Debt crisis, fascist superheroes, and DOOM. Photo: Getty
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Simulection: What happens when you run the Ukip 2015 manifesto through a video game?

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

Nigel says: “Hello ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. What an audience! Look at you! Aren’t you lovely? Passion and conviction. Except you four-eyes, sod off back to Bognor. Ha ha ha. Now, to be serious for a moment.

“Immigrants with AIDS.

“That’ll do. Ukip hates racism. We oppose sectarianism and stereotyping. Unlike the identikit careerist clones in Westminster. Unlike the ‘Von’s and ‘De’s in Brussels. Unlike the Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants crouched behind the Iron Curtain, waiting for the EU to give them our British antiretrovirals. I’m not racist. Hey, I put 1.5 black people into the manifesto. Don’t know what happened to the other half of him, ha ha.

“Well, we’re in charge now. And I say what I think. As do all of UKIP. Which is why we kept having to fire people. Now we’re in charge, who cares? Say what you like, and we’ll do what we like. And that’s enforce British values! Magna Carta. Habeas Corpus. Coitus Interruptus. In favour of British people. Not immigrants with AIDS.

“After all, we went out into the world and gave it British civilization, and took the stuff they had and turned it into money, which we then inherited, and these people can’t just come over here and take it back. They’re not British! Not like the Indians and Australians, the colonies. Though they can’t have it either.

“We’re not claiming the British are superior – just that we’re more valuable. Let the rest of the world burn, we’ll be OK. Which is why we’re pushing coal power stations, because our membership’s old bones have been getting a bit chilly recently and it’ll save on the winter fuel allowance.

“Anyway, I have a country to run. So I’ll be at the bar.”

The similarity between the SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and Ukip is that they all have nationalist policies; the difference is that the first four don’t have national policies. That means that Ukip is the final manifesto I’ll be simulating for this election. 

Ukip’s a very British party, but also a very traditional anti-establishment party. A charismatic man-of-the-people leader, a rag tag bunch of ambitious rejects from other parties, a bunch of lowest-common-denominator policies, and an appeal to those who are scared about losing it all and pissed off with business as usual. It’s not an egalitarian party, or a utilitarian party, but a tribal party, that only values the people of England, that thrives in moments of relative scarcity.

That outsider status means most of their policies are so radical or so parochial that the Democracy 3 simulation struggles to represent them. A reopened airport in South Thanet? Stop sham marriages? Cancel the licence fee? Formal training for religious slaughtermen? Maximum pricing on gambling machines?

A much bigger problem is that the focus of most of their policies, the EU, doesn’t figure in the Democracy 3 sim at all. Much of Ukip’s expenditure is predicated on the recovery of the £11bn we send over to the EU – even though that’s a tiny proportion of the overall UK budget. Despite those caveats, there are great swathes of the Ukip manifesto we can simulate, so let’s get to it.

As ever, to give the party a fair chance, I’ll start by implementing their funding proposals, then follow up with their spending proposals. It’s hard because Ukip’s funding proposals are mostly nonexistent in the sim. I cut railway subsidies to represent the scrapping of HS2 and slash international development funding (a flagship policy), but it’s hard beyond that. I can’t reclaim either EU funding or the money given to Scotland under the Barnett Formula. So overall these changes raise about £6bn per quarter – peanuts, frankly. There is another vague commitment that I can use to make some money; “big corporations pay their fair share of tax”. Bump up corporation tax then.

Another key patriotic policy is to increase defence spending, even if our army has nothing to do. They want it to reach 2 per cent of GDP on defence, and look to increase it further as time goes by. The UK’s GDP in this game is around a trillion pounds, so £20bn looks about right for defence. Except that it’s already higher than this in the sim, I presume because it was programmed before the recent defence cuts. I bump it from enough funds for a “well-trained” army to enough funds for a “highly-trained” army to tick the box. And we do a National Armed Forces Week to set Britain’s stay-at-home warmongers fizzing.

Then we get to Ukip’s lovely stance on immigration. I start by closing the borders as best as I can, to prevent unskilled immigration. Then I implement citizenship tests, to simulate the constraints on skilled immigration. Finally, I establish a Foreign Trade Panel to represent Ukip’s commitment to expanding Britain’s trade in and beyond Europe to the BRICs.

Ukip wants to fund an extra 6,000 police, border and prison jobs, with a focus on the frontlines. So I have to chuck money at the police and prisons too, which at least has the effect of curbing the street gangs. We also increase the country’s intelligence capability, as promised, which has a good effect on organised crime and lets us know a bit more about the many and varied liberal terrorists who are after us. And that superhero who saved the Lib Dems pops up regularly, reminding us that all superheroes are really fascists.

The final big pledge is £12bn to the NHS over the parliament, which isn’t actually that much when you break it down by quarter, especially compared to the lost moolah from the cuts in duty on alcohol and cigarettes.

