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

A look at the Liberal Democrats’ 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 eighth part of It’s Up the Poll! 2015, we shall be looking at the Conservative’s coalition partners in the last parliament.

In Tameside, the last Liberal MP to hold a seat in today’s borough is John Lincoln Tattersall. He was MP for a year in the Stalybridge and Hyde constituency gaining 17,082 votes against John Phillips Rhodes’ 14,708. That was 1923 when the Stalybridge and Hyde constituency was a marginal Conservative seat.

At local level, the last Liberal Democrat councillor was Audenshaw’s Karen Wright. In 2009, she defected to Labour claiming the Lib Dems were ‘disorganised and out of touch’.

In the General Elections, Tameside’s Lib Dem vote has hovered around the 5,000 mark. This year we could see a reduction in their vote, with Labour and Green parties being the beneficiaries. The Liberal Democrats, though standing in all three constituencies will only see one candidate in the local elections: Martin Kiely, who is also standing in the Mossley Town Council elections (Cheshire Ward).

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Arts, Culture and Sport

The Lib Dems aim to maintain free access to national museums and galleries. Benefiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Liverpool Road, Manchester, such museums would be given greater autonomy. In other words, financial devolution.

Given the importance of Greater Manchester’s creative industries, the party supports their growth via the Creative Industries Council. This includes supporting modern and flexible intellectual property laws and addressing financial barriers.

Crime

The Liberal Democrats’ crime policy favours a more libertarian approach, consistent with Liberal policy since time immemorial. The party favours the regulation of CCTV systems, abhors the overzealous use of kettling and the protection of the Human Rights Act. Online, they favour a Digital Bill of Rights, which includes straightforward privacy policies and forbid the storage and collection of personal data by public bodies without authority.

Like Labour, the Lib Dems favour the abolition of Police and Crime Commissioners. The money they say would be spent elsewhere with crime prevention. Specialist drug courts and non-criminal punishments would help to rehabilitate affected persons. To stop people from getting into crime, restorative justice programmes will be supported.

Defence

Along with most of the parties we have covered in our political Tour of Tameside through the manifestoes, the Lib Dems strongly support the Armed Forces Covenant. Their proposals include the strengthening of local military covenants and transferring the Office of the Veterans’ Minister to the Cabinet Office.

As well as supporting the armed forces, the manifesto states a need for fighting virtual warfare. Which in other words, cyber attacks and denials of service. Under the Lib Dems, other plans include a Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Democracy

Alongside the Green and Labour parties, the Liberal Democrats favour lowering the voting age to 16 years of age. They aim to keep big money out of politics with a £10,000 cap on donations as part of wider reforms. Unlike the Conservatives, they wish to protect the rights of trade unionists; in other words, union fee deductions from wage slips, the use of electronic voting in strike ballots, and the lack of a turnout threshold. (Which the Tories favour).

As has been the case since David Lloyd George’s era – and in spite of the “No” vote in the electoral reform referendum – the Lib Dems favour proportional representation. In particular, the Single Transferable Vote system, which the Lib Dems, and the SDP Liberal Alliance and Liberal parties before then have advocated.

The party’s approach to devolution includes greater control for all four nations which make the United Kingdom. At local level, they advocate greater devolution of financial responsibility to Tameside MBC and Mossley Town Council. The City Deals and Local Enterprise Partnerships, started in the last parliament will be beefed up.

Economy

The Liberal Democrats will aim to borrow less than Labour and cut less than the Conservatives. They aim to ‘finish the job and balance the books’ by making sure the deficit falls as a proportion of Britain’s national income. Its industrial strategy takes an internationalist view with emphasis on developing skilled workforces. Given recent investment in the Metrolink and Tameside College, this could be a bonus for the borough and Greater Manchester as a whole.

On the other hand it wants to open up public procurement to small and medium sized companies and the voluntary sector. A plan which could see Willow Wood Hospice and other local charities run NHS services.

Having worked with the Conservatives to raise the Income Tax threshold to £10,600, the Lib Dems aim to increase the Personal Allowance to £12,500 by 2019-20. Non-domiciled status, instead of being abolished (by Labour) will be restricted.

Whereas Labour wishes to abolish Zero Hour Contracts, the Liberal Democrats’ line empathises with people and businesses who find them flexible. Instead, they favour the creation of a formal right to request a fixed contract.

Education

Among the Lib Dems’ flagship policies in the last parliament as coalition partners are the Pupil Premium and free school meals. They aim to extend the latter to all primary school pupils – a move which could have nutritional benefits for Tameside’s younger schoolchildren. Especially so given the borough’s record in dental hygiene and obesity caused by deprivation.

They also aim to extend the number of support services offered in Children’s Centres and favour earlier intervention for children with Special Educational Needs. Other plans include the integration of health, care and educational support for such children.

At secondary level, the Lib Dems aim to reform existing GCSE qualifications instead of the Tories’ plans to return to ‘O’ levels and CSEs. Skills for entrepreneurship and self-employment would be given greater importance.

Universities would also be encouraged to widen participation among disadvantaged backgrounds. In the next parliament, the Lib Dems aims to review higher education finance, which some critics state may be a rise in tuition fees to £11,500.

Environment

Given Tameside’s pollution levels, some of which could be averted by a Zero Carbon Britain Act. This could aim to lower greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. The Liberal Democrats favour greater investment in green jobs and industry – at odds with their fracking-friendly coalition partners. They aim to grow the market for green products and services. The borough’s most polluted areas could become Low Emission Zones.

In the home, this includes a programme for insulating homes, community energy strategies and the introduction of new entrants to the energy market. A move which could see Community Interest Companies offering cheap gas and electricity. (The return of SHMD?)

Though the Lib Dems favour environmentally aware energy policies, the manifesto accepts some middle ground between fossil fuels and renewable sources of energy. This includes the introduction of fracking, which the Lib Dems claim is possible having ‘introduced the world’s most robust regulatory regime for unconventional gas’. Once expired, each shale gas well could be made available to geothermal heat developers.

Europe

In the last 25 years from Ashdown to Clegg, the Liberal Democrats have always been seen as Britain’s most pro-EU party. Their 2015 manifesto ascertains this favouring open markets inside and outside the European Union. This includes a commitment to allow high-skill immigration for key sectors of the economy.

With Greater Manchester an attractive location for students and workers from inside and outside the EU, Tameside’s Metrolink and Northern Hub improvements could improve the area’s attractiveness.

Families

For families, the Pupil Premium and free school meals for younger children bears the signatures of Messrs Clegg and Cable. They aim to elaborate on this via the extension of free school meals to all primary school children.

Further to this is their plans for Shared Parental Leave. Introduced in the last parliament, the Liberal Democrats wish to extend this to fathers. This in the form of a ‘use it or lose it’ month. Other plans include the right to paid leave for carers.

Foreign policy

Lib Dem foreign policy is seen as internationalist in its manifesto and one that favours peace and security across the world. The party believe in Britain having a constructive part in the European Union as detailed in our Europe section. Also key to their foreign policy is improved tax transparency; this entails extending country-by-country reporting from banks.

The party also supports working with international partners to tackle Islamic fanaticism. This, states the manifesto, is a comprehensive approach in compliance with international law.

Health

Though the Lib Dems failed to blunt the Tories’ 2012 Health and Social Care Act, they favour the NHS’ founding principle of treatment based on need not ability. This being a maxim undermined by Lansley’s Act which opens the NHS up to private contractors. Instead of repealing the Act wholesale (like Labour), they aim to repeal the parts that encourage competition. The Competition and Markets Authority’s role in healthcare would also be scrapped.

Their plans include delivering £8 billion funding to NHS England and appropriate amounts for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Other plans include a focus on mental health and the development of joined-up health providers. That aims to cover hospital and community services. Improved access to GPs is another pledge, favouring Conservative party plans to increase opening hours. Another idea includes ‘phone and Skype based appointments.

Housing

The Liberal Democrats propose a genuine alternative to the Tories’ Right to Buy policies. They have pledged a house building rate of 300,000 per annum backed by government instead of private developers. Like the Tories, they also favour self-builders with Tameside MBC being able to keep a register of people wishing to do so.

