It’s 2019 general election voting day tomorrow (12 December), and the battle lines between the main political parties continue to be drawn. Wondering who to vote for? Nell Frizzell and Christobel Hastings investigate where exactly the main parties stand on key issues, including Brexit, climate change and the NHS.
Wondering who to vote for on Thursday when the UK goes to the polls for the 2019 general election? The constant interview soundbites and divisive newspaper headlines from the last six weeks of campaigning by the main political parties can make deciphering where they actually stand on the real issues, like the NHS and Brexit, pretty difficult.
The good news is everyone who is registered to vote could quite literally change the course of our future tomorrow, with a simple cross in a box. And the great news? There has reportedly been a huge surge in the numbers of people applying to register to vote, with over 3.1 million people getting their applications in so they can have their say. Around two-thirds of those who have registered to vote are under the age of 35, with more than a million applicants under 25. The Electoral Reform Society has called this increase in registrations “highly encouraging”.
2019 election: how your vote will affect women
From healthcare to education, police reform to tuition fees, Labour have put forward several policies aimed, if not specifically at women, at appealing to a female vote.
In terms of health and social care, Labour promise to invest more than £1 billion in public health and recruit 4,500 more health visitors and school nurses. They have pledged to increase mandated health visits, ensure new mothers can have access to breastfeeding support, introduce mental health assessments in a maternal health check six weeks after birth, and extend paid maternity leave to 12 months. They have also promised to end mixed-sex wards.
In the realm of police and security, the manifesto argues that Labour will ensure better police training on domestic abuse and offences arising from coercive control; appoint a commissioner for violence against women and girls; establish an independent review into “shamefully low rape prosecution rates”; establish a National Refuge Fund, ensure financial stability for rape crisis centres and reintroduce a Domestic Abuse Bill. They also promise to introduce protections for victims of so-called revenge porn, introduce a no-fault divorce procedure and uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions.
The Liberal Democrats, lead by Jo Swinson, promise a complete reform of the Gender Recognition Act to remove the requirement for medical reports, scrap the £140 fee to have their gender legally recognised, and recognise non-binary gender identities.
For people who have periods, they plan to end period poverty by removing VAT on sanitary products and providing them for free in schools, hospitals, hostels, shelters, libraries, leisure centres, stadiums, GP surgeries, food banks, colleges and universities.
Perhaps more ambitiously, they promise to scrap the so-called ‘Pink Tax’, ending the gender price gap.
They will require schools to introduce gender-neutral uniform policies and break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of certain subjects.
The major Conservative policy framed to benefit women is support for those receiving Universal Credit. As they put it: “To help those looking after family members, especially women, we will support the main carer in any household receiving the Universal Credit payment.” What form this support will take, and how the party are going to tackle the administrative problems associated with Universal Credit, is unclear.
The Tories promise to invest £14 billion over three years to increase funding for every primary and secondary school pupil in the country. However, the National Education Union have already argued that, despite investment, 83% of schools will have less money per pupil in April 2020 in real terms than they had in 2015.
Within their manifesto, the Conservatives pledge an increase in the National Living Wage to two thirds of average earnings, currently forecast at £10.50 an hour.
They also promise to establish a new £1 billion fund to help create more high quality, affordable childcare, including before and after school and during the school holidays.
The Green Party are the only major political party to have two co-leaders; Siân Berry and Jonathan Bartley. In terms of how your vote will affect women, the Green Party manifesto promises to install a 40% quota for women on major company boards in order to end the ‘boys club’ atmosphere that acts as a barrier to women and gender non-conforming people
In terms of female healthcare, they will ensure that all forms of birth control are free.
The Green Party promise to roll back the cuts to domestic violence support centres and women’s refuges; make misogyny a hate crime across the UK and increase the police’s capacity to deal with domestic violence and misogynistic hate crimes; establish a new press regulatory regime which will allow women to make formal complaints about media coverage that will encourage misogyny against women.
In terms of housing, the Green Party pledge to create at least 100,000 new socially rented homes a year through low carbon construction and retrofitting, converting and extending existing buildings.
Their manifesto also says that were the UK to stay in the EU they would want to “extend the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights to give women in all EU countries access to legal, safe and affordable abortion services”.
The Welsh Nationalist Party are strongly pro-EU, so their manifesto understandably concentrates heavily on the benefits of staying within the EU, including access to an EU railcard which will enable free travel throughout the EU.
They also welcome EU recognition of the threat to women and girls by human trafficking and promise increased resources to investigating and prosecuting human trafficking.
They promise to push for full implementation of the Youth Guarantee Scheme, ensuring that all young people in Wales under the age of 25 have access to education, training or employment opportunities.
