THC’s guide to the general election: for students and young people
With the election drawing closer, it can feel like we’re being bombarded with conflicting and confusing messages from all sides. Although each party promises to improve the state of Britain, often these promises go unfulfilled. Many, especially us students who seem to have bared the brunt of a lot of the cuts (Thanks Nick), have grown disillusioned by politics. After all, all the parties are the same, right? All rich, white men completely out of touch with young people’s wants and needs? It may seem like it sometimes. But in order to have even a tiny impact on how the state we live in is run, voting is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, students and young people will continue to be underrepresented in parliament, and the laws put forward will continue to be a natural reflection of that underrepresentation.
This year, with the rise of the smaller parties – Green, UKIP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru – it can seem near impossible to dissect the often jargon-invested manifestos to understand what, in real terms, each party is offering and how, if elected the manifestos could affect your life. But look no further. The confusion ends here. We’ve traipsed through party manifestos and summarised the policies that matter to you: students. With any luck, after reading this, the decision of who to vote for will be a little clearer, or at least you won’t be scare-mongered into voting for the dreaded UKIP – unless you really do hate Romanians, or Jean-Claude Juncker, or whatever possesses people to vote UKIP. I’m kidding, of course…
So, what about the economy?
We all agree that our economy is fucked, right? How to deal with our gaping deficit is a contentious issue, and one that divides the parties. Austerity is has been a buzzword this election, and basically refers to the technique of making cuts to reduce the national debt and improve the country’s finances. The Tories argue that the continuation of austerity is the best way forward. In fact, their handling of the economy is a claim they seem exceptionally proud of. Funny, because the national debt has actually doubled in the last 5 years, despite major cuts to vital public services, and the hugely unpopular tripling of the tuition fees. Milliband aims to ‘balance the books’, a term he massively and patronisingly overuses, which basically means he’s pro-austerity too. That’s as specific as he gets with it, and in reality there’s no knowing where the axe will fall if Labour gain power in May. Although Labour promise no additional public borrowing will be needed, and to not raise income tax or national insurance, all the while protecting public services; a manifesto filled with so many bold promises is perhaps a little questionable, especially, when you take into account Labour’s frivolous spending in previous terms. The Liberal Democrats claim that if voted into power (good luck), they would cut £38bn less than the Tories, and borrow £70bn less than Labour. A bold and promising claim. Too bad Clegg failed to exert any force over government in the last 5 years, despite being Deputy Prime Minister, which you’d be forgiven for forgetting, seeing as the yellows were basically invisible in Parliament the past 5 years. Greens take a refreshingly radical stance on the economy. This is perhaps what set the Greens apart from the rest, even more so than their environmental policies. The Greens offer a complete rejection of austerity, alongside an introduction of a ‘Robin Hood’ tax, which claims would bring in an extra £25bn per year. Bennett also proposes to raise corporation tax from 20%-30%, and raise additional top rate income tax to 60%, which is claimed to bring in a further yield of £12bn, although the party itself has even expressed that the ‘potential yield is uncertain’, so perhaps a risky policy. Not least when we remember that the rejection of austerity also brings with it further borrowing; £338bn (compared to the previous governments £115), but with promises to inject funds into public services. UKIP, in favour of the ‘working man’ with what Farage dubs a ‘low tax revolution’, backs the introduction of a mansion tax and a bankers bonus tax, but is strongly opposed to the inheritance tax. UKIP also seeks to scrap the frankly useless ‘Barnett formula’, a mechanism that’s been in place since the 70s, which automatically adjusts public spending depending on the economy, despite even the creator of the system Joel Barnett admitting it himself as a ‘terrible mistake’. Not a bad economic policy, that Farage never tires of proclaiming has been ‘independently reviewed and costed’. But, the dangers of a radical, right-wing party are clear, even in the economics. Farage plans to increase defence spending to £2bn per year, whilst removing Britain from the EU and cutting foreign aid. Who knows what such radical and exclusionary policies will have on Britain’s position in international affairs, but unnervingly these are policies that a lot of people are willing to back.
Since many young people don’t vote, it sometimes feels that students are often forgotten about in politics. But, with the screw-ups of the previous governments still raw, party policies on Education have been scrutinised this election, and rightly so. The Tories, apparent in their satisfaction of the new £9,000 university fees, (despite the obvious fact that most won’t pay this back, thus merely increasing the national debt, but hey-ho), will remain with the current austerity model on student loans as before. Labour proposes to cut student fees to £6,000, which for anyone, like me, paying the current £9,000 seems like a fantastic policy. As long as you completely forget that it was a Labour government that first introduced tuition fees in England to £1,000 in 1998, and again a Labour government that raised this figure to £3,000 in 2004. Lib Dems want to establish a review of higher education finance. A very vague policy, and is probably politics-jargon for ‘raise fees to £20,000 a year’, or something. UKIP pledges free tuition fees for high-flyers in those studying Maths, Medicine, Engineering or Technology (and tough luck for those of us in the arts, right?). Greens goes one step further than this, aiming to remove all tuition fees, for all students, in all subjects, holding the belief firm that higher education is a right that should be for all. Again, another bold claim from the Greens, but to what expense to the deficit, we can’t tell. The SNP pledges to keep tuition fees at £0 for Scottish Nationals. Which is great, for Scottish people.
How do they all respond to the increasing demand for controlled immigration?
Something we can’t shy away from is the prevalence of the issue of immigration, and Britain’s position in the EU. One thing we can ‘thank?’ Farage for is the bringing of attention to this issue. Britain does have an overcrowding problem, but whether scary Romanian immigrants are solely to blame for this, as UKIP claim, is a fact to be contested. UKIP believes that a complete removal of Britain from the EU is the answer, in fact, to every issue in British politics the moment. UKIP also plan on implementing ‘an Australian-style points system’ to control ‘the quantity and quality of migrants’. How one separates the ‘quality’ of one Syrian refugee seeking asylum from another, I don’t know but then again, I’m not voting UKIP. For those who rightly argue the obvious damage to trade leaving the EU would cause, Farage boldly claims to negotiate Britain’s ability to continue free trade. But I thought he said negotiation in the EU was pointless? All other parties wish to stay in the EU, but find a middle-ground of negotiation. Both the Tories and the SNP wish to hold an in/out referendum on Britain’s inclusion in the EU, as well as attempt to negotiate Britain into a more leadership position in Brussels. Labour are proposing a ‘lock’, which means that they will hold a referendum if Europe tries to take any more of their powers. In terms of immigration, both the Tories and Labour will stop migrants from claiming benefits for a number of years, so you have to pay into the system before you get any from it. A fairer way of tackling the issue, than UKIP’s mass deportation, lawful discrimination and denial of health care for migrants from the blues and reds, in my opinion. The Greens, on the complete opposite end of the scale wish to hold sacred the diversity of Britain, and thus will actually encourage the free movement of people in the EU, with controls over migrants from outside the EU. Depending on how important you view immigration, this could heavily impact the result come May 7th. But, there are defiantly more important issues to take into consideration when casting your vote outside of this issue, despite what Farage may say.
The NHS is a vital service used by everyone and as such, has been a topic of rampant debate this election. Despite what Labour and the Greens will have you believe, the Conservatives are opposed to privatisation of health services. Everyone is. Obviously. No one wants a system like the US where people commit suicide over hefty health care bills. Well, except for Farage, but his party (thankfully) overruled him, and he keeps that one quiet. Increasing waiting room queues and concerns over the quality of care, in the past terms, has lead to the inevitable privatisation of some services to meet public expectations, and at the same time produce some needed profit into the NHS. Rejection of privatisation means that in this election, the parties have had to up their game, and promise state injection of funds into health. The Tories pledge to increase funding to the NHS to £8bn per year. Labour pledges an extra £2.5bn on top of the Tories, aimed at guaranteeing GP appointments within 48 hours, and cancer tests in one week. One pledge Labour really should be given credit for is the promise to give mental health services the same priority as physical health, with a new right to access to talking therapies. Labour is not without fault here however, with 5% of profit coming from a ‘private insurance-based’ system. Sort of makes the Labour’s promise to ‘put the right values into the heart of the NHS’ seem a little ironic. The Lib Dems pledge, much like the Tories, £8bn of funding to health care, and £500m to mental healthcare. The Greens plan to inject £12bn of funds, and pass a law that gives right to an assisted death. And the SNP, an increase in funding of health services, £2bn of which that will go to Scotland by 2020. Overall, all parties agree that more funding is needed into health services, but it is where this funding comes from, and where it will be targeted that separates the parties.
How will the election affect workers?
We pay £43,000 to go to university, when there is little hope of finding a decent well-paid grad job at the end of it. Often, it is those just starting out in employment, or those with low/middle range jobs that get the worst deal. Clearly something has to be done to improve this shoddy state of affairs. On the left, the tactic used is to raise the minimum wage, Labour to £8, Green to £8.10 and the SNP to £8.70, but what aid will be given to the businesses having to pay out this raised wage, has not been stated, and could be detrimental overall to the economy. Of course, none of these measures will necessarily be put into place by 2020, in which case future inflation would have pushed up the minimum wage to around £8 anyway. ‘Exploitative’ zero-hour contracts are also a concern, again especially with the left, with Labour, Green and the SNP pledging to ban them. Even UKIP has jumped on this bandwagon, promising stricter controls on employers who use zero hour contracts. The tarnishing of all zero-hour contracts could be dangerous. Personally, I am in a zero-hours contract and it works great for me as it means I can work when I’m back at home from university and the hours are super-flexible. I don’t think I am being ‘exploited’. On the right, the Tories in response to the squeezed middle, pledge to raise the income tax threshold to £12,000 and reduce benefits cap to £23,000. UKIP, once again, is blaming all problems on scary immigrants aim to allow more power to British businesses by allowing them to favour ‘British workers’, as well as promising an extra 6,000 new jobs in the police, prison service and in the UK Border Force.
There’s a lot to take into consideration when thinking about who to vote for. The world of politics can be murky and full of sharks (Farage?). I hope this breakdown of the parties’ main policies that tend to affect students and young people helps at least a smidge in finding who to vote for. Or, it just confused you even more. Politics, parties and policies are messy. On a personal level, think about what you care about and what affects you, and then vote for the party that offers the best for you.