Luddite riots, robots and 0% support. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Simulection: What happens when you run the 2015 Conservative manifesto through a video game?

We are running the parties' manifestos through Democracy 3, an election simulation video game. Here's what happens if the Tories win...

Dave says: “One more term. Just one. To fix Labour’s legacy. To remind you. Not our fault. I’m not saying we’ve achieved everything we set out to. I’m not saying we’re not proud of what we have achieved. I’m not saying anything, really, because I’d rather hoped Ed would put his foot in it, so I wouldn’t have to. Being a Conservative is about scaring, not charming. Promising, not delivering. Resigning, not winning.

We’ve done so much. 700,000 zero-hours jobs. 900,000 hard-working families given the chance to access foodbanks. Increased immigration despite our promises. And we’ve massively expanded our national debt by 500 million pou- ahem. My useless fag appears to have got my cue cards mixed up. This one is labelled, uh, Topics to Avoid. Gove. GOVE! Where is that boy?”

So, Cameron’s government. The Prime Minister who hasn’t been elected and has promised next time round that you can’t elect him then either. This is our one shot to elect him! A limited time offer! A Tory multi-pack with a random Prime Ministerial George, Theresa or Boris included! Vote for him now or he’ll have to do motivational after-dinner speeches for the rest of his life!

We've already discovered that running the Labour manifesto through a video game resulted in an egalitarian utopia eventually – but that the first term was touch-and-go under the global recession that hit us.

Looking over the Conservative manifesto, it’s very similar to Labour’s  nearly inseparable in most commitments  but there’s an extra focus on the old, promising them that their pensions are safe, safe, safe and their inheritances will be too. Lucky that, because those are the core Tory voters, in that giant doughnut of the wealthy around London that stops in the foothills of the Midlands.

I’m starting this simulation from the same save file as I did with Labour, to try to balance any randomness in it. (You can see more caveats about the program we’re using here.) Just like Labour, the Conservatives have tied themselves up in all sorts of fiscal constraints, so there isn’t much budgetary wiggle room – no changes allowed to VAT, National Insurance or income tax, save raising the 40p tax threshold to 50p, raising the income tax threshold by £2,000 and eventually reducing income tax. Oh, and they also want to run a surplus.

I really struggled with the Labour manifesto. This one seems even more constrained, with even more spending commitments that are horribly specific. Reduce government spending by 1 per cent in the first two years, run a surplus in the fourth year and finally increase spending in the last full year. These cuts look to be two-fifths from welfare savings, one-sixth from cutting tax avoidance/evasion/planning, and the rest from departmental savings.

My first task is to see how I can save that money. It really doesn’t look like I can. Tax avoidance is a background statistic of the game; departmental spending is a political synonym for "dunno"; and much of the welfare budget is explicitly protected in the manifesto, such as pensions or childcare. So I slash what welfare I can and implement the spending freeze the tories pseudo-promised for education. Dropping that saved money straight back into the NHS is a small increase given the bloated size of the health budget relative to the economy, but that’s another manifesto commitment hit.

The Tories have promised to reduce the benefits cap to £23k, which I represent by cutting unemployment benefits a touch. However, that’s more than balanced by the huge reduction in inheritance tax, which will now only come in at £1,000,000. And which itself is matched by a huge investment in science funding and robotics.

That’s much less tax coming in and a huge amount of money spent. As all this automation will push up the unemployment rate amongst the lower paid, I fulfil another manifesto pledge to make the young unemployed work by making it mandatory for all medium-term unemployed people to do community work. I’m not winning friends here, except amongst robots.

There’s one manifesto commitment I simply can’t represent properly; build 200,000 new homes by lifting obligations on builders to build infrastructure and to include affordable housing. I’m puzzling over what to do about this when any spending decisions leave my hands tied and I notice that the global economy is taking the same path it did under Labour  a nosedive.

I have the advantage here that I think it’s going to be a long dip, so I really need to cut expenditure to fulfil those financial commitments to reduce the deficit  though I didn’t see a promise like Labour’s to reduce the national debt so theoretically I can run up the national debt in the first couple of years of recession, then run a surplus in the last two years of the parliament. Simple!

So I just cut the money necessary to reduce expenditure year-on-year, and screw the debt. Which of course means my credit rating will be in the doldrums soon enough, but c’est la vie. Foreign aid goes first. Then I introduce stringent, probing welfare fraud investigators who bring in slightly more than they cost...

The burgeoning debt and welfare cuts have unsettled the cabinet. I let the welfare minister go first, then the tax minister as they both seem really quite scared  welfare wanted to quit politics entirely to spend her remaining time with her family. Firing them terrifies the rest of the cabinet and I have to do a full reshuffle.

I look at our other committments. £13bn on transport? £50bn on HS2? £15bn on road-building? No way. I can just manage the £500m on zero-emission cars and £200m on cycling, but that’s it.

Meanwhile, our credit rating has sunk to CC. To clarify what that means, Britain in Cameron’s second term is regarded as a worse risk than Venezuela, which has been on the verge of a coup for the past year. The only current country in the world with the same Fitch rating is the Ukraine, which has been invaded by Russia. The only country with a worse credit rating, from every ratings agency, is Argentina, which has defaulted on its debts over and over.

The terror threat page all goes a bit Pete Tong at this point, with varied threats every quarter, first from the human rights society, then the capitalists at the Battenberg group, then finally settling on the well-funded, armed and numerous Revolutionary Army.

I’m still frantically trying to balance the books, which is offending every demographic under the sun. Agricultural subsidies go out of the window  pissing off farmers, alcohol duty is increased massively – pissing off everyone, and prisons are so crammed that they make the Bastille look like a model penitentiary. I finally have the money to implement the transport pledges, though it’s a mite late. I splash all the money I can on rail subsidies and road-building, which only contributes to the asthma epidemic.

I also try to throw a bit of money at tax havens and enterprise investment schemes (aka tax dodges) for the wealthy (it might not be in the manifesto, but I’ll remind you that George Osborne is Chancellor), but even they aren’t on my side.

The election is looming. I take a moment to look at the state of the country. On the upside, we’re hugely technologically advanced, thanks to my careful funding of robots and nanomachines, and relatively productive and green. On the downside, there’s lynch mobs in the streets, class warfare as society collapses, inner city riots, booming crime rates, luddite riots smashing those lovely new robots, and extreme nationalism (more about that when we do the Ukip manifesto.) Poverty has rocketed, equality plummeted, health collapsed, crime boomed, and generally the country has collapsed. Quite impressive in just five years!

The polls have me on… 0 per cent. Wait, is that possible? The cabinet revolts, so I reshuffle them just in time to line up for the guillotine. And I cut income tax as a last desperate hurrah, like every Chancellor ever, and so I can claim I carried out our manifesto pledges to the best possible degree. What legacy has Dave left for Boris, Theresa and the boy George?

The result… the result is every New Statesman reader’s dream…

Read our methodology hereFollow the rest of the series as it unfolds here. And here's what happened with the manifestos in the 2010 election.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Scotland's huge deficit is an obstacle to independence

The country's borrowing level (9.5 per cent) is now double that of the UK. 

Ever since Brexit, and indeed before it, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum has loomed. But today's public spending figures are one reason why the SNP will proceed with caution. They show that Scotland's deficit has risen to £14.8bn (9.5 per cent of GDP) even when a geographic share of North Sea revenue is included. That is more than double the UK's borrowing level, which last year fell from 5 per cent of GDP to 4 per cent. 

The "oil bonus" that nationalists once boasted of has become almost non-existent. North Sea revenue last year fell from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Total public sector revenue was £400 per person lower than for the UK, while expenditure was £1,200 higher.  

Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted the figures by warning of the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit (which her government estimated at between £1.7bn and £11.2.bn a year by 2030). But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose considerable austerity. 

Nor would EU membership provide a panacea. Scotland would likely be forced to wait years to join owing to the scepticism of Spain and others facing their own secessionist movements. At present, two-thirds of the country's exports go to the UK, compared to just 15 per cent to other EU states.

The SNP will only demand a second referendum when it is convinced it can win. At present, that is far from certain. Though support for independence rose following the Brexit vote, a recent YouGov survey last month gave the No side a four-point lead (45-40). Until the nationalists enjoy sustained poll leads (as they have never done before), the SNP will avoid rejoining battle. Today's figures are a considerable obstacle to doing so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.