By Harry Phibbs
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It is true the Lib Dems often act as a drag on this Government. Yet the Government has still been
surprisingly radical in the scale of its reform programme. We are just over the half way point of this Parliament and so we can expect still more to be achieved.
However, already consideration is being given to the Conservative
Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. Such people as the Cabinet
Office Minister Oliver Letwin and the Treasury Special Advisor Neil
O'Brien are understood to be already on the case.
Conservative Policy Forum has been revived, with their proposals going
direct to Mr Letwin, who is their Chairman. Given the prohibitive cost of
attending the Party Conference, this opportunity to give the Party
grassroots a fair hearing is all the more important.
We also have
more Tory MPs who are interested in policy than ever before and there are
more think tanks producing policies consistent with Conservative
philosophy. The ambition, of course, is that the Manifesto will form a programme that will be enacted by the first
Conservative Government for a generation.
So there will be lots of
new ideas on offer. However, as Conservatives, we should not be dismissive of
considering and adapting proposals from the past. This could include offerings from previous manifestos.
Some may argue that any policy from the 1997, 2001 or 2005
manifesto should not be considered as it had been "rejected by the
electorate." Yet just because most people voted against the
Conservatives in those elections it does not follow that they opposed
every manifesto item. The difficulty was that the electorate had been persuaded that the Conservatives had base motives. Asked if they approved of a Conservative policy there would often be majority support – until they were told it was Conservative policy. There was Francis Maude's "killer slide"
– this showed the Party's immigration policy had two to one approval
when presented neutrally, but when it was identified as Conservative
policy the response was two to one against. A similar pattern was seen
on other Conservative policies.
So what might be worth digging out
of the storage box, given a polish, and put back into use?
This Manifesto said:
We will give priority to future reductions in personal taxation that help families looking after dependent children or relatives by allowing one partner's unused personal allowance to be transferred to a working spouse where they have these responsibilities.
It included a radical proposal from Peter Lilley for everyone to have an independently funded pension:
At the start of the next parliament we will set out proposals to provide all young people entering the workforce with a personal pension fund paid for through a rebate on their national insurance
contributions. At retirement they would be entitled to the full pension earned by this accumulated investment. This could give them a pension significantly higher than they would currently receive from the state. But they will be guaranteed a pension at least equal to the current base state pension, increased in line with inflation.
Labour Party described this as the "abolition of the state pension". On the doorstep they told existing pensioners that a Conservative
Government would abolish their pension and leave them to starve. It was,
of course, a complete lie. That does show that reviving the policy
would have a political risk as Labour might offer the same response. Yet
it would be the right thing to do and communicating the truth should
not be an insurmountable challenge.
There was this item which remains as relevant as ever:
The number of empty houses has fallen in each of the last 3 years. But nothing is more frustrating for people who need social housing, than the sight of a suitable property owned by the public sector boarded up and empty. We will stop that.
Public landlords will have to sell houses which are available for occupation yet have been left empty without a good reason for more than 12 months.
is poignant how the manifesto proposed to boost success stories – for
example the ISAs and Tessas savings scheme which were then destroyed by
the Labour Government.
An expansion of the Assisted Places Scheme was promised:
We will give more talented children, from less well-off backgrounds, the opportunity to go to fee-paying schools by expanding the Assisted Places Scheme to cover all ages of compulsory education, in line with our current spending plans. We propose to develop it further into a wider scholarship scheme covering additional educational opportunities. The freedoms and status of fee-paying schools will be protected.
bring back the Assisted Places Scheme. It can be almost cost neutral.
The help would go to those on low and middle incomes who could not afford school fees. There would otherwise have been the cost
of educating each child in a state school.
This still looks of interest:
We will give students between 14 and 21 a learning credit which will enable them to choose suitable education or training leading to recognised qualifications up to A levels or their equivalents.
As does this:
Introduce competition in the water industry, starting with large users.
If we can switch supplier for gas and electriticity why not do the same to reduce our water bills?
Royal Mail privatisation cropped up, with a vague "considering options" but one aspect was emphatic:
We will transfer Parcelforce to the private sector.
If Royal Mail privatisation in general is problematic why not get on with privatising Parcelforce? Online retailing means this is a growth area. Why not allow the Parcelforce 5,300 staff the chance to buy shares? Why not give the business the ability to raise capital and be run independently so that it can grow?
