Monday, 29 May 2017

Tough but honest May wins over Corbyn's optimistic fantasy - my Catholic Universe column

For newspaper columnists General Elections are both a blessing and a curse. For once there is absolutely no difficulty in coming up with a topic on which to opine, the downside of course is that every other columnist has the same story staring them in the face too.

It can all lead to column metre after column metre of newspaper text all dedicated to the very same topic: how stultifying.

It is for this very reason, dear reader, that so far I have very consciously stayed away, in newsprint at least, from pontificating on the subject of the upcoming general election for so long.

But I can’t stay quiet any longer. It’s all just too much. Manifestos have been published; car crash interviews with representatives of all parties have gone viral online; and by now a fair few of you will have already returned your postal ballots after they started falling onto doormats over the past few days.

You see, about a week ago now I received a message asking me if I would like to be one of the panel guests on a regional variation of BBC One’s Sunday Politics show. As is usual with these sort of things I was briefed, in general, the direction that the debate would follow.

‘We’ll be talking about the manifestos,’ the producer of the show told me, before indicating to my immense relief that we would in all likelihood only have time to discuss the parties most likely to form a government.

As a result I can testify that I am in actual fact one of the minute proportion of voters in this country who has, you know, actually read the whole of two election manifestos.

Perhaps incorrectly I am assuming, dear reader, that you have not found yourself  in a position where going from back to front cover of these lengthy tomes has been a necessity so I shall try and summarise them for you very succinctly.

In 2017 there is two things that you notice about the Conservative and Labour election manifestos. They are both, thankfully, very easy to read. Unfortunately they are also both immensely boring.
It is fair to say that for the first time in my lifetime there is clear blue water between the offerings of the two main parties, however not just in policies but in tone.

Labour’s manifesto is one the likes of which I have never read before. There is, in actual fact, a great deal to like about the optimistic tone it is written in.

After two years it is generally known that I am no fan of Jeremy Corbyn but there is much to like about the manifesto his party has put forward.

In all seriousness who could not want free hospital parking, free school dinners, 10,000 more bobbies on the beat, free university education, billions upon billions put into health and schools, pay rises for public sector workers, a significantly increased minimum wage, increased paternity allowances and huge additional amounts being put into welfare payments?

It really isn’t a surprise when voters are asked whether they support such policies for the purpose of opinion polls that overwhelmingly they say ‘yes’.

The problem is that people do tend to say ‘yes’ to free things right up until the point that realise that very little is actually ever free and, indeed, nothing delivered by government actually ever is.

And that is where the optimism of the Labour manifesto stops. It is quite a dark concept that if you want to make things look free then you have find a bogeyman whose door the actual bill can be left at.

In their prospectus Labour have found three groups of dark figures who, they believe, the wider electorate will be willing to let them reap the true cost of their project from.

The ‘rich’ will find themselves paying more. If you are not quite sure whether you fall into that category just check if you are earning the same or less than an MP, if you are on the same then congratulations! Your income falls just short of the amount that can be earned before your tax rate increases significantly.

Businesses will find themselves subject to increased corporation tax. But at a time when many are considering whether Britain, given our withdrawal from the EU, is the best place to base themselves, and the hundreds of thousands of families who rely on them for employment, a Labour government is seeking to significantly increase their tax burden.

The final group who will be presented with the responsibility of meeting Labour’s spending commitments are, wait for it, you and I. Well, when I say ‘you and I’ obviously what Labour would like you to believe is that it will be the bankers through a ‘Robin Hood’ tax. The difficulty is that the billions potentially raised through such a tax directly impact on pension funds, the funds that you and I save for our retirement.

Whenever I go out canvassing in elections from time to time, or for that matter even at the pub or at church, I am used to hearing one thing about politicians: ‘they all lie’.

The Conservative manifesto really is an extraordinary piece of work. It highlights the challenges that the country is going to be facing over the coming years, not just BREXIT but equally major issues like the huge problem of how we tackle social care for older people, and actually tries to come up with workable solutions.

It places issues, like the withdrawal for most retired people of the winter fuel allowance, absolutely front and centre and risks alienating a voting group that has traditionally voted Tory, and why?

Because it seems Mrs May knows that it is the right thing to do.

Of course many elderly people need the winter fuel allowance payment, and they will still get it, but crucially many do not. We have to ask why then, when finances are exceptionally tight, are we paying it?

To my mind, and in fairness in the mind of many retired people that I talk too, we cannot. But it is a very brave politician that highlights a problem and tries to address it not in a way that garners the most votes but in an equitable, fair one.

It’s quite possible to argue all day long that you disagree with the contents of either manifesto but one fact is true. We hear that politicians are ‘all the same’ patently taking note of the gap between policies in the Labour and Tory manifestos, they are not.

In a few weeks we have a choice to make.

Do we want to vote for a party who has based it’s platform in the fantasy land of spending untold billions and a promise of it only affecting the rich? Or, do we want to support a party basing their admittedly more boring agenda, at a time when Britain is facing unprecedented change, in reality?

For me the answer isn’t difficult.

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