Lead by Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP open their manifesto with the ‘key pledge’ that they will end the government policy of austerity. They write: “More than a decade of austerity, years of low wage growth and a freeze on social security payments, has left families struggling and our public services stretched”.
They promise to end the two child cap on tax credits. As they put it: “SNP MPs have been at the forefront of the campaign against the Rape Clause, which requires women to prove they’ve been raped in order to receive support for more than two children.”
They promise to halt to Universal Credit – a system that they argue has pushed millions of people into poverty – and press for an immediate end to the benefit freeze.
The SNP oppose the “hostile environment” of the UK immigration system, and say they will “stand firm against the demonisation of migrants”.
They also promise to hold the government to a commitment to remove VAT from sanitary products.
In terms of family and early years care, the SNP promise an expansion of early learning and childcare – from 600 hours per year to 1,140 hours; to introduce a new £10 a week Scottish Child Payment for low income households by the end of next year.
In terms of parental leave their manifesto pledges to increase maternity leave to one year and set maternity pay at 100% of average weekly earnings for the first 12 weeks, then 90% for 40 weeks or £150, whichever is lower. They also want to increase shared parental leave from 52 to 64 weeks, with the additional 12 weeks to be the minimum taken by the father in order to encourage an increase in shared parental leave.
SNP MPs also promise tougher action to close the gender pay gap, including introducing fines for businesses that fail to meet an agreed Equal Pay Standard.
The Brexit Party have yet to announce gender-based policies, as the organisation focuses solely on the issue of leaving the EU.
2019 election: how your vote will affect the NHS
After a decade of austerity and the threat of US investment, the NHS is bound to play a major role in the coming election, right across the political spectrum.
In their manifesto, the Tories promise a record £34 billion per year by 2023-24 in additional funding for the NHS, arguing that it would be the biggest cash boost in its history. However, it’s worth nothing that this follows the 2015 Spending Review that asked the NHS to make £22 billion in savings by 2020.
The Tories promise to recruit 50,000 more nurses, with students receiving a £5,000-£8,000 annual maintenance grant every year during their course to help with their cost of living (although the Tories actually took away the existing NHS bursaries for nurses, midwives and most allied health students in 2017, causing – according to the Office for Students – an 11% drop in people studying those courses).
They pledge to introduce 6,000 more doctors in general practice and 6,000 more primary care professionals, such as physiotherapists and pharmacists
In terms of hospital care, the Conservatives say that they will build and fund 40 new hospitals over the next 10 years, on top of the 20 hospital upgrades announced in the summer.
In their manifesto, the Labour Party promise to increase expenditure across the health sector (so not just pay) by an average of 4.3% a year. Perhaps more radically, they claim that Labour will “end and reverse privatisation in the NHS in the next Parliament”; repeal the Health and Social Care Act; reinstate the responsibilities of the Secretary of State to provide a comprehensive and universal healthcare system, and end the requirement on health authorities to put services out to competitive tender.
They promise to make the NHS a net-zero-carbon service although they do not give a date for when this will be achieved.
In terms of mental health, Labour say they will provide an additional £1.6 billion a year to ensure new standards for mental health are enshrined in the NHS constitution ensuring access to treatments is on a par with that for physical health conditions.
In order to address the shortfall in staff, Labour say they will introduce a training bursary for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals; and remove the obstacles to ethical international recruitment.
They also promise to establish a generic drug company arguing that “if fair prices are rejected for patented drugs we will use the Patents Act provisions, compulsory licences and research exemptions to secure access to generic versions”.
The Liberal Democrats argue that by staying within the EU savings can be made that will protect the NHS. They also promise to raise £7 billion a year in additional revenue by putting 1p on Income Tax; this money will then be ringfenced for spending on the NHS and social care.
They also promise to put mental health on a par with physical health and to reform the Health and Social Care Act as recommended by the NHS, to make the NHS work in a more efficient and joined-up way, and to end the automatic tendering of services.
In their manifesto, the Green Party pledge to increase funding for the NHS by at least £6 billion per year each year, until 2030 (a 4.5% increase on the 2018/2019 NHS Budget), and a further £1 billion a year in nursing higher education, allowing for nursing bursaries to be reinstated. This, they argue, “will constitute a programme of sustained investment, bringing spending of health services in the UK up to northern European averages”.
According the SNP manifesto, frontline health spending per head in Scotland is £136 per person (6.3%) higher than in England. They also plan that frontline health spending will exceed £15 billion by 2021/22.
They also argue that SNP MPs will demand that any future UK government pass a new National Health Service Protection Act, guaranteeing that trade deals do not undermine the founding principles of the NHS nor open it to profit-driven exploitation. Apparently, the NHS Protection Act would enshrine in law that the NHS must be protected as publicly owned, publicly operated, and its services publicly commissioned. To give a so-called ‘double-lock’ on protecting our NHS, the new law would also ensure that future trade deals would require the explicit consent of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Irish Assembly.