Another item which deserves to be revisited is banning strikes in emergency services and strengthening ballots:
We will legislate to remove legal immunity from industrial action which has disproportionate or excessive effect. Members of the public and employers will be able to seek injunctions to prevent industrial action in these circumstances. Any strike action will also have to be approved by a majority of all members eligible to vote and ballots will have to be repeated at regular intervals if negotiations are extended.
This manifesto had some good proposals which gained little attention in the election campaign where not much got through beyond "keep the pound."
We will implement our "cops in shops" initiative – getting paperwork done in visible places on the beat and not back in the station. And we will encourage parish and town councils to create an additional new role, that of the parish constable.
On prison reform it said:
Prison life should not be a life of idleness. Under the Conservatives, prisoners will be required to perform a proper day's work. The proceeds will contribute to reparations for their victims and to the upkeep of their own families. And prisoners will learn the habit of working, just as everyone else has to do each day.
The Coalition Government are already due to double the number of prisoners working from 9,000 to 20,000 by the end of the decade. Certainly that is welcome. But there are 85,000 prisoners in England and Wales. So far as I can understand work remains voluntary. (Would it breach the Human Rights Act or an EU rule to require it?) Many don't even have the option of proper work.
Setting 85,000 people to work could be of economic significance. Should prisoners be allowed to spend some of their earnings on modest luxuries while in prison? Should they be allowed to save up for their release? Should they help finance the cost of running the prisons? Or, as suggested in 2001, contribute to reparations to the victims? Perhaps the proceeds could be shared between all four.
On tax there was this item:
Conservatives will repeal the tax on IT consultants, the notorious IR35, which has driven away from Britain some of our most productive workers.
It is still with us. The Office of Tax Simplification suggests it is ineffective as a measure against tax avoidance and that getting rid of it might be a good idea as, in a wonderful phrase, "this measure would be very welcome amongst the contractor community." While raising a tiny amount of revenue it generates lots of angst. George Osborne should just get rid of it straight away.
Another tax cut pledge in 2001 we are still waiting for is this one:
We hope to help charities by abolishing their irrecoverable VAT liabilities.
We will privatise Channel 4 and give the money to cultural institutions like museums and galleries so they are more independent of the state.
This would raise half a bilion or so to reduce the National Debt (every little helps) and annoy Jon Snow. But it would also be good for future viability for the channel to be independent from the state.
There was this message on private health care:
Labour imposes a tax penalty on employers who offer their employees private medical insurance, and then taxes again any employee who has this benefit. It doesn't make sense and, when affordable, we will abolish both taxes.
There may be nervousness that this policy would be portrayed as anti NHS. But it would reduce the strain on the NHS. Seven million people have private health insurance. Progressive employers who take action to improve the health of those who work for them should be encouraged.
This was proposed to make the devolution settlement fair:
Reform Parliament so that only English and Welsh MPs vote on exclusively English and Welsh matters.
This little noticed item from the 2005 manifesto would surely merit consideration:
We will break the link between drugs and crime by massively expanding treatment programmes, including 25,000 residential rehab places (compared with fewer than 2,500 places today), and by giving all young users of hard drugs a straight choice – effective treatment or appearing in court.
There was also:
The Right to Buy for council tenants extended home ownership, transformed many of Britain’s housing estates and expanded our property-owning democracy. A Conservative Government will extend this right to tenants of housing associations.
The Conservative programme was presented as anti-immigration. But some of the measures were about getting the right sort of immigration.
For instance this:
We will introduce a points-based system for work permits similar to the one used in Australia. This will give priority to people with the skills Britain needs.
We will introduce health checks for immigrants in order to curb the spread of diseases such as TB and to protect access to our NHS. It is, after all, a national health service not a world health service. People coming to Britain for over 12 months from outside the EU will be required to undergo a full medical test. And anyone settling permanently here from outside the EU will have to demonstrate that they have an acceptable standard of health and that they are unlikely to impose significant costs or demands on Britain’s health system.
The manifesto pledged to "abolish Labour’s admissions regulator" for universities. Sadly OFFA remains in place.
The Conservatves, the manifesto said, were "determined" to restore national control over fishing grounds and withdraw from the Commons Fisheries Policy. This is something David Cameron should insist on as part of the renegotiation with the EU.
The manifesto also said:
Parents will also be able to send their children free of charge to any independent school that offers a place at no more than the cost of a state-funded school.
This should be revived and is quite compatible with the free school programme.