Party Positioning

Tactical Policy-Making: – As reported in The Guardian, “Ed Miliband has promised an immigration reform bill in the first few weeks of a new Labour government as he challenged the “false promises” of Ukip and the Conservatives on the campaign trail in Rochester and Strood.”

This is clearly a tactical attempt to gain political traction in a by-election and it doesn’t help to explain what Labour as a party stands for.  Voters need to know how to vote, both now and at the next General Election.

The Impact of Coalition Politics: – It appears that British politics is entering a period of uncertainty, and no party can guarantee to deliver its manifesto policies in a coalition.  Negotiation between the coalition partners will result in some compromises and some election ‘pledges’ will fall by the wayside.  Nick Clegg was forced to apologise for the Liberal Democrats’ ‘U-turn’ on university tuition fees, which was very costly in terms of the party’s political credibility and popularity, yet such occurrences will become more common if coalition politics becomes the norm.

Political parties must explain how they intend to negotiate: defining policies for the key issues that are perceived as important by the electorate, and listing their priorities for a prospective coalition agreement.  A recent YouGov / Prospect survey lists voter priorities, and some of these are itemised below.  After the election, coalition partners must be prepared to explain the outcome of the negotiations – listing the policies which had been sacrificed and those that survived.

Since no party will be able to deliver all its manifesto policies, voters will have to look towards what the party stands for.  None of Britain’s political parties (with the possible exception of the Green Party) has stated its core values and key policies in clear and concise terms.  The larger parties need to rectify this shortfall in their manifestos and election literature.

Core Values: – Most people don’t read election manifestos, but they are more likely to glance at single-page election leaflets – so parties should be able to describe their ideologies simply and concisely.  A good example comes from the Communist Manifesto:

“The immediate aim of the Communist is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.”

This extract is admirably clear (although it is buried at the start of section II in a 20-page document), whatever one might think of its desirability as a political credo.  The major parties in today’s Britain do not currently show the same clarity.

Economic Policies: – Policies on tax and public spending should be spelt out in sufficient detail for the Office of Budget Responsibility to cost them, so that politicians don’t mislead the electorate about their impact on the deficit.

It would also be helpful if parties spelt out their philosophies on the following questions:

Who should bear the biggest burden of taxation in a time of austerity?

What are the policy objectives in setting the levels of benefits, and what criteria must claimants meet?

What are the party’s attitudes towards inequality and what its policies about redistribution of wealth?

How is economic growth to be delivered? What are party attitudes towards ‘middle-out’ versus ‘trickle-down’ policies (i.e. stimulating demand by ensuring that middle-income people have money in their pockets, as compared to a policy of letting the rich get richer in the belief that some of the benefits would trickle down to the rest of the economy)?

What is to be done to ensure the stability of banks and financial services?

Immigration: – This was rated as the most important issue for the voters who were polled in the survey.  Policies should be spelt out, along with clear statements about whether these are compatible with current EU rules.  This issue includes border controls, access to benefits, housing and employment for immigrants.

National Health Service: – Parties should include proposed levels of NHS spending in their economic proposals.  They should also state their attitudes towards providing customer choice and localisation of some services.

Energy Prices: – As this is an item of considerable concern to voters, parties should outline their proposals (if any).

Minimum Wage: – An increase in the minimum wage has the effect of reducing government spend on benefits but might have an impact on economic growth.  The Low Pay Commission is responsible for recommending minimum wage levels, so parties need to specify how and why they would deviate from its recommendations.  The Office of Budget Responsibility should calculate the net effect on the budget deficit.

Devolution: – Although some decisions will be taken before the next General Election, much will remain to be done after it. The survey showed that voters don’t regard it as a priority issue, and it appears that people prioritise equality of treatment over local autonomy for health and education, but devolution will profoundly affect the next government.  Parties should articulate their positions on the questions raised.

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