Monday, 29 May 2017

General election 8 June 2017: the Liberal Democrat Party manifesto

I have skim-reviewed the Liberal Democrat Party manifesto.

I had hoped to have analysed it in the same way as I did for the Conservative Party manifesto, but it turns out this is impossible, for three main reasons:
  • the presentation and style of the LibDem manifesto does not open itself to quasi-numeric analysis.
  • Whereas the Conservative manifesto is generally (but not always) strategic (occasionally blue-sky delusional), the LibDem manifesto is much more up-close-and-personal to middling details, reactionary and, crucially, devoid of overall steer and strategy.

The LibDem manifesto also engages in negative campaigning; the Conservative manifesto didn’t.

So the net result is typical of a left-wing document: it tells me more about what it’s not, and less about what it is.  So there is less to vote for in the LibDem manifesto than there to vote against.

The opening headline says pretty much says it all: "Your chance to change Britain’s future by changing the opposition".  It might just as well have said, “Vote for us to come second!”  I really can’t see how that works in any constituency voting on a first-past-the-post electoral system.

The lack of strategy also comes across in the manifesto’s contents.  Whether the LibDems intended as such, the contents represent the Party’s strange priorities and defensive attitude.

  • Your chance to change Britain’s future by changing the opposition
  • Protect Britain’s Place in Europe
  • Save our NHS and Social Care Services
  • Put Children First
  • Build an Economy that Works for You
  • Keep our Country Green
  • Support Families and Communities
  • Defend Rights, Promote Justice and Equalities
  • Make a Better World
  • Fix a Broken System

This contrasts to the Conservative manifesto’s contents, which start from a stratospheric position and is openly aspirational than defensive:

  • Five giant challenges
  • A strong economy that works for everyone
  • A strong and united nation in a changing world
  • The world’s great meritocracy
  • A restored contract between the generations
  • Prosperity and security in a digital age

Why do I refer to the LibDem’s priorities as strange?

Because, objectively, the number issue for Britain today is the sustainability of the state’s precarious finances.  Brexit is in second place; Brexit would have been much lower down the list had the government not already bollocksed up both referendum (Project Fear) and its opening pre-negotiation position on 17Jan2017.

Yet, for the LibDems, reacting against Brexit (still!!!) is the number one red hot issue of the day (“Remainiac”).  Only one, vague, glib reference to living within the state’s means appears in the LibDem manifesto.  Section 4.1 includes:

“Liberal Democrats will therefore commit to eliminating the deficit in day-to-day spending by 2020. This means we will be able to keep debt as a share of national wealth falling through the parliament, unless there is a recession. Once we have brought current expenditure into balance we will ensure that overall public spending grows roughly in line with the economy.”

So, a reference to the deficit (the cash shortfall), but nothing useful about the debt (cumulative cash shortfalls, currently funded by bondholders, to whom we pay interest, the cash of which is part of the deficit…).  But the rest of section 4 - just like all-but-two other sections - is all about spend-spend-spend.

Worse is the depth of ignorance and political naïvety that pervades the LibDems on their number one red hot issue of Remainiacism (section 1.2 “Fighting a hard Brexit”).  Time doesn’t permit a comprehensive list of errors, but here is a sample:

The manifesto says:
The problems therein:
We will press for the UK to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK, ending their ongoing uncertainty.
That would need to be exchanged for precisely the same right offered by UK nationals in EU countries. Where is the evidence to date that the EU is absolutely certainly going to offer it?
We will urge the government, and use our influence with Liberal leaders in European countries, to secure the same rights for UK citizens living in European Union countries.
This makes no sense.  The EU will negotiate for the EU and none of the EU27 appear ready (as at today) to by-pass it.

Your friends in the EU27 shall have a lot less influence than you want them to have!  This is the EU we’re talking about, not the school playground!
We believe that any deal negotiated for the UK outside the EU must ensure that trade can continue without customs controls at the border, and must maintain membership of the single market, which smooths trade between the UK and the continent by providing a common ‘rule book’ for businesses and a common mechanism to ensure that everyone abides by the rules.
The EU cannot change its treaties unilaterally, so for this manifesto, the only position is for the UK to join EFTA.

But the LibDems have never publicly stated that.  They’ve only ever said “remain in the Single Market”.

So one must presume that the LibDems do not understand the differences between EU, EEA, EFA, CEJU, EHCR, etc.

Even then, the manifesto does not recognise that EFTA membership is the least-worst position, so suitable only as a short-term position.  The manifesto does not recognise that EFTA is part of the “Fortress Europe” that imperils future extra-EU trade, and thus the EU’s ability to grow its trade.  The manifesto does not recognise the value of the extra-EU world.  The manifesto does not even question the origin of most of the EU’s directives & regulations.

The manifesto appears completely ignorant of how the Canadians cannot export freely to the EU in spite of their “free trade agreement”, yet you’d have thought a party keen on being the official opposition would have grasped onto that fact big time and walloped the Conservative Party repeatedly on the proverbial head again and again and again.  But, no.
In an increasingly globalised and complex world, it is vital that our young people are afforded the same opportunities their parents enjoyed to work, study and travel abroad. To that end we will do everything we can to protect Erasmus+ and other EU-funded schemes which increase opportunities for young people.
There is no evidence from government programmes to date that undermines any such opportunities.

Of more concern is that European employment law creates long-term unemployment amongst the young, precisely because the law protects economically-indefensible, obsolete/historic jobs.

Beyond that, the economic basis for travel-for-the-sake-of-travel has long gone.  The 1960s dream of travel freedom has now met its nemesis: the bill.  Only that the bill has been passed to the kids, instead of (now retiring) generation who racked it up.

And this manifesto policy from a party that abandoned the abolition of student fees when in coalition government in 2010!
We must protect support for domestic industries such as farming, tourism and the creative industries, as well as regional support for deprived areas.
This pursues the myth that government spending magics up economic growth.

New Zealand scrapped farm subsidies.  It was a painful process to scrap them, but today, no-body in the New Zealand industry wants them back, because the subsidy ended up being a lure to unsustainability, a corporate opium.

Sections 1.1 and 1.2 confirm to me that the ulterior motive of the LibDems is to sabotage Brexit to the maximum extent possible, paving the way for as many referenda as it takes to (re-)join the EU and even join the Eurozone.

I perceive the LibDem view to be that the issue is clearly not whether the EU is measurably good for its members (including the UK), but that the issue is a matter of ideological purity, of Europeanness for the sake of Europeanness, and the only way to show one’s Europeanness is to belong to a corrupt club of governments called the European Union, hell-bent on its neo-Soviet project of deepening political integration.

Reflection on prior speculation

On 18Apr2017, I speculated that the general election’s real battleground would be Conservatives v LibDems in the South East of England.

Having reviewed both manifestos, I believe that this might be reasonably possibly, but a lot less likely than I had expected on 18Apr2017.

The LibDem manifesto looks and feels much like the legacy media’s portrayal of the party: detailed, tangential, pedantic, completely incapable of seeing the wood for the trees, missing really major issues of governance, focussing on the popular issues as if magic can deliver the promises.  The LibDem manifesto is weak on how to ensure public sector financial sustainability.  As manifestos are the script from which parliamentary candidates read, this script will not play well to a mainly Conservative electorate (in the South East of England outside of London).  So in those Remain constituencies where the Tories have fielded a Remainer (or Remainiac), the LibDems probably have a low chance of winning that seat.

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