It’s Up the Poll! 2015: The Conservatives and Tameside

A look at the Conservative Party manifesto from a Tameside angle.

As detailed in the previous entry, we shall continue our electoral Tour of Tameside via each party’s manifestoes. For the fifth part of It’s Up the Poll! 2015, we shall be looking at the borough’s main opposition party.

From 1976 to 1980, Tameside MBC was a Conservative run council. The biggest issue affecting most residents at the time was education. Its then ruling party favoured selection whereas Labour wanted to adopt the comprehensive system. As well as being as source of continued discussion in the Reporter Group of Newspapers’ titles, it made the national news. It also attracted the attention of John Gouriet of the National Association for Freedom, a then fast-growing right-wing libertarian think-tank.

Today, there is only five Conservative councillors. Three of which in the Stalybridge South ward. Tameside’s opposition cabinet minister is John Bell, Conservative councillor for Hyde Werneth. Its other Conservative representative is Paul Buckley, in the Ashton Hurst ward.

At parliamentary level, no constituency in Tameside has been held by a Conservative since 1945. That was Horace Brimson Trevor Cox in the Stalybridge and Hyde constituency. He defected to Labour after standing as an Independent Conservative candidate in the 1965 Salisbury by-election.

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Arts, Culture and Sport

Though numerous libraries have closed in the last five years of coalition government, the Conservatives claim to support local libraries. Their plan includes greater use of e-books and free WiFi.

More tax breaks will be given to the creative industries with incentives for films, theatre, video games and orchestras. Whether our borough’s brass bands will benefit is another matter. However, our fellows at The Hippodrome could benefit, as could incumbent amateur dramatics groups.

Crime

Many people in the last three decades have favoured Conservative party crime policies, and the manifesto states a 20% drop since 2010. Some may beg to differ due to cuts in police cover and reporting.

Instead of abolishing the Police and Crime Commissioners, the Tories call for greater powers and cooperation with fire services.

As with Labour, the Conservatives have considered the introduction of a Victims’ Law. Prisoners will see random drug tests and new body scanning machines. There will new prisons for 3,000 inmates, replacing outdated facilities.

Defence

Key to the Tories’ defence policy is greater powers from the European Union and maintenance of its sovereignty. It is also claimed that a strong economy will make for a solid defence policy. Early into the life of the 2015 – 2020 parliament, if elected, a National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review will be conducted.

With the second largest defence budget among NATO members, the Tories aim to spend 2% of Britain’s gross national income on defence.

For Armed Forces, the Tories aim to boost allowances and tax relief, building upon its commitment to enshrine the Armed Forces Covenant in law.

Democracy

Future elections could see voters having to show their passports at polling stations, if the Tories are returned to power in May. This being a measure to clamp down on election fraud. Respecting the results of the 2011 electoral reform referendum, the Tories favour keeping first-past-the-post.

Whereas Labour proposes a federal solution, the Tories’ approach includes elected mayors in metropolitan areas – as per the devolution deal for Greater Manchester. Another tenet includes the use of EVEL – English Votes for English Laws.

Economy

Full Employment is hailed as a long term goal in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. This includes abolishing National Insurance contributions for apprentices under 25 years of age. New businesses, through the Employment Allowance, could be freed from paying the first £2,000 of National Insurance. This is likely to benefit anyone wishing to set up a new shop in Stalybridge. The amount of bureaucracy involved in setting up a new business could be reduced.

Though the Conservatives back the National Minimum Wage, it is against the abolition of Zero Hour Contracts. Instead, it wants to end the employee’s exclusivity to one company. Therefore, this means he or she could be on call for 20 different companies and only receive three hours work a week.

With Britain already having the strictest trade union laws of any developed country, the Tories wish to make industrial action harder. Their plans entail a 40% turnout threshold in public sector strike ballots. The use of agency staff to break strikes will be encouraged.

Education

In the last five years, there has been steady expansion of academies in the Tameside area. The most recent convert is Copley High School, now the New Charter owned Copley Academy. With the academy option available for primary schools, the Tories aim to turn all failing schools into academies – thus meaning some councils being devoid of Local Education Authority provision.

Further to this, Free Schools will be created if sufficient local support is available. Their emphasis on vocational training entails a shift away from classroom based teaching. Instead, high-quality apprenticeships with a mix of work experience and training is their alternative. This would fit in just as well as Labour’s plans for Tameside College’s 2020 vision.

Teachers will be given more powers to control children. This would also include tackling low level disruption as well as serious behavioural issues.

Caps on Higher Education student numbers will be abolished. Other plans include the introduction of two-year Degree courses.

Environment

Protecting natural heritage is key to the Conservatives’ environmental policy with plans for the country’s first White Paper on the environment for 20 years. In addition to the green belt, the Tories wish to create a Blue Belt. This will enable the protection of watercourses and shoreline.

The Tories wish to repeal the Hunting Act, firstly by giving Parliament a free vote. In the manifesto, it claims that hunting, shooting and fishing provides economic, environmental and individual benefits.

Europe

Along with UKIP and the Greens, the Conservatives favour an in/out referendum on European Union membership. If elected, the Tories will hold the referendum at the end of 2017. They are also against further integration of the Eurozone and a commitment to an ‘ever closer union’.