Second homeowners could be levied up to 200% Council Tax. Young people could be given a new home by means of the Help to Rent scheme. Government backed tenancy deposit loans will be available for first-time renters 30 years of age or less. A Green Buildings Act could be passed to ensure that all homes have a minimum Band ‘C’ energy rating by 2035.

Immigration

Having reintroduced border controls, the Lib Dems aim to complete the restoration of entry and exit checks for persons entering the UK. New Universal Credit claimants will be screened for English Language skills.

Social Security

Under the Conservative’s junior partners, it could be a case of ‘as you were’ in Tameside. The Lib Dems aim to roll-out Universal Credit at a quicker pace than at present and reform the Work Programme. Instead of the present pot pourri of primes and primes within primes (private sector contractors), these would be delivered in partnership with local and national government. In other words, Tameside MBC could have greater output in programme delivery.

Sanctions instead of being scrapped will be reformed with a ‘yellow card’ system. The use of league tables and targets in Jobcentres (as documented in The Guardian, Morning Star and countless political blogs) will be outlawed. Working age benefits would be subject to a maximum rise of 1% till 2017 – 18. Which, though well short of levels under Thatcher, is more than the last two years where JSA and UC rates have been frozen.

Richer pensioners paying 40% and 45% rates of Income Tax could see a loss of Winter Fuel Payments and Free TV Licences. The free bus pass will be retained for all pensioners. The ‘triple lock’ State Pension too will be retained.

Transport

Along with Labour and Conservative parties, the Liberal Democrats are in favour of HS2. Instead of bringing Manchester into London’s commuter belt or vice versa, their vision sees HS2 as part of a High Speed Rail link to Scotland. They also aim to expand on George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse with a Transport for the North strategy. A vision which possibly goes beyond electrification and High Speed lines; one where the 346 is accounted for as well as the Metrolink.

Speaking of the 346 route, the service from Ashton to Hyde and numerous others in Tameside could benefit from a five-year investment plan. The borough’s bus and coach companies will be encouraged to purchase low-carbon vehicles. Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats will support Transport for Greater Manchester’s efforts to regulate the conurbation’s bus routes.

Instead of the pragmatic and total renationalisation plans of the Labour and Green parties, the Lib Dems favour the present model of privatised railways. Their aim entails more customer friendly clauses and a programme of investment in new lines and stations, and newly upgraded stations.

Youth

Besides ensuring top class education, the Liberal Democrats’ plans for improving young adults’ livelihoods entail cheaper bus fares and better links between employers and schools. In Tameside, the Lib Dems’ 2/3rd discount is more or less there with System One’s 16 – 25 Young Persons’ Buscards and Day Saver tickets. With my GetMeThere coming online in the next parliament, the reduction could be calculated when he/she tops up their card.

Furthermore, the Lib Dems’ student card aims to offer discounts. Active Tameside could offer reduced rate admissions in their leisure centres; local shops could offer discounts on art materials or the like. Even the local sandwich shop near Beaufort Road campus of Tameside College could participate if desired. The scheme is far from original as Derbyshire County Council has a similar scheme; the defunct Manchester TEC’s Careerlines card performed a similar function in 1995.

Greater links with employers and schools could see Copley Academy students having links with its school’s sponsors, the New Charter Housing Trust. Other policies include mentoring and the promotion of social action and volunteering. The latter could interplay with the Tories’ National Citizen Service scheme.

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At a more local level…

With the Liberal Democrats’ presence in Tameside muted, there is little to report. However, the borough’s sole candidate in the local elections believes in a fairer Tameside. A Tameside which in his perception is an effective alternative.

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Next up on It’s Up The Poll! 2015

With only three days to go till the elections, we may take a look at the other parties’ manifestoes. Which in our case are the manifestoes of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and the Communist Party of Britain. Plus, if you go to our Facebook page (search “East of the M60” on the Book of Face of course), we shall be conducting an exit poll at 10pm on the big day itself.

S.V., 04 May 2015.

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