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Commenting on the Liberal Democrat Manifesto, Ryan Shorthouse, director of the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats have produced an extensive and evidence-based manifesto with many genuinely thoughtful and original policies, especially on drugs reform, supporting teachers, and tackling different forms of discrimination. Both the Conservatives and Labour, if they form the next government, should adopt some of the policies.

“However, overall, it reads like a long list of wooly aims rather than concrete policy proposals, relying heavily on the launch of lots of new ‘strategies’, ‘targets’ and ‘conventions’. Most importantly, there is an absence of costings for their many policies. This raises serious doubts about their ability to eliminate the structural budget deficit by 2020. The Liberal Democrats have failed to provide a clear and sustainable plan to repairing the UK’s public finances.

“Politics requires compromise and making difficult choices, as the Liberal Democrats should be well aware of. The Liberal Democrats are perfectly entitled, and in some cases right, to oppose the current Prime Minister’s policies. But to describe the Prime Minister as “arrogant”, “heartless” and “miserable” is not only incorrect – hers is a communitarian vision, seeking to strengthen relationships, community and citizenship – but also childish.”

Brexit

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

“The Liberal Democrats seem not to have heard what the British public were saying in the EU referendum last year: that they do not want the free movement of people from the EU. Supporting free movement is neither practical nor progressive. The public are right to want to have control and caps on the flow of particular migrants into this country.

“The Liberal Democrats are right that the EU’s single market enhances Britain’s prosperity and the government should prioritise the UK’s membership of it in the Brexit negotiations, but not if there can be no reform of freedom of movement within it.

“The Liberal Democrats are right to join the Labour Party in declaring that they will unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK. The Prime Minister promised to sort this immediately, but millions of people are still living in limbo. It should be sorted now.”

Tax and spending

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

“The Liberal Democrats have some good and progressive tax policies. It is right to prioritise tax cuts for the lowest-paid workers. Focussing on raising the income threshold for the payment of employees National Insurance, rather than carrying on focussing on raising the income threshold for the payment of income tax, is better targeted and should be adopted by the other political parties. They are also right to call for the abandonment of Conservative plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold.

“The Liberal Democrats are also right to argue that we should be using the UK’s historically low interest rates to invest more in infrastructure.

“Nonetheless, the lack of any detailed costings in a manifesto with countless policies begins to make it look like a wish list rather than a serious plan for government.”

NHS and social care

Commenting, James Dobson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“It is clear that the NHS and the social care sector in particular will need greater funding in the future. But increasing income tax, especially on modest earners, at a time of low wage growth and rising inflation is unfair, misguided and unnecessary.

“Instead they could have committed to expanding co-payments in the NHS and increasing contestability in the commissioning of NHS services.”

Pensions

Commenting, James Dobson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are wrong to guarantee the ‘triple lock’ on state pensions throughout the next Parliament. Pensioners have been better protected from austerity since 2010 and now are, on average, better off than the working-aged population.

“The triple-lock has cost the Treasury £28 billion over the past six years. This is money which could be better spent reducing poverty among the working-aged population, especially in further mitigating the cuts to Universal Credit. It would be fairer to have a ‘double lock’, scrapping the rule that the state pension must rise by at least 2.5%.

“The Liberal Democrats are right to means-test Winter Fuel Payments. But all universal benefits for affluent pensioners should be means-tested.”

“It is right and encouraging that the Liberal Democrats have called for an end to regressive higher rate tax relief for pension contributions, which would generate significant savings”.

Immigration

Commenting, James Dobson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Last year’s vote to leave the EU was a clear signal of public dissatisfaction with current immigration policy and free movement in particular. The Liberal Democrats have ignored the public’s legitimate concerns about immigration. Even among ‘Remain’ voters opposition to freedom of movement is high. It is neither progressive nor practical to have uncontrolled immigration.

“Instead, the Liberal Democrats should have pledged to use the opportunity of Brexit to create a more popular and effective immigration system. They should have committed to abandoning the current net migration target but introducing new gross targets, after extensive public consultation, on specific categories of migrants.

“But the Liberal Democrats are right to adopt a number of Bright Blue’s policies: hosting an annual migration day in parliament to debate and hold to account the government’s immigration policies; increasing the number of refugees through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme; and removing students from official migration statistics.”

Drugs reform

Commenting, Sam Hall, senior researcher 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.”

Early years

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

“The Liberal Democrats are wasting precious fiscal resource on committing to increasing the number of free childcare hours to 30 hours a week for all 1 to 4 year olds. The evidence shows that there are no further gains to the cognitive development of two, three and four-year olds of spending more than 15 hours a week in formal childcare.

“The Early Years Free Entitlement is meant to be an education policy. We desperately need to improve the quality, not the quantity, of formal childcare. This should be the focus of government resources. The Liberal Democrats, to be fair, are right to want to ensure all childcare settings have a graduate in their workforce, and to increase the value of the Early Years pupil premium.”

Schools

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

“The Liberal Democrats follow the evidence and, impressively, focus their education policies on improving the status and professional development of teachers. The Conservative Party’s determination to increase the number of grammar schools is not rooted in the evidence and the Liberal Democrats are right to oppose it.

“Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats are being ideological in their opposition to the for-profit sector in running our schools. Such organisations already run childcare settings and universities. International evidence shows that the involvement of the for-profit sector in schools does not harm standards and can increase parental choice.”

Tuition fees and maintenance grants

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

“The Liberal Democrats have learnt from their past mistakes and are not pledging to scrap tuition fees for undergraduate students, happily. Scrapping tuition fees, as advocated by Labour, is deeply ignorant and regressive – a solution to a non-existent problem.

“It is true, as the Liberal Democrats state, that some students can struggle financially – not because of tuition fees, which can be paid from loans, but because of living costs. But maintenance loans and bursaries from universities should be able to support these students. Restoring maintenance grants is simply tokenistic and fuels the impression that student loans are a bad form of debt, when they are not.”

Lifelong learning

Commenting, James Dobson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats’ pledge to introduce individual accounts to fund mature adult and part-time learning and training, as recommended by Bright Blue, is strongly welcome. In a world where people will have longer and more changeable careers, especially because of automation, having the opportunity and resources to upskill and reskill will be vital. Lifelong learning should be the new norm in our society.”

Greener houses

Commenting, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right to want to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock. But their ambitious targets are unlikely to be met without concrete policies.

“Low-interest loans to incentivise households and some targeted regulations, such as prior to a home’s sale, to ensure a minimal level of demand are essential in order to ensure their desired uptake of energy efficiency measures.”

Fracking

Commenting on the fracking ban, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Provided that there is local consent and stringent environmental regulations are in place, in particular to prevent methane leaks from gas wells, fracking has the potential to meet some of the UK’s demand for gas for heating by displacing imports from other countries. So the Lib Dems are wrong to ban it outright. While the positive impact of fracking on energy bills is likely to be minimal, it would create additional jobs and economic activity in the UK in the short-term.

“There is, however, a risk for businesses of investing heavily in new carbon-intensive energy infrastructure at a time when the UK must rapidly reduce its consumption of fossil fuels to meet its climate targets.”

Support for low-carbon energy

Commenting, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats’ support for decarbonising the UK’s energy supply and increasing the penetration of renewable energy is very welcome. However, in order to maintain public consent for policies to mitigate climate change, the most cost-effective emission reduction pathways must be followed. In particular, their support for carbon capture and storage and tidal lagoons should be conditional upon them demonstrating how they can quickly become cost-competitive with other technologies.”

Air pollution

Commenting, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Lib Dems are right to pledge to tackle air pollution through more low emission zones, as has proved effective in Germany and as Bright Blue has been campaigning for. However, rather than having central government mandate them, they should devolve more powers, funding, and responsibilities to local authorities to set them up in a way that suits local circumstances. It is also important that a diesel scrappage scheme is highly targeted at parts of the country where air pollution is particularly acute, to ensure the scheme actually benefits public health and to avoid wasting public money.”

Environmental regulations

Commenting, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are right to join other political parties in pledging to retain after Brexit the popular environmental protections that derive from the EU. Bright Blue polling shows that an overwhelming majority of Conservative voters support this approach.”

Trees

Commenting, Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrat’s target to plant one tree for every UK citizen over the next ten years is an excellent ambition. But they need to specify their preferred policy mechanism to deliver these new trees. They should be explicit in linking this pledge to the reform of agricultural subsidies after Brexit. More effective and ambitious tree planting grants for farmers should be one of the top priorities for a new domestic agricultural policy.”

Tackling discrimination and protecting human rights

Commenting, Mike Hough, research assistant at Bright Blue, said:

“The Liberal Democrats have an impressive set of policies to tackle all forms of discrimination and enhance human rights in our society. In particular, they are right to commit the UK to remain a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, a document that originally exported English common law to the rest of the continent and now provides fundamental protections for people across Europe.

“A future Conservative Government should adopt Liberal Democrat policies such as extending name-blind recruitment in the public sector, enhancing protections from the Equality Act to gender identity and expression, and ensuring front-line police officers wear body cameras when on duty. However, the Liberal Democrats are wrong to call for an end to the Prevent strategy.”