Furthermore, the Tories are pushing for greater fiscal autonomy – by means of stopping the EU from clamping down on The City’s activities.

With human rights, the Tories wish to repeal Labour’s Human Rights Act. In its place would be a British Bill of Rights, which it states “will restore common sense” whilst remaining faithful to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Families

It states that the Conservatives believe work is the key to stable family life. In this context, this includes Tameside MBC’s continued participation in the government’s ‘Troubled Families’ programme with the DWP.

With 15 hours of free childcare for children three and four years old, the Tories aim to extend that to 30 hours.

Foreign policy

The Tories’ foreign policies advocate greater links with the BRIC economies. Core to this include EU trade deals with China and India. At present, Anglo-Chinese links are being fostered in the form of Ringway’s Airport City development. This being mirrored by additional flights from Manchester Airport to China.

They also believe in a twin-state solution for Israel and Palestine and ensure North Korea ends its development of nuclear weapons.

Health

The last five years have seen waiting lists rise and sweeping changes to the National Health Service. Even so, the manifesto sees the Conservatives defend their record, and believe a strong economy is key to higher NHS spending.

Tameside along with nine other boroughs in Greater Manchester could see devolution of its NHS budgets – which many critics see as undermining the national service. If elected, the Conservatives aim to offer seven day opening at GP practices.

It aims to allow patients to “make informed choices”, which enables non-NHS operators to run services (as per the 2012 Health and Social Care Act). Part of this plan enables the sale of genome data to third parties to allow for personalised care solutions. A move which could see a plethora of private insurers stood outside Tameside Hospital.

In terms of public health, the Tories aims to introduce plain packaging and end the public display of cigarette packets in all shops. Other plans include anti-obesity measures, which could intermingle with the DWP’s programmes, plus the policies of Public Health England, Tameside and Glossop NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Tameside MBC.

Housing

The Tories’ flagship scheme, dubbed as “a bad 1980s cover version” by its outgoing yellow coalition partners, and attacked by the head of New Charter Housing Trust, is the extension of “Right to Buy”. This entails its extension to housing association properties. This continues the party’s belief in wider home ownership, also exemplified by plans to limit social housing tenancies to five year contracts.

The extended Right to Buy scheme will be funded by local authorities being forced to sell off their most expensive properties. Which, if they’ve already done so to mitigate the worst of the public sector spending cuts, would be unworkable.

In addition to Right to Buy would be “Right to Build” and a Brownfield Fund. The former will allow Tameside MBC to allocate land to local people wishing to build or commission their own home. The Brownfield Fund will enable greater use of brownfield land.

Furthermore, they aim to build 200,000 starter home for first-time buyers under 40 years of age. These they claim would be sold at 20% below market price.

Immigration

The Conservatives’ stance on immigration is a controlled approach with annual net migration in the tens of thousands. Its get tough policy includes controls on migrants from other EU countries as well as migrants from outside the European Union. This entails restrictions on claiming DWP benefits. EU job-seekers looking for work in Britain will be unable to claim state benefits – a contrast from Germany where migrants can claim working age benefits from day one.

Therefore, a possible Conservative government would reduce the incentive for lower-paid and lower-skilled migrants to set up home. A residency requirement will be enacted for social housing, ensuring British citizens are given top priority.

Social Security

The DWP’s Universal Credit scheme, pioneered in Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden and Dukinfield since July 2013 is set to be rolled out to more parts of the UK. With the scheme in full operation throughout Tameside, more a case of “business as usual”.

With the benefit cap also in place, the Tories wish to lower the benefit cap from £26,000 p.a. to £23,000 p.a. If in receipt of working age benefits, there will be a two year freeze in benefit rates, further to the previous two years which has meant a real terms cut in JSA/UC rates.

Furthermore, “business as usual” means continued use of private bodies like Maximus to deliver Work Capacity Assessments. It also means the continued use of sanctions on job hunters.

Transport

The Conservatives are wholly in favour of HS2 and backs the Northern Hub project. In the manifesto it expresses its support for HS3, the fast route from Manchester to Leeds. If completed, Tameside’s commuters may benefit from the improvements.

One glaring omission is any semblance of a bus policy. Could this mean more cuts on top of the swingeing cuts already enacted? There must be some hardworking bus users of a Tory persuasion who would like to see improvements on the 346.

Youth

Like Labour, the Conservatives favour a Youth Allowance for people aged 18 to 21 years old. The difference is s/he will have to take up an apprenticeship, traineeship or do daily community work six months into their claim.

As part of its relaunch of the Big Society, each child will be guaranteed a place on the National Citizen Service.

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At a more local level…

There has been rumours of a pact between Tameside’s branches of the Conservative and the United Kingdom Independence parties. This being some sort of tactical voting moves to stop the Labour councillors from being elected. Both parties have some common ground, particularly in relation to:

  • Lowering car parking fees;
  • Reducing the number of councillors from 57 to 19 members;
  • Scrapping councillors’ allowances;
  • Ensuring the protection of each town’s landmarks;
  • Ensuring that there is more to Tameside than Ashton-under-Lyne.

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Next up on It’s Up The Poll! 2015

After our look at the Conservative and Labour parties, we shall look at the Green Party. For the first time ever, it is standing in all three of the borough’s constituencies as well as all nineteen wards.

S.V., 16 April 2015.

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