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Content with the status quo?

By Lily Gordon Brown

Just under a week away from election day, the stakes in British politics have rarely been higher. The past fortnight has seen each of the main political parties launch their manifestos: their pledges to the nation. Labelled by most media outlets as ‘radical’, Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto is filled with hope, ambition and most importantly, change. A future Labour Government envisions, amongst many other things, a Green Industrial New Deal, free social care for the elderly, eradication of in-work poverty and even a public review of the Amritsar Massacre of 1919.

Although the Conservatives may have attempted to match such ambition, behind the Brexit façade, their manifesto seems very feeble indeed. Boris Johnson has so far centred his campaign around ‘getting Brexit done’ and his manifesto emanates much of the same message. The first five paragraphs of the introduction begin with the same line. Yep. You guessed it: ‘Get Brexit Done’. Apparently, this will allow Britain to ‘unleash their potential’ and give the people of Britain an opportunity to ‘make the most of [their] talents.’

After Brexit comes his key focus in the domestic sphere – the NHS. Johnson promises to provide extra funding for Britain’s most treasured public service. They promise to build 40 new hospitals: though such pledges have already been quashed, as it seems most hospitals will only be upgraded rather than freshly built. No money will be in place for construction work until post-2025. ‘50,000 new nurses’ becomes doubtful pretty quickly, when it becomes clear that 19,000 of these nurses will be “retained” staff.

One cannot forget why the Conservatives must now place so much emphasis on the NHS…they’re the ones who’ve slashed it into destitution! The NHS has, over the past decade, suffered from the longest period of austerity since its inception in 1948. Slowly becoming vulnerable to privatisation, the NHS requested a £4bn increase in government funding for 2018; chancellor Philip Hammond offered just £1.6bn. The number of GPs and nurses are a dropping at a dramatic rate, as an obvious consequence of the decision by Hammond’s predecessor, George Osborne to abolish student nurse bursaries in 2015. Waiting times are at an all-time high and we are heading into what could be the worst winter for healthcare on record.

How can we trust a future government who have allowed this to happen to our NHS? Johnson claims that finishing off Brexit will warrant a shift in focus to health and public services, but this is a crisis that predates the referendum-induced chaos of 2016. The Tories have had almost a decade to ‘save’ and ‘protect’ our NHS, yet it seems they have opted for the complete reverse. Moreover, the debates emerging this week around how the NHS will survive in a Tory-led post-Brexit environment – one which sees the UK entering into a trade deal with Trump – are very alarming indeed.

Following the NHS, Johnson pledges 20,000 more police officers, an Australian-style points-based system on immigration, net zero carbon-emissions by 2050, no increase in income tax and millions to invested in ‘science, schools and infrastructure’. One could spend hours scrutinising such policies: the fact that between 2010-2017, the number of officers in the English and Welsh forces fell by 19,921, or that scientists have repeatedly come out voicing the need to meet emissions targets by 2030. But it is also imperative to acknowledge what is absent from the Conservative manifesto.

There is no mention of food banks or how the Conservatives plan to eliminate their use, which rose from 41,000 in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2018 (Trussell trust).

They have promised to commit to the Windrush compensation scheme but offer no concrete plans of how. It’s inclusion in the manifesto is nothing more than a passing comment. Sajid Javid vowed to confront this when he took over from Amber Rudd as Home Secretary, yet, according to Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman, none of the victims she has worked with have received any reparation.

Tuition fees are mentioned only once, pledging that they will ‘consider them carefully’ and work on how to reduce the burden of fees on students. Although, once again, no tangible policies are in place to tackle the debt crisis currently faced by the majority of students and postgraduates in the UK. That is not to mention those who do not enter the university system out of fear of the debt it later generates.

One of the most fascinating insights on the Conservative manifesto has come from the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Compared to Labour’s ‘ambitious’ investment plans, the director of IFS Paul Johnson depicted the Conservative vision as “more of the same,” also noting “they believe most aspects of public policy are just fine as they are.” The IFS also confirmed that the Tory manifesto was “baked in” austerity. (The Guardian)

This is the key message to take away from this election campaign.

Though Labour’s manifesto is consistently ridiculed in the mainstream media as too radical, too ambitious, it is a cause for hope. Though some of their pledges may require slightly longer than the five-year stint in government, they are offering real and fundamental change. They are confronting the consequences of almost a decade of austerity, climate change negligence, public service cuts and more. They are reaching out to those worst affected by such crises and offering an alternative.

Johnson, apart from getting Brexit done, has no real vision for Britain, or at least a Britain that cares for all. He and the establishment around him are mostly content with the status quo crafted by their predecessors. In such dark, polarised times, the prospect of more of the same is grim. We cannot trust in the party who have been in Downing Street for almost ten years to offer any real change. With this in mind, the decision could not be clearer.

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