David Cameron holds aloft the Conservative 2015 manifesto. Photo: Getty
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The 23 most terrifying things in the Tory manifesto

Manifest-woe.

Did you have time to read the Tory manifesto in full before they snatched a majority from the jaws of constitutional chaos? No? Well, I've had a little read through, and here are some of the most unsettling proposals:

Claiming benefits is the "wrong thing"

"Under Labour, those who worked hard found more and more of their earnings taken away in tax to support a welfare system that allowed, and even encouraged, people to choose benefits when they could be earning a living. This sent out terrible signals: if you did the right thing, you were penalised – and if you did the wrong thing, you were rewarded, with the unfairness of it all infuriating hardworking people."

The welfare cap will be reduced to £23,000 per household. Regardless of the fairness of this, painting benefits claimants as doing "wrong" is pretty sinister.

Ruling out tax rises

“Commit to no increases in VAT, National Insurance contributions or Income Tax.”

They've even said they'd enshrine this in law. It would be silly to tax for ideology's sake (as some have accused Labour of wanting to do), but isn't it even less responsible to completely rule out a useful source of revenue? Particularly as the economy is so unpredictable?

No housing benefit for jobseekers

“It is also not fair that taxpayers should have to pay for 18-21 year-olds on Jobseeker’s Allowance to claim Housing Benefit in order to leave home. So we will ensure that they no longer have an automatic entitlement to Housing Benefit.”

That'll make it easier to work hard and get on in life, won't it?

Limiting strikes

"We will, in addition, tackle the disproportionate impact of strikes in essential public services by introducing a tougher threshold in health, education, fire and transport. Industrial action in these essential services would require the support of at least 40 per cent of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots – as well as a majority of those who actually turn out to vote."

Because if key workers who are teaching our children, saving our lives, taking us to work and nursing us back to health are sick of being shafted, we don't want to hear it.

Low pay can stay low

Only real terms rises in Minimum Wage: "The National Minimum Wage should rise to £6.70 this autumn, on course for a Minimum Wage that will be over £8 by the end of the decade."

And no incentive for businesses to pay the Living Wage: "We also support the Living Wage and will continue to encourage businesses and other organisations to pay it whenever they can afford it."

Bring back fox hunting

"We will protect hunting, shooting and fishing, for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that these activities bring. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time."

Taking disability benefits away

"We are reassessing those on incapacity benefits so that help goes to those who really need it."

Keeping the net migration target, kind of

“Keep our ambition of delivering annual net migration in the tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands.”

They've diluted it from "target" to "ambition" - either way it's futile.

Trying to use welfare to reduce immigration

"To reduce the numbers of EU migrants coming to Britain, we will end the ability of EU jobseekers to claim any job-seeking benefits at all. And if jobseekers have not found a job within six months, they will be required to leave."

Pointless, because less than 5 per cent of EU migrants are claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, while less than 10 per cent are claiming other DWP working-age benefits.

Trying to use housing to reduce immigration

"We will introduce a new residency requirement for social housing, so that EU migrants cannot even be considered for a council house unless they have been living in an area for at least four years."

They've already denied them any housing benefit. Again, pointless, because there are similar levels of UK nationals and foreign-born people living in social housing, and the immigrant population is three times as likely to be in the private rental sector than their UK-born neighbours.

Landlords will have to check their tenants' immigration status

"We will implement the requirement for all landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants."

Because landlords can be trusted to do sensitive race-related work on behalf of the government.

Counting foreign students in the immigration numbers

"Across the spectrum, from the student route to the family and work routes, we will build a system that truly puts you, your family and the British people first."

International students coming to London alone contribute £2.3bn towards the economy. Go away, guys!

Arbitrary insistence on fluent English

"We will legislate to ensure that every public sector worker operating in a customer-facing role must speak fluent English."

How? Why?

Free schools anywhere

No regard for where free schools are needed: "deliver free schools for parents and communities that want them."

Let's fund the NHS, somehow

"Because of our long-term economic plan, we are able to commit to increasing NHS spending in England in real terms by a minimum of £8 billion over the next five years."

Ohhh, you're making the money for it from a slogan. Clever.

Threats to the BBC licence fee

"We will deliver a comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, while maintaining a world class service and supporting our creative industries. That is why we froze the BBC licence fee and will keep it frozen, pending Charter renewal."

It's a goner.

Boundary review

"We will address the unfairness of the current Parliamentary boundaries, reduce the number of MPs to 600 to cut the cost of politics and make votes of more equal value... We will implement the boundary reforms that Parliament has already approved and make them apply automatically once the Boundary Commission reports in 2018. This will deal with the fact that the current electoral layout over-represents parts of the country where populations have been falling and under-represents parts where populations have been rising."

This could advantage the Tories by 10 seats or more.

No House of Lords reform

"While we still see a strong case for introducing an elected element into our second chamber, this is not a priority in the next Parliament."

The new party of working people, ladies and gentlemen.

No electoral reform

"We will respect the will of the British people, as expressed in the 2011 referendum, and keep First Past the Post for elections to the House of Commons."

Respect, distort - potato-potato.

Leave onshore windfarms up to NIMBYs

"We will end any new public subsidy for them and change the law so that local people have the final say on windfarm applications."

They want to "halt the spread" of onshore windfarms, in spite of the manifesto stating "Onshore wind now makes a meaningful contribution to our energy mix".

Scrapping the Human Rights Act

"The next Conservative Government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights."

So which human rights are you scrapping, and which are you keeping?

Snoopers' Charter

"Our new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs, even as technology develops. We will maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects’ communications, while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers."

Inheritance tax cut

"Take the family home out of Inheritance Tax for all but the richest by raising the effective threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1 million."

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Daily Mail
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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle