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Commenting on the Liberal Democrat 2019 general election manifesto, Ryan Shorthouse, director of the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats have produced an exhaustive manifesto with some good policies, especially on making Britain greener and fairer.” 

“However, overall, it reads like a long list of vague ambitions rather than concrete policy proposals. There is at the moment an absence of detailed costings for nearly all of their policies. Despite claims they will manage the public finances responsibly, their manifesto seems to be a significant spending splurge.”

“The Liberal Democrats have a distinctive offer on Brexit. But, beyond this, there seems to be no consistent and clear set of principles governing their policymaking. Particularly on economic policy, the overall package is not especially liberal.”

The Liberal Democrat general election manifesto adopted the following Bright Blue policies:

  • Making the right to request flexible working a day one right
  • Introducing lifetime learning accounts
  • Reducing VAT on the purchase of Electric Vehicles
  • Adopting proposed World Health Organisation limits and targets on air pollutants
  • Extending the Sugar Tax to more goods that are high in added sugar
  • Decriminalising possession of recreational cannabis
  • Reducing the initial wait for the first payment of Universal Credit
  • Increasing the number and value of Work Allowances in Universal Credit
  • Retain the UK’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights
  • Extend name-blind recruitment across the civil service and public bodies
  • Ensuring there is a voluntary question on gender identity in the Census 2021
  • Reducing the cost of citizenship fees for children
  • Introduce a 28-day limit on the detention of migrants
  • Giving asylum applicants the right to work after a certain period of time
  • Increasing the proportion of the aid budget spent on climate change and biodiversity

Taxes

Commenting, Sam Robinson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats have put forward some sensible proposals on tax. With three quarters of small businesses saying the current system is too complicated, it is right to simplify business taxation. Replacing the complex system of business rates with a commercial landowner levy is a good start.”

“Raising corporation tax to 20% risks undoing the substantial increases in tax receipts seen in recent years and reducing the UK’s international competitiveness. It is far from clear that, as the Liberal Democrats claim, raising corporation tax would generate billions of extra revenue.”

“Putting a penny on basic, higher and additional rates of Income Tax to pay for NHS and social care services would be unfair. The tax burden should be lowered on work, and increased instead on activities with negative externalities. The Liberal Democrats are right to extend the Sugar Tax to more products with high levels of added sugar.”

“Scrapping the Transferable Tax Allowance for basic-rate, married taxpayers would be unwise. Instead, it should be extended to all couples, married or not, to better support one-earner couples with young children. Grandparents who leave the labour market to look after young children, too, should be able to transfer their tax allowance to their working adult children.”

Spending

Commenting, Sam Robinson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right to point out that we should use historic low interest rates to invest in infrastructure. The emphasis on investing in low carbon infrastructure, as Bright Blue has long recommended, is particularly welcome.”

“However, the lack of detail for many policies and vague costings gives the manifesto the look of a spending splurge rather than a spending strategy.”

Employment

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said

“The Liberal Democrats have rightly called for the right to request flexible working being a day one right, as Bright Blue has called for previously. Such a right would benefit a large variety of groups, including care-givers, people with physical and mental health issues, and religious minorities.”

“It is also good to see recognition that the modern ‘gig economy’ can benefit many workers who are able to enjoy greater flexibility. The Liberal Democrats are correct in wishing to create a new employment status that will preserve this flexibility while also guaranteeing the rights that we should all expect from a job, such as sick pay and holiday entitlement.” 

Welfare

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right in focusing on improving Universal Credit by reducing the five-week wait, considering that it is the greatest source of stress for claimants both in the short-term and the long-term, as Bright Blue research has shown.”   

“The Liberal Democrats are also correct in identifying self-employed as a group of Universal Credit claimants that need support, as our research has demonstrated. But the manifesto lacks any detail on how this is to be accomplished.” 

“The increase in the number and value of Work Allowances should also be welcomed. Letting working claimants keep more of their wages when they work will help to incentivise them to take up more hours or seek better paid work.”  

“Questions should be raised about the true costs of these proposals, however. Removing the two-child limit and the benefit cap, while bringing Local Housing Allowance into line with rents and reversing numerous other cuts, will be very expensive. The £6 billion per year promised by the Liberal Democrats to cover all of these is unlikely to be enough in the medium-term.” 

Housing

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right in proposing to build many more homes for social rent each year. Housebuilding in Britain has tended to reach significant numbers only when governments committed to building a significant number of social homes. While ambitious, such a number is necessary to address the housing crisis and ensure that more vulnerable and elderly people can live in accommodation that suits their needs.”

“Legislating limits on rent increases is likely to have a long-term negative impact on both the quantity and quality of rented homes, as evidence from abroad overwhelmingly shows. Meanwhile, simply promoting longer tenancies or setting clearer standards for social homes is unlikely to significantly improve the experience of private or social renting.”

Homelessness

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The rise in rough sleeping in the past decade is a national scandal. The Liberal Democrats are correct in recognising the need for sufficient funding to enable the full delivery of the Homelessness Reduction Act.”

“This country was once close to ending rough sleeping. Other countries are. There should be no excuses for one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.”

Immigration

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The last decade has seen the introduction of punitive immigration policies, which have been unnecessary and ineffective. The Liberal Democrats are right to want to build a more compassionate and effective immigration system. 

“They are right to want to reduce the fees for applying for British citizenship for children. In fact, they should have gone further, and scrapped these fees altogether for children, and means-tested them for adults.”

“However, we do need a controlled immigration system. And there are progressive reasons for this. Free movement across the EU is not sustainable. We should have targets on gross levels of some categories of migrants.”

Childcare

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats, erroneously, have chosen to prioritise additional state resources on trying to make childcare more affordable, through the extension of the Early Years Free Entitlement. There are already relatively extensive and generous subsidies to help parents with the cost of childcare. And there are alternative ways to help parents with high costs, for example by offering government-backed, income-contingent loans.”

“Childcare is an important service for working parents. But its much more important role is educating young children. The focus of politicians now should be investing in the quality of childcare, by raising the qualifications and pay of staff.”

Schools

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right to commit to increases in per-pupil funding and oppose the expansion of grammar schools. But, on other aspects of schools policy, they have followed cliched complaints, rather than the evidence. There is no compelling evidence that the exam system children experience is increasing mental health problems. And scrapping Ofsted would be unnecessary and unwise.”

Higher education

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats, god help us, want yet another major review of the financing of higher education. It would be a waste of time, since the current finance model we have – although not perfect – is broadly progressive and successful.”

“Restoring maintenance grants sounds like a good idea. But it would be a mistake. Low-income students would receive no more money than they do now. The only result would be to reduce the number of months wealthy graduates, albeit from low-income backgrounds, repay their student loans.”

Lifelong learning

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are absolutely right that education needs to be seen as an ongoing process, rather than just something you do at the start of your lives. A new Skills Wallet for all adults is a neat idea. But the £10,000 granted by government could be a lot more generous, if the money received was as an income-contingent loan, rather than as a non-repayable grant.”

Domestic energy

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrat’s intention to end fuel poverty by 2025 and support a zero-carbon energy standard for new developments through pragmatic policies such as a reduction in VAT on home insulation is admirable. However, other policies aimed at achieving this, such as facilitating a mass exodus of homes and businesses from the gas grid through the phase in of heat pump installations, do not consider the pressure this would have on the National Grid.”

“In principle, the Liberal Democrat’s zero carbon building standard – rising to a ‘Passivhaus’ standard by 2025 – does not consider the effect this would have on prices for private rental properties and houses.”

Renewable energy

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right to want to increase funding and remove restrictions for the development of renewable energy. In particular, restrictions on developing onshore wind energy need to be removed, but the manifesto does not specifically address this.”

“Investment into innovative technologies in the energy sector such as tidal power, energy storage, smart grids and hydrogen – as the Lib Dems are calling for – is unlikely to be sufficient to alone double the level of renewable energy generation within the next 10 years.” 

Air pollution

Commenting, William Nicolle, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The costs of air pollution to our health, environment and economy are considerable. It is welcome that the Liberal Democrats have adopted Bright Blue’s policy of reducing VAT on Electric Vehicles (EVs). However, for no clear reason, the Liberal Democrats promise to maintain VAT on EVs at 5%. To properly incentivise consumers to buy EVs, VAT needs to be completely abolished on EVs.” 

“The proposal for a Clean Air Act is unnecessary, given the Environment Bill – which is likely to be reintroduced in the next parliament – will provide the framework for future targets. But the ambitious promise of introducing statutory World Health Organisation guideline limits on the concentration of the most harmful air pollutants, as Bright Blue have recommended, is hugely welcome, given the Government has been repeatedly taken to court for failing to comply with legal limits on concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in particular.”

“The commitment to introduce ten more Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZs) across the country is also very welcome. But the government needs to enable local or combined authorities to make reasonable profits from the administration of such zones, which could generate funding for local scrappage schemes or increased electric vehicle charging infrastructure.” 

Waste

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“It is pleasing to see the Liberal Democrats calling for a ban on all non-recyclable single-use plastics and replacing these with affordable alternatives, something which Bright Blue has previously advocated for.” 

“The Liberal Democrats’ policy of introducing legally binding targets for reducing the consumption of key natural resources and other incentives for businesses to improve resource efficiency sounds admirable but is considerably vague. There is no mention of what the legally binding targets will be set at, nor what incentives for businesses to improve resource efficiency will look like.” 

“The Liberal Democrat proposal to establish a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England in conjunction with extending separate food waste collections to a minimum of 90% of homes by 2024 is commendable. But their ambitious targets are unlikely to be met without concrete policies.”

Conservation

Commenting, William Nicolle, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The proposals to conserve and halt the deterioration of our natural world from the Liberal Democrats are wide-ranging and welcome. In particular, the adoption of a ‘British Overseas Ecosystems Fund’ for environmental projects in the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), and the expansion of the Blue Belt programme to cover 50% of UK waters, is welcome. But, in delivering on the 50% target, the Liberal Democrats must fully protect waters through properly protecting Marine Protected Areas that disallow commercial fishing. And, this should not only be focused on UKOTs, but also UK domestic waters.”

“It is positive to see the Liberal Democrats commit to introducing Bright Blue’s proposal to reform the post-Brexit rural subsidy system from paying farmers, land owners and land managers based on acreage – as is done under the Common Agricultural Policy – with a system that links payments to public goods like ecosystem services. Public money for public goods should be at the heart of any future rural-subsidy scheme.”

“On international policy, the Liberal Democrats should be praised for committing to increase the proportion of the aid budget committed to tackling climate change – as recommended by Bright Blue. But, there is a lack of detail on how much of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) will be greened. At the very least, £1 billion of the ODA budget should go towards tackling poverty and global conservation together.”

“However, not all of the Liberal Democrats’ policies are needed. The introduction of a Nature Act is, frankly, unnecessary, given the current Government’s proposed Environment Bill.”

Illegal wildlife trade

Commenting, William Nicolle, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right to propose restrictions on the trade of real fur, hunting trophies where the hunting does not contribute to environmental protection, and illegal pet imports. These will tackle the scourge of the £17 billion a year global illegal wildlife trade, that threatens critically endangered animals.”

“Yet, it is a shame they have not gone further with policies that would complement those proposed. As a minimum, there should be the introduction of a new ‘Magnitsky Act’, to freeze the assets and suspend the liberties of those suspected of being involved in the illegal wildlife trade.”

Drugs reform

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats should be applauded for calling for an end to imprisonment for illegal drug possession and to create a regulated market for cannabis. The strongest arguments in favour of this courageous and correct move are not libertarian ones, but social justice ones.”

“There is growing evidence, especially from Portugal, that decriminalisation reduces drug-related harm and fatalities. Similarly, by legalising and regulating the cannabis market, young people would be more likely to use legal, safer forms of cannabis, which would benefit public health. Taxing cannabis would also provide important resources for government to tackle real social problems.”

Human rights

Commenting, Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield, research assistant at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right to support the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, as Bright Blue has campaigned for. Britain is the home of human rights. Post-Brexit, it needs to convince the rest of the world it will remain a bulwark of freedom. A constructive call, for example, would be to ensure that all new free trade agreements include human rights clauses, where feasible.”

Discrimination 

Commenting, Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield, research assistant at Bright Blue, said:

“Britain still has a way to go to ensure everyone is treated equally, regardless of their social characteristics. The public are sceptical of quotas to boost employment rates of certain social groups, as Bright Blue research has shown, but are much more positive about name-blind and gender-blind recruitment policies. Bright Blue has recommended the extension of name- and gender-blind recruitment processes to all civil service and government agency roles, and is pleased to see the Liberal Democrats echo this recommendation.”

“Legal Aid was gutted by LASPO 2012, leading to a precipitous rise in litigants-in-person and impacting vulnerable demographics unfairly across many different areas of law, from immigration to family. We are pleased to see the Liberal Democrats promise to put £500 million back into legal aid where it is sorely needed.”