I wonder if its ever struck politicians that if 'hard working families' are as hard working as they're cracked up to be, most won't have the time or the energy to read an 86 page manifesto, even if a lot of it is pictures. They/we are too busy working hard, getting on, doing the right thing, or whatever it is the Stakhanovs do most of the time.
Maybe Labour knew they wouldn't get beyond page 1, so they stuck this on the cover:
only succeeds when working people succeed. this is a plan to reward hard work,
share prosperity and build a better Britain
Odd that they pitch the manifesto to a minority of the British population, given that over half of us aren't working, being too young, too old, too ill, or too busy volunteering (of which more later)
It's a clear pitch to be the Labour party, the party of working people, but with a lot less socialism and toff-bashing than in the good old days. There's a brief swipe at the Conservatives, and no mention of the LibDems (keeping the door open for the coalition negotiations which are bound to begin on 8th May).
There's plenty of commentary elsewhere, but a few things really stuck out to me:
1. There are pledges to increase the number of GPs, nurses and midwives. Unless there's a big change to GP training in the pipeline, it takes longer than a single parliament to train a new GP. So, where do they come from? Will Labour be trying to get health professionals who have quit the NHS to return, or (as under Blair) will they be recruiting overseas? There is a massive moral question mark over this, we have one of the best health services in the world, most other countries need their doctors and nurses more than we do. The Labour manifesto makes much of the UK re-engaging with the world, promoting the Millenium Development Goals (good) but if we poach doctors from developing countries then white man speak with forked tongue.
2. Kids, wave goodbye to your parents. You'll see them again in 18 years. Labour wants an education system that starts with 25 hours free childcare at age 3 (provided by your renewed Sure Start centre), extends to 50 hours by the time you are 4 (yes, 50 hours. schools will have to provide access to 'wraparound' childcare from 8am - 6pm), and continues until you are 21. Out of work benefits won't begin until you turn 21, prior to that it's a Youth Allowance dependent on whether you're in training. Some of this will be welcome news to parents who need more flexibility so that they can work to bring in the pennies, some of this will simply mean families spending less time together. It's bizarre that in a document which declares Labour believes a decent society grows out of
family life and relationships the main policy direction is one which will mean families seeing less of each other. Does Ed Miliband not get on with the rest of his family?
3. The wraparound school clubs are all going to be provided by volunteers. Really? How? It's a nice aspiration, but there's no suggestion of how it could be achieved. Worse, if it is achieved, where do those volunteers come from? There's no national strategy for encouraging volunteering, so they will have to come from the existing volunteer pool. That's the folk who look after the elderly, run playgroups, staff foodbanks, pop in on neighbours etc. Good luck on either score. We can't even find the handful of adults needed locally to keep a single council youth club up and running for one evening a week.
4. Also on family policy, there are warm words about 'strengthing the institutions that help individuals, families and communities to thrive' but nothing about strengthening families themselves. Sure Start will be resurrected, but mainly as a national childcare agency. 'Early years intervention' is fine, but there's no suggestion of tackling the reasons why this might be needed. Family breakdown remains the elephant in the room, responsible for vast levels of misery, mental illness, educational failure, substance abuse etc. Labour wants a constitutional convention to look at how the UK can hold together, but when did it (or any other party) ever give serious thought about how to hold families together?
5. One oddity: Labour want to abolish Police and Crime Commissioners, but set up an equivalent version in education, a local Director of School Standards who monitors performance, intervenes in underperforming schools and can commission new schools. Local authorities will continue to be players in the school system, so I'm not quite sure where that leaves LEAs. The roles of PCC and DSS are slightly different, but it seemed odd to be scrapping one and inventing the other!
6. 200k new houses a year won't go very far if 300k people are being added to the population each year. There are no targets for sensible immigration, just a few policies around benefits and controls. This is a real problem. Yes we need immigrants, but there is surely an optimum rate at which people can be assimilated, and infrastructure be put in place? We are adding a new county's worth of people every 3 years to the UK, but short of a specific cap, I haven't yet seen a policy that amounts to more than hoping the problem will go away if we look tough. That hasn't worked yet.
7. Foreign policy: Labour propose a 'global envoy for religious freedom'. Good. Gordon Browns next job perhaps? It would be good to see a specific role though: they also propose an envoy for LGBT rights whose goal will be to secure the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide. I'd be thrilled if the goal for the religious freedom envoy was to secure the decriminalisation of conversion to Christianity.
8. Labour seem to be taking climate change more seriously - there's a welcome goal of a zero-carbon electricity supply by 2030, and interest free loans for energy improvements will reboot the domestic solar energy market. Right noises, but I don't see enough on, for example, public transport (most of the policies are devolved to local level) to see a thorough response. There's a welcome commitment to keep the 0.7% aid target and refocus it on the poorest countries.
9. Mental health: will be 'given the same priority as physical health'. I wonder what that means in practice? The document says there'll be the same right to psychological therapies as to drugs. If true, that means free, lifelong access, rather than 8 weeks after a 5 month wait, as is the current (approximate) situation. Do they really mean that? Access to drugs doesn't stop after a set number of weeks, so if that's what's really being promised for talking therapies, then that's a very hefty commitment. And please, not just CBT, it doesn't fix everything. And if you do offer CBT, please lets have proper professional counsellors, not a nurse who's done a short course. Labour wants more access to counselling at schools (good) and there's a suggestion of putting mindfulness on the national curriculum. There's no extra money committed here, only a promise that a higher % of the mental health budget will be spent on children. That, of course, means a lower percentage on adults, so without a significant rise in the overall budget, there's the prospect of a cut to adult mental health funding. Surely not?
Overall Labour are trying not to frighten the horses, but I'm not sure whether the horses will be very inspired either. I guess a proper rationale for the policies (e.g. the 50 hour school week), or proper details of how they'll work (adult mental health) would have needed a longer document. Labour seem more aware of the vulnerable - disabled, users of food banks, low wages - than the current government, but I don't see much of a great vision here. It's a bit more of an engineers budget, how do we make this system work better, and produce more of what we want (houses, good healthcare, clean energy at affordable prices). I can't see it setting many pulses racing, and as the first page states, its a 'plan...for a better Britain'. The P-word again. The 2015 election is the Battle of the Plans.