Today’s Conservative Party Manifesto contains a number of extremely welcome policies such as an extension of the Right to Buy and further income tax cuts. However, other policies are incoherent and do little to resolve the underlying economic problems.
We strongly welcome the manifesto commitment to extend the Right to Buy. The CPS has long argued for the economic and social benefits of wider home ownership. The proposal gives the Right to Buy to 2.75 million people living in 1.3 million housing association homes. This would undoubtedly help thousands more families to achieve their aspiration of owning their own home and would deliver broader economic benefits. But it would be have been so much more powerful if a more radical reform of the planning system had also been proposed in order to liberate the supply of housing.
The new proposal to increase the Personal Allowance further (inspired by Poor People! Stop Paying Tax! by Maurice Saatchi and Peter Warburton) is also sensible. No one working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage should ever have to pay income tax. However, this should not prevent future Governments from carrying out more ambitious cuts to income tax and national insurance.
In a number of other areas, the Manifesto accurately diagnoses real problems but fails to provide sensible solutions. Indeed, there is a worryingly statist attitude that pervades the whole document (“Our plan for you and your family, at every stage of your life”; ”We will make the banks work for you”; “We will deliver faster internet”; “We will fight for equal opportunity” etc etc). All too often, regulation appears to be preferred to more competition. So the freeze in rail fares, while it might be popular with commuters, does nothing to increase rail competition – a policy which, it has been proved, lowers fares, improves services and increases franchise fees. Similarly, increasing taxpayer funded childcare to 30 hours per week might ease the burden on working parents but does nothing to address the primary cause of the rising costs of childcare (heavy-handed regulation).
So, too often, the temptation to provide “doorstep-friendly” policies appears to have been too great to resist. While the renewed commitment to deficit reduction is of course welcome, the simultaneous promises of a raft of new, unfunded spending pledges such as on the NHS, regional infrastructure and paid voluntary leave are concerning. The conclusion? While the Manifesto does contain a number of useful and sensible policies, it is not sufficient to meet the economic and social challenges facing Britain. Could have done better.