impression Just as the other major parties, the Lib Dems pledge to increase aid to 0.7% GNP, and they go the extra mile of giving a timescale of 10 years. They pledge to end all links between this aid and trade. They mention spearheading initiatives for basic education, but it isn't detailed stuff. They also actually give a policy on good governance - they will allow UK registered companies to be prosecuted for bribery offences committed overseas. This is better on this issue than the Conservative manifesto, which just gives some good intentions. I almost didn't notice the Lib Dem policy was on the same issue, because it had no waffle around it at all. Nothing on debt relief that I can find.
On encouraging social business, the Lib Dems policies are to play a leading roll in implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, and to require large companies to report on their social and environmental performance. There's also something unclear about encouraging ethical shareholding by reforming corporate governance to enhance stakeholders' rights, which sounds cool but is absolutely meaningless to me.
They will introduce corporate environmental liability legislation, and also have CAP reforming ambitions. Cool, everyone wants to reform the CAP! I'm going to give them 7 out of 10.
Grand total score: 35 out of 40.
By popular demand, here is an analysis the Green party manifesto. I don't have a paper copy, so I am using the online version. Their manifesto is engaging to read, short, well written, full of policy and inspiringly radical.
1. Arms Loopholes The Green party has a radical arms policy. On the specific subject of the arms trade they will remove the £500 million yearly subsidy the Defence Export Services Organisation gives, and monitor end use to ensure it doesn't abuse human rights, increase conflict or undermine sustainable development. There is no specific mention of brokering, but I suspect from their other policies that they would be against it. I like all these policies.
However, the overall Green arms policy is to disband our nuclear weapons, cut back our armed forces to be entirely defensive, with a small ability for offensive counter attacks. This means only coastal defences, and a land force sufficient to prevent invasion. Britain would contribute to an expanded UN peace keeping force to perform actions elsewhere in the world.
While my heart would love this policy to be possible, my head doesn't believe that it is. In an uncertain world we need defence, including a nuclear deterrent. Having reduced armed forces can work, as in Japan, though they are now increasing them again. Places like Haiti and Costa Rica are completely demilitarized. Hopefully one day we can be too, but not yet.
The Greens deserve to get 10 out of 10 for policies on the arms trade with respect to international development. However, I find their defence policies too radical, so they're only going to get 5 out of 10. Sorry.
2. Environmental Externalities As you would expect, the Green party has a lot to say on this. Let's start with transport policy. They want to re-nationalise Railtrack, and reallocate the entire road building budget to pedestrians and cyclists. They will introduce road pricing and work car park charging, and phase out VED (car tax) to be replaced with increased fuel duty. These policies are a good mix of transferring subsidies and providing incentives through the tax system. However, I think VED is better used to encourage manufacturers to make more efficient cars, and that people won't really change behaviour with higher fuel tax, they'll just complain more.
They will tax fossil fuels in proportion to their carbon content, and impose import duties on foreign goods from countries without such a tax. This is ideal, and better as a tax than tradable carbon permissions, which there is no real need for. They will provide subsidies for renewables, and phase out nuclear research and industry. They will reduce energy waste by planning regulations on new buildings requiring efficiency, and for vendors of houses to supply certified energy ratings to producers. I'm not sure what good that latter measure will actually do, without also forcing improvements.
Although I have minor doubts about the details, I basically find lots of good Green policies on these issues. So they get a slightly tentative 9 out of 10.
3. Abolish Refugee Vouchers They unequivocally abolish the voucher scheme and replace it with cash payments. In addition, they will not use detention, will abandon the dispersion system (apparently to speed things up, but there is no explanation) and provide greater assistance to help settle asylum seekers. All in all, not detailed enough, and not costed. However, on the specific issue they are absolutely correct, so they deserve 9 out of 10 as well.
Overall impression It's a very interesting manifesto, and well worth the read. The idea of The Citizen's Income is one I remember having myself when I first got interested in politics. Basically, you replace all benefits and welfare payments with one fixed income to all citizens regardless of wealth. This is just enough to live on. Any income made from working is then taxed immediately - there is no tax free threshold. This seems to me eminently sensible, as it massively reduces welfare administration costs, and cannily eliminates the possibility of fraud.
They will drop all bilateral debt to the worlds 40 poorest nations. They will increase aid to 0.7% GDP in 5 years, and 1% in 10 years - a much quicker timetable than the other parties. This is apparently a green policy, as it leads to greater self reliance. They mention education as a development tool, but not very strongly. They are anti-trade in general, aiming to reduce it to a fairly exchanged trade of goods which cannot be produced locally. They specifically mention developing nations in this regard, but are unclear exactly how the mechanics work in their favour.
On social business they say lots of things against globalisation, and for locally run companies. This includes closing tax havens, imposing controls on international capital transfers. The main actual policy here is support for the Tobin Tax on currency speculation. Yep, CAP reforming as well... Obviously everyone is. In this case, it is to return control to the national level, and to subsidise incomes rather than prices. Sounds good to me.
Overall score for an interesting, radical manifesto, with lots of things that I want is 9 out of 10. Even though I'm not happy with many things, I am happy with lots of things. This was probably the hardest manifesto to rate; it's the only one that really wants to change anything.
Grand total score: 32 out of 40.
Conservative: 14 out of 40
Labour: 26 out of 40
Liberal Democrat: 35 out of 40
Green: 32 out of 40
Phew! That was a very exhausting process, it's difficult being a conscientious voter. The Conservative manifesto was easiest to read, and the Labour one the hardest. I almost started skimming it, so much was meaningless.
Now I just have to make up my mind who to actually vote for. Which local candidate do I think is the highest calibre? Should I ignore my analysis, and tactically vote Labour? That would then give me the chance of having a personal responsibility for our government, which I think would be a motivating and frightening thing to have.
And were the Lib Dems just filling their manifesto with every policy, as things didn't seems as focused as in their previous one? And what do I think about the Euro, do I care enough just to vote for, or against, the pound? Actually, on Europe, I suggest you vote for democratic reform if you can.
Will I ever be brave enough to support the Green party? And can I accept the Tory's with their new veneer of social responsibility?
Of course, in the polling booth, my conscience will finally get the better of me. I'll hold the grubby pencil, and imagine how I want the world to be.
Afternote: I voted Liberal Democrat. Labour held their seat in Cambridge, and the Liberal Democrats overtook the Conservatives to take second place. I was correct to hold my beliefs and not vote tactically for Labour.
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