After months of skirting around the question, we’ve been given a good glimpse of what Ukip’s 2015 general election manifesto will look like.
In an interview with Prospect magazine, Tim Aker, Ukip MEP for the Eastern Counties and head of the party’s Policy Unit, has shown a hand that, though not unexpected, should be of genuine concern to liberal-minded voters.
First, the good news. Following a line reminiscent of the Liberal Democrat pledges at the time of the last general election, Aker says that his party “want to take low earners out of income tax altogether” with “no tax on the minimum wage”.
So far so liberal from the man charged with writing Ukip’s manifesto. However, under the guise of wanting “flatter, simpler and lower taxes”, Akers goes on to say that Ukip will promise to increase the level at which the 40p income tax rate begins to £45,000, and no higher rate will exist – ie. the current top rate of income tax will be abolished completely.
We can debate whether or not this move is regressive all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you want to tackle inequality through tax reform Ukip would do much better to focus on evidently regressive taxes such as VAT and council tax, of which there is no mention in Aker’s interview.
More worryingly – and this is something that does seem to fall at a more obvious point on the left/right spectrum – is that “foreign aid is an obvious target” for cuts that Ukip are looking to make to reduce the deficit.
With a target spend of only 0.7 per cent of GDP for 2013-14, this shows a clear misconception of how big an impact cutting official development assistance could have on the nation’s finances, not to mention the good it does overseas. As of 2010, nearly half the world’s population were surviving on less than $2 a day. Less than one penny in every pound of government money is a small price to pay for alleviating this suffering plus, after National Audit Office and House of Lords Committee reviews over recent years, there is now more scrutiny to ensure our aid is spent more effectively.
Further plans to shrink parts of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Business Innovation and Skills will apparently be independently reviewed, but “not by the OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility]”.
But it is welfare reform where the Ukip plans really put them further to the right of a lot of Conservatives. (Bar a commitment to scrap the relatively unpopular ‘Bedroom Tax’, which might be driven by popular sentiment than anything else.
Under a Ukip government, the benefit cap would stay and child benefit would be limited to two children. Not so radical, until you read about Ukip’s plans for immigrant benefit claimants. Aker says the 2015 manifesto will include commitments to the effect that “new migrants to this country will not be eligible for any welfare benefits until they have been paying tax and national insurance for five years.”
A lot can happen in five years. Perfectly skilled, hard-working migrants could find themselves out of a job through no fault of their own. Over such a long period, its not unlikely that this will happen at some stage, but UKIP plans to deny them access to the same safety net they would provide for British born workers.
As well as a plan to increase the strength of the border force, Aker says that to come to the UK “you must show that you have been working in that profession for 12 of the last 24 months, that you can speak English and that you won’t need tax credits.”
You can almost hear foreign companies crying out to invest in UK business under such conditions, while their most talented new employees wouldn’t have a hope of relocating either.
Aker’s policy hints do at least suggest that Ukip is looking to draw bolder distinctions between itself and the main three parties. This is particularly stark in his criticism of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, which Aker says was “rushed through” parliament after receiving support from the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats alike. The Ukip pledge of a “complete review of it and the rebalancing of what level of intervention the security services can have in our lives” is an open challenge to them on that front.
“We’re beyond left-right” insists Aker. Even if that’s so, it doesn’t make the manifesto he’s drawing up wise, and how many of these ideas actually make it through to the final manifesto will be key in setting the tone of what will undoubtedly be an aggressive campaign by Ukip.
Justin Cash is a reporter at LegalWeek and tweets @Justin_Cash_1