RAZZ Covers GE2019: The Liberal Democrats Manifesto

RAZZ wants to encourage students to engage with politics to stay as informed as possible. We understand though that most political discourse is designed to exclude young people. Therefore, we’ve read the manifestos of the main political parties for the 2019 General Election and reduced them down to what we feel most affects and interests students. Here is a breakdown and brief evaluation of the Liberal Democrats Manifesto. Remember to stay informed and vote on 12 December.

Brexit

Historically, the Lib Dems have always been fervently pro-Europe, and with ‘Stop Brexit’ splashed across their manifesto, their stance remains clear. If they gain a majority, the Lib Dems intend to revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU, and without a majority, they will continue to support a People’s Vote, and in the case of such a vote, will campaign for remain. They believe that staying in the EU has innumerable benefits for the UK, such as freedoms to work, live, study and travel in Europe; trade freely within the European single market; and have greater potential to tackle global issues like the climate crisis, and global poverty and inequality. They also cite “the Remain bonus of £50 billion” which they intend to invest in public services, such as schools, improvements to mental health services, and in-work poverty and inequality. Jo Swinson has faced criticism for this strong remain stance, some claiming revoking Article 50 is undemocratic. However, if you want to remain in the EU, the Lib Dems undoubtedly have the strongest remain stance of all the parties.

 

Universities & Education

During the coalition government, the Lib Dems lost student support for their role in increasing tuition fees, despite promises against this. They do not explicitly seek to rectify this in their manifesto, but they do intend to reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students, and establish a review of finances, looking into how the current system impacts access, participation and quality, and “make sure there are no more retrospective raising of rates or selling-off of loans to private companies”. This compares to both Green and Labour who promise to scrap undergraduate tuition fees and write off existing debt for former students, while the Conservatives have made no such promises, only looking to review interest rates on loan repayments.

The Lib Dems would introduce a requirement for access to mental health services for students, but they do not detail on what scale these services will be available and how they might compare to current NHS mental health provision. They also promise to “raise standards in universities by strengthening the Office for Students”, which will hopefully lead to higher-quality education. Of particular note for Exeter, given its poor diversity, the Lib Dems would ensure “all universities work to widen participation by disadvantaged and underrepresented groups”.

The Lib Dems also want to introduce a Skills Wallet of £10,000 for every adult to be spent throughout their lives on education and training courses regulated by the Office for Students. This money will allow people “to retrain and upskill when they need to”.

 

Environment

The Lib Dems’ manifesto includes policies to help with greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and the climate crisis. They want to set a legally binding target to reduce net gas emissions to zero by 2045 at the latest. Their manifesto details extensive plans for greener transport, such as; increasing use of public transport through improved bus routes and better train networks; ensuring every new car sold by 2030 is electric through schemes like cutting VAT on electric vehicles to 5%; and converting the rail network to ultra-low technology (electric or hydrogen) by 2035.

Some of their other plans include:

  • Insulate all British homes by 2030, and require all new homes and domestic buildings to be built to a zero-carbon standard by 2021
  • Invest in renewable power so that by 2030, at least 80% of UK electricity is renewably generated
  • Ban fracking
  • Plant 60 million trees a year

The Lib Dems will also introduce changes for consumers, including implementing increased recycling targets, banning non-recyclable single-use plastic, and expanding recycling provision. These will be of particular benefit to Exeter which has relatively poor recycling, with many houses unable to recycle food waste and glass. Individuals will also have the opportunity to directly engage, with the establishment of UK and local citizens’ Climate Assemblies which have been called for by Extinction Rebellion.

 

The NHS

Alongside spending £10 billion of the capital fund, the Lib Dems intend to increase NHS funding through adding 1p on Income Tax, which will raise an additional £7 billion a year that they will specifically ring fence for the NHS and social care. This money will be used to help resolve current shortages of healthcare professionals, extended waiting times, limited resources, etc.

The manifesto details a number of proposals to help with the mental health crisis, with a policy that “Physical and mental health should be treated equally in the NHS”. The changes that will specifically impact young people include:

  • Introducing further mental health maximum waiting times standards
  • Ensuring all children and young people with a diagnosable condition receive NHS treatment (currently only 35% do)
  • Ensuring schools and universities receive better mental health training
  • Establishing a Student Mental Health Charter which will require all universities and colleges to ensure a good level of mental health provisions and services for students
  • Ensure uninterrupted care as young people transition from child to adult services

With mental health conditions so prevalent among young people, better support in schools and universities and greater access to services more generally is certainly a necessary change.

 

Drugs

Controversially, the Lib Dems intend to legalise cannabis, making it available for sale from licensed outlets to those over the age of 18. This aims to reduce the power of criminal gangs. However, there are concerns about whether the black-market would continue to exist for stronger potency cannabis and under-18s, and that it may act as a gateway drug.

The Lib Dems pledge to invest more money into addiction services and will use civil penalties rather than imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use. This means that those who need addiction support and treatment can be directed towards help services rather than facing criminal sentences.

 

Housing

The Lib Dems aim to help the housing shortage with a promise to build 300,000 new homes a year. This matches the current official target which the government has consistently failed to achieve. They also pledge to improve renting, with a Help to Rent scheme which will provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30, and greater renter rights, like protections against landlords and time standards on dealing with complaints. This will help the relatively powerless position of renters against landlords. The manifesto includes some plans to help first time buyers, such as building more houses for social rent and plans to help individuals who cannot afford a deposit, but there are not extensive plans to help young people enter the housing market.

 

Voting

The Lib Dems’ manifesto pledges two major changes to the current voting system. The first is to give 16- and 17-year olds the right to vote in elections and referendums, allowing voting to more fairly represent the younger generation. They also want to replace the current first past the post system with proportional representation through the Single Transferable Vote for electing MPs, and local councillors in England. An explanation of the two voting systems can be found here, but, in short, FPTP is often cited as an inaccurate representation of votes as a party’s number of seats does not represent the proportion of votes they receive nationally, but within individual constituencies. Although there is an argument that FPTP protects against the rise of extremist parties, it means it is virtually impossible for a party outside of Labour or Conservative to gain a majority. A shift to proportional representation could lead to a dramatic change in the distribution of parliamentary seats among parties.

 

Make sure to check out RAZZ’s summaries of the other manifestos and, whoever you support, get out and vote on 12 December!

Katrina Bennett

 

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