They also support moves to re-instate a publicly owned, publicly operated, and publicly commissioned NHS in England through the replacement or significant amendment of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Plaid Cymru argue that retaining EU membership, with its many health and research related bodies and legal frameworks, will be key in securing the NHS’s future. They also promise that, once in government, Plaid Cymru would train and recruit an additional 1,000 doctors and 5,000 nurses for the Welsh NHS in the next decade.
In its ‘Contract with The People’ launched today, the Brexit Party’s NHS policy states that it will pursue “continued investment in the NHS with better management, more medical staff and cutting waste.” In a BBC interview, Nigel Farage previously called for private health companies to “take the burden off the NHS”.
2019 election: how your vote will affect climate change
Climate change has always been seen as the Green Party’s main priority, although this year - perhaps following the consciousness-raising campaign by Extinction Rebellion - most of the major parties also address the need to do something serious and immediate to prevent the destruction of the planet.
The Greens clearly want to make the climate solution their own, writing in their manifesto: “As the originators of the Green New Deal, we are the only party you can trust to act in time to tackle the Climate Emergency and rapidly reduce social and economic inequality – and to make these our top priorities”.
According to their manifesto, the Green New Deal will get the UK on track to reducing climate emissions to net zero by 2030 by: meeting most of our energy needs through the domestic production of renewable energy; reducing our overall energy demand from buildings and homes, and transforming UK industry, transport and land use.
The party pledge a combined investment of over £100 billion a year in the Green New Deal, with an additional investment in Universal Basic Income.
They also promise to replace first-past-the-post with a proportional voting system, giving 16-year-olds the vote and reforming government in order to better combat the climate emergency and devolving power to councils.
Ascribing to the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendation, Labour propose a Green New Deal which “aims to achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030”.
A major part of the Labour campaign on climate change is their ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ aimed at creating one million jobs in the UK by transforming industry, energy, transport, agriculture and our buildings, while restoring nature. Under such a scheme they pledge to build: 7,000 new offshore wind turbines; 2,000 new onshore wind turbines; enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches and introduce new nuclear power.
They also promise to introduce a windfall tax on oil companies, so that the companies that knowingly damaged our climate will help cover the costs.
Under the Green New Deal they also promise to launch a Climate Apprenticeship programme; introduce a Climate and Environment Emergency Bill setting out in law robust, binding new standards for decarbonisation, nature recovery, environmental quality and habitats and species protection; introduce a Clean Air Act, with a vehicle scrappage scheme and clean air zones, complying with World Health Organisation limits for fine particles and nitrous oxides; provide an extra £5.6 billion in funding to improve the standard of flood defences and respond to the increased risk of flooding.
According to their manifesto, the Lib Dems will deliver a 10-year emergency programme to cut emissions substantially straight away, and phase out emissions from the remaining hard-to-treat sectors by 2045 at the latest.
The party lay out their first priorities as: an emergency programme to insulate all Britain’s homes by 2030, cutting emissions and fuel bills and ending fuel poverty; investment in renewable power so that at least 80 per cent of UK electricity is generated from renewables by 2030 – and banning fracking for good; protecting nature and the countryside, tackling biodiversity loss and planting 60 million trees a year to absorb carbon, protect wildlife and improve health, and investment in public transport, electrifying Britain’s railways and ensuring that all new cars are electric by 2030.
The Liberal Democrats also pledge to establish a Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources, appoint a cabinet-level chief secretary for sustainability in the treasury to coordinate government-wide action to make the economy sustainable, resource-efficient and zero-carbon, and require every government agency to account for its contribution towards meeting climate targets.
The Lib Dems promise to establish UK and local citizens’ climate assemblies to engage the public in tackling the climate emergency - one of the major demands of the Extinction Rebellion movement.
In their manifesto, the Conservative Party pledge to achieve Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That means reducing emissions from homes, transport, farming, and industry, while offsetting the remaining emissions by planting trees or using carbon capture technology to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. While many parties have focused on the need to reduce carbon emissions, the Tories have instead pledged to invest £800 million to build the first fully deployed carbon capture storage cluster by the mid-2020s.
Apparently softening their apparent ban on fracking, the Tory manifesto claims that the party will “not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”.
The Conservatives will introduce a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund to help protect our oceans from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing.
They also promise to “invest £100 billion in additional infrastructure spending – on roads, rail and other responsible, productive investment which will repair and refurbish the fabric of our country and generate greater growth in the long run. For example, flood defences will receive £4 billion in new funding.”
As well as supporting the building of more roads, parliament has also voted in principle to support a controversial third runway at Heathrow.
The SNP’s manifesto demands that the UK accelerates its action to meet Scotland’s climate change targets – the toughest legal targets in the world – of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030, net zero carbon emissions no later than 2040 and net zero of all emissions by 2045.
They press for the accelerated deployment of fully operational carbon capture utilisation and storage facilities.
They promise tax incentives to enable people to make the switch to low-carbon heating systems more affordable.
The manifesto also sketches out a £3 billion portfolio of projects, including renewables, waste and construction, ready for green finance investment, including new woodland creation, working towards a target of 60 million trees planted annually in the UK by 2025, with 30 million of these in Scotland to help tackle the Climate Emergency and to support biodiversity and rural employment.
The SNP do not support fracking in Scotland.
Like many of the main parties, Plaid Cymru are proposing a Green New Deal. The main aim of their deal is to make Wales 100% self-sufficient in renewable electricity by 2035.
In their manifesto they say: “We will campaign for a European climate law, with binding carbon budgets reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and building a net-zero emissions economy. We will seek a complete ban on fracking and new open-cast coal mines.”
By working with the EU framework they also want to ban non-recyclable plastics and commission a national inventory of green energy potential in Wales – an “Energy Atlas for Wales” – and seek to use European Investment Bank funding for green and renewables projects.
There is no official manifesto on climate change at present, although research by investigate media outlet DeSmog has found that climate change denial is common among Brexit Party MPs such as Ann Widdecombe, Martin Daubney and Nathan Gill.
Recently, a mailout from the Brexit Party stated: “We believe that the UK should have the widest possible renewable and low-carbon energy sources and will support their development and construction in the UK”. However, the party quickly dismissed the letter as a “suggested draft from a keen young staffer”.
2019 election: how your vote will affect Brexit
Inevitably, Brexit is going to play a major role in all political campaigning in the run up to the 12 December election. The Green Party in England and Wales, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have formed an electoral pact called United to Remain, promising not to run against each other in specific constituencies and therefore risk splitting the Remain vote. This pact will affect 49 constituencies in England and 11 in Wales.
The Green Party describe themselves in their manifesto as proudly pro-European, unequivocally campaigning for Britain to Remain in the EU.
In their manifesto, the Welsh Nationalists campaign for a Final Say Referendum; the chance for Welsh citizens to choose between any proposed deal and staying within the European Union. This they do from the clearly pro-EU stance that “remaining in the EU will also protect Wales from the profound economic impact of Brexit”.
Were Brexit to go ahead, they will call for full and unrestricted access to the EU Single Market for goods, services and capital, including key agricultural and food products; and for Wales to remain in the Customs Union to allow goods to be traded freely with more than 80 countries around the world.
The Labour plan for Brexit is to negotiate a new deal with Europe, and then put that deal to the country in a legally-binding referendum; so we can either choose to accept the new negotiated deal or to stay in Europe.
Labour argue that their new Brexit deal will include: a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union; close alignment with the Single Market; dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections; continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in such vital areas of co-operation as the environment, scientific research and culture, and clear commitments on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and shared databases.
As they say: “Once we have secured this new deal we will put it to a legally binding referendum alongside the option of remaining in the EU. This will take place within the first six months of a Labour government.”
The Liberal Democrat position on Brexit is by far the simplest: they pledge that a majority Liberal Democrat government will revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU. What would happen in a coalition government is less clear.
Campaigning under the slogan “Get Brexit Done” – and boy do they use it a lot – the Conservative Party promise to start putting their Brexit deal through Parliament before Christmas and that the UK will leave the European Union in January 2020.
They pledge that the UK will come out of the single market, out of any form of customs union, and end the role of the European Court of Justice.
The Tories also claim that they will not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020 but as we know, the Conservative Party have so far failed to meet many of the deadlines for Brexit that they themselves already set.
The Scottish National Party argue in their manifesto that they “will work with others across Scotland and the UK to escape from Brexit” as the majority of Scottish voters voted remain in the EU referendum of 2016 (according to their website, Scotland voted by 62% to remain). In a UK context, that means supporting a second EU referendum with Remain on the ballot paper. And, they add, “if it is the only alternative to a ‘no deal’ Brexit, we will support the revocation of Article 50”.
The Brexit Party was launched in April 2019 with the express intention of ensuring that the UK leaves the EU. They are prepared for the country to leave without a deal in order to achieve a “clean-break Brexit”.
The party have stated that they are prepared to form an alliance with the Conservatives in order to achieve a majority in the election, although they have criticised Boris Johnson’s revised Brexit plan because it involves paying a £39bn settlement to the EU.
This piece was originally published in November