I guess that like it or not, most of us pay some sort of attention to the manifesto promises made by the various mainstream political parties during the traditional conference season, even if it's only through the small number of carefully placed and often pre-leaked policy commitments that mysteriously find their way into the mainstream broadcast media, or onto the front pages of the country's best selling newspapers. Whether we like it or not, whether we're interested in politics or not, ultimately someone has to run the country on behalf of the citizenry and surely the purpose of the party conferences is for politician's of all stripes to publicly lay out their proposals to the British electorate, so we can best determine which group of people are best placed and most able to look after the economic, industrial, social and cultural interests of our country.
Over the course of the next few weeks all of the UK's major political parties, Labour, UKIP, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will hold their individual party conferences, during which they will lay out their specific political visions for Britain in the coming years. Each in their turn will offer up a range of economic, industrial, social and cultural policies for our consideration, in an attempt to garner our electoral support on election day. It is worth remembering however that much of what is said, what is offered to the public, by the various political parties, will only ever represents the broadest of strokes in terms of specific policies; and it is what they don't say, don't promise, is probably just as important as what they do.
This week we have been treated to daily reports from Labour's annual party conference in Manchester, the last one before next year's general election, during which Mr Miliband's party publicly laid out the policies and strategies that they intend to pursue, or that they would like to implement, should they be fortunate to be elected to office once again by the British people.
According to these reports the Labour Party's priorities for the next ten years will include; a) Giving all school leavers and young people an equal opportunity to either be offered an apprenticeship, or to go on to university. b) Tackling the country's cost-of-living crisis, by helping working families share in the wealth of the country, by ensuring that wages grow at the same rate as the economy. c) Restoring the dream of home ownership by increasing the rate of new house building to 200,000 per year by 2020 and doubling the numbers of first-time buyers gaining access to the property ladder. d) Tackling the issue of low wages, halving the numbers of workers on low pay, by increasing the rate of minimum pay to £8.00 per hour. e) Securing the future of the country and the economy by creating one million new high tech jobs, at the same time making Britain a world leader in "green" technologies. f) Saving the NHS, by creating a world class, 21st century healthcare service.
In pursuit of these six central and highly populist policies, the Labour leadership also announced that: g) They see Britain's long-term future in a reformed EU. h) That they favour giving votes to 16 and 17 year olds i) That they would like to turn the House of Lords into a more representative Senate. j) That they want to devolve more powers to England, Wales & Northern Ireland, as well as to the regions and larger cities. k) They vow to create 36,000 more jobs in the NHS. l) They pledge to pay for all these policies by cracking down on tax avoidance, as well introducing a mansion tax and by targeting the profits of tobacco manufacturers. m) That Labour will create a "time to heal" fund worth £2.5 billion per year. n) That they vow to repeal the coalition's Health & Social Care Act. o) That Labour will build a new generation of Garden cities. p) That firms bidding for government contacts would be forced to offer apprenticeships in return for receiving government business.
Of course on the face of it, all of these policy proposals go down very well with the general public, especially those who would be more inclined to vote for Labour during a national election, as is clearly reflected in a recent Survation poll, which showed extremely high levels of support amongst both Labour and Liberal Democrat voters when these same policies were presented to them in a positive manner. After all, who wouldn't like to see the NHS gain an additional 36,000 frontline staff, especially if they're going to be paid for by owners of properties worth more than £2m, or by the big tobacco companies, by tax avoiders, by the big banks, or indeed by the greedy utility companies?
But before everyone gets carried away and imagines that the many and the fairly intrinsic problems with the NHS are somehow going to be fixed overnight through the provision of this much talked about £2.5bn and the resulting 36,000 extra staff, perhaps it's worth considering the few major wrinkles that exist within Labour's much vaunted NHS rescue plan.
First, it is worth pointing out that in actual percentage terms this extra £2.5bn of health spending is only about half of what the Thatcher government spent on the NHS in every single year of the "Iron Lady's premiership, so the suggestion that Labour's proposed extra spending on the health service is in any way notable, or exceptional is entirely false.
Second, it is worth recalling that the last Labour government actively pursued the idea of private investment in the NHS, both through the outsourcing of services to entirely "for profit" health companies; and through the imposition of the hugely expensive PFI contracts. So for the Labour Party's Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham and the rest of the Labour leadership to now try and disassociate themselves and their party from such blatant privatisation of the NHS is a wholly contemptible attempt to try and rewrite the history of healthcare in our country.
Third, the coalition's Health & Social Care Bill, which the Labour Party proposes to repeal, has already been in place for the best part of five years; and during that time fundamental changes have been made and presumably numerous contracts have been signed that would undoubtedly cost the NHS millions, if not billions to cancel. It also appears to be the case that Labour are not content to simply restore the NHS back to where it was in 2010, but rather to reorganise the entire healthcare system yet again, so that the nation's health and social care budgets are inextricably linked to one another. By any stretch of the imagination, such changes would almost certainly involve massive administrative start-up costs being incurred by Health and Social Care departments throughout the country, which then begs the question, just where is all this extra money going to come from?
Fourth, in various media interviews given by an assortment of Labour shadow ministers during the recent party conference, there seemed to be a great deal of confusion as to where these additional government revenues were likely to be spent. Were they going to be spent on reducing the country's deficit, or on the NHS, or even on funding housing, apprenticeships, jobs, etc? Obviously the same money cannot be spent more than once, assuming of course that you can raise it at all. After all, one particular Labour spokesman thought the "Mansion Tax" might be levied on properties once they were sold, whilst another thought that an annual tax might be applied to each property on an ongoing basis, assuming of course that they could actually identify which "mansion" was worth £2m to begin with.
Finally, there's the question of what to do with those owners who are deemed to be asset rich, but cash poor, including those numerous people who have been fortunate enough to see their properties rise in value, but don't have the annual incomes to pay a regular tax on it. What would happen to them? Would they be exempt from the tax? Would a charge be put on their home, which would then be reclaimed once they had died and the property sold? Would they be forced to sell up and move to a smaller cheaper property, in order to pay the proposed "Mansion Tax"? Wouldn't homeowners in London and the South be disproportionately affected by such a proposed levy, through a geographical anomaly rather than any real fault of their own?
With regard to Labour's proposal for new work apprenticeships! Just how are small to medium sized companies bidding for government contracts supposed to afford the cost of establishing and running these new mandatory apprenticeships? Will they be excluded from tendering for government contracts entirely, thus ensuring that only larger, better funded companies are able to secure government work? Wouldn't current EU regulations forbid the creation of such national-only job schemes anyway, meaning that foreign youngsters and workers, skilled and unskilled would be equally entitled to apply for such apprenticeships; and how exactly would that then help our own under-skilled British youth to improve their employment prospects? Also, would any government money be spent on helping to create, run and fund these new job opportunities; and just where will this new money come from?
Although on the face of it Labour's promised minimum wage of £8 per hour sounds attractive, the reality is that this particular figure is only proposed to be achieved by 2020, even though a similar hourly rate would likely be arrived in the marketplace, with or without direct government intervention anyway. So in a sense the Labour Party is simply forecasting the likely hourly rate in 2020, rather than promising to proactively improve British workers lives. Two other things are also worth bearing in mind with regard to this issue. Firstly, some employers, if faced with increased wage costs, may simply choose to reduce the size of their workforces in order to reduce their wage liabilities, thereby forcing a smaller number of people to work harder and longer. Secondly, it has already been suggested that some workers might well find that they're actually worse off by having increased wages, as they inadvertently find themselves not only losing welfare benefits, but also having to pay more income tax, as a direct result of the increase in their minimum wage.
On the subject of home ownership and the house building programme proposed by Labour, there are several key points to make. The first is, are the proposed 200,000 homes per year going to be built purely to meet the needs of the existing population, or does that figure also include the 200,000 plus foreign migrants who will undoubtedly arrive in Britain as a result of the Labour Party's open door migration policies? Just where exactly are these new houses and Garden Cities going to be built, without them having a catastrophic effect on our current green belt land? How precisely will a future Labour government force supermarkets and developers to surrender the land-banks that they currently have in their possession?
It's all very well issuing a "use it, or lose it" ultimatum to very large landowners, but how exactly would they be forced to "use" the land, or how would government force them to lose it; and how much will it cost the public purse to compensate them, in the event that they choose not to use their properties for building houses or supermarkets? Finally, if a future Labour administration were to actually build a million or so new homes, what effect will that have on existing property values? Will current house prices be maintained, or would they fall, thereby causing some homeowners to then be caught in a negative equity trap?
In addition, Mr Miliband's promise to create one million new "high tech" jobs, would indeed be a welcome one, even more so if he explained just where and how these new employment posts were going to be found and funded. There is a suggestion that many would be found within the "green" economy, which as most of us know, tends to have a direct impact on consumers, who have to carry the burden of paying for new technologies through their utility bills. Could it be the case that these one million new high tech, environmentally friendly, green jobs will ultimately be created and paid for by Britain's commercial and domestic users, either through their electricity, gas or water bills? After all, aren't we already having to fund the thousands of green and environmentally friendly wind turbines that litter our countryside and our coastline, at an exorbitant cost to each and every household? Will Mr Miliband and a future Labour government provide us with more of the same; and if so, how does he propose to keep fuel bills down, at the same time that he's creating a million "green", high tech jobs?
As voters, there are several things that we know and that we can rely on. The first is that we can generally be sure that our mainstream politicians will promise us the earth and deliver us as little as possible, often because their manifesto promises are generally nothing more than a wish list of the things they would like to do, given an ideal set of circumstances. We also know that the Labour Party has a less than enviable record when it comes to economic competence, so quite why anyone would choose to believe that they're anymore capable of meeting their proposed economic targets now, than they have been in the past should rightly occur to each and everyone of us.
Surely the vision that Mr Miliband and his party are offering us for the future, is more of the same old policies that they offered us before? More unfettered foreign immigration! Higher levels of indigenous unemployment! Higher costs of living through increased utility bills! Increasing loss of our greenbelt! Higher taxes on both tobacco and liquor! More government intrusion into our private lives! More EU involvement in the running of our country! The greater fragmentation of our country through regional devolution and the creation of city states! The NHS and other vital services being endlessly reorganised and restructured to best suit a regional, rather than a national, identity! More foreign multi-culture than English traditional culture!
Obviously, each one of us in our turn will have to carefully consider the public promises and pledges made by the various political parties during their annual conferences, before deciding which of them, if any, deserves our individual support in the forthcoming general election. In the case of the Labour Party however, there still remains a significant question mark over their ability to make good on their electoral promises, even assuming that sufficient people are prepared to overlook the mistakes and oversights that the last Labour administration committed whilst in office.
For me as an individual voter the decision to invade Iraq, the damage that their multicultural agenda has wrought on Britain and its people, as well as the catastrophic damage caused to our national economy, NHS, schools and our society generally, means that I could not in good faith trust Mr Miliband and his colleagues to have learned the lessons from their past. As the title of this blog post suggests, sometimes it's the things that our mainstream political parties don't promise, don't say, the questions that they don't answer, which are far more enlightening and informative than those that they do?