More expensive is the commitment to childcare before and after school for every child (while we’re at it, we abolish sex education in primary schools, but I can’t find a way of giving extra funding to private schools). To balance its costs, we cut child benefit, in line with Ukip’s two-child limit and the benefit cap. We also drop unemployment benefit. Sadly, they seemed to have dropped their old policy to force every unemployed person into work, which might have actually helped the economy a little.

It’s worth saying all this spending has really unbalanced the budget. Our deficit is spectacularly huge. Even factoring in the billions we would have got from the EU and Scotland, we’d still be running a huge deficit. This isn’t in line with CEBR predictions at all.

In line with that, as the global recession hits our credit rating is downgraded, and downgraded and downgraded, to a level as bad as the Tories. How will island Britain survive? Spoiler: it probably won’t. I do a quick reshuffle, to maintain cabinet support for our policies, as one minister has already threatened to spend more time with his family.

Ukip has a lot of policies for the “nation of shopkeepers”, particularly a cut in business rates for small businesses. We represent that by a small business start-up campaign, a National Business Council and an Enterprise Investment Scheme. A pop star’s unexpected endorsement boosts our vote over 50 per cent for the first (and last) time. But what popular celebrity would back Ukip? Not counting Mike Read.

Despite the people singing songs in the street about us, a new economic problem kicks GDP in the crown jewels; a skills shortage partially caused by cancellation of clean energy subsidies and relatively low education funding. All this green tech isn’t just useful for saving the world, y’see - it also adds high-tech skills to the economy and stops us being a technological backwater.

Much of the rest of the policies I implement in Farage’s mid-term are to mollify pensioners. We bump up social care funding substantially by increasing the winter fuel allowance, giving out free eye tests for pensioners, and putting a bit more money into the NHS to represent free prescriptions. And we give married couples a tax break. To pay for that, we start a crackdown on benefit fraud – but again, that barely brings in a billion quid.

Much more difficult to implement at this stage are the tax cuts. Farage claimed £18bn of them, including the abolition of inheritance tax, an increase in everyone’s personal tax allowance to 13,000, and 10 per cent less tax on income between £45,000 and £55,000. He even lowered VAT a mite by removing it from listed building repairs and sanitary products. I bite the bullet and implement all of these.

Now this is something new. Our spending is so out of control we’ve fallen into a debt crisis, pulling the country apart. I am sticking to the Ukip spending commitments, but it’s hard because I know it’s not entirely fair. These were predicated on money from Europe and Scotland that I couldn’t supply. Sympathy for the devil?

At the moment, I just have that sickly inevitable feeling you get when there’s only one Jenga block that looks reasonable to take out but the whole edifice is leaning and twisted, and an excitable child is running up and down with a rubber ball nearby. Essentially, what Dad’s Army’s Corporal Fraser would call “DOOM”.

A final dilemma pops up, asking if we want to legalise gay marriage completely. I check with my cabinet for flood warnings, but there don’t seem to be any. We quietly shelve the policy anyway, to please our core vote.

There’s just one quarter left until the election, so it’s time for some crowd-pleasing policies. We cancel pollution controls, prompting the resignation of the environmentalist-allied welfare minister. Our fascist superhero reappears, pushing down crime. In many respects, the country is in a good shape. Traffic congestion is way down, international trade is up, crime has been crushed, poverty has fallen, car usage has decline, and immigration has almost vanished.

What’s killed our vote is the squeeze on the middle classes – their income has halved in our term. Combine that with the decline in GDP and the collapse in confidence because of our astonishing national debt, and I was surprised the country didn’t just default before the election.

Compared to Ukip’s frankly insane 2010 manifesto, which even Farage himself has called “drivel”, this manifesto is much more stable. Outside of the EU withdrawal, it’s a selfish tinkerer’s manifesto. It funded a lot of fiddly little things designed to appeal to patriots, the poor, conservatives and the retired – the people who’ve felt hard done by the Tory leadership’s gentle drift towards liberalism. All the horrible hate-packed policies about burkas have been kicked into the long grass. If anything, the Tory manifesto was more problematic to implement than this one, because it was so badly funded.

So that’s it. I’ve simulated all the policies of all the parties as best I can, controlling the variables as best I could. All of them have been tested against a massive global recession, the toughest test for a party’s policies, and only Labour and the Lib Dems made it through.

Labour survived from generous interpretations on my part, as I’d run out of real manifesto policies to implement. The Lib Dems did well because their extensively-specified policies were well-targeted and mostly cheap to implement. Ukip’s promises seemed to cost a lot more in this simulation than the CEBR said they would in real life. I felt sad about the Greens, who had the only true manifesto with a vision, but whose high tax and spending commitments destroyed the confidence of the country’s economic masters. And the Tories’ promises of fiscal prudence tied them up so much that our weakened economy couldn’t respond to the recession.

Anyway, given the inevitability of coalition government, none of these manifestos will be implemented. Which begs the question: “Why did I just spent a week testing them out?” Bah. See you in 2020!

This is the final instalment. Read our methodology here. Catch up with the rest of the series here. And here's what happened with the manifestos in the 2010 election.

Daniel Griliopoulos blogs at Funambulism and tweets as @GriddleOctopus.

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump