The campaign for the UK election, which will be held on 7th May, is at last showing signs of life. The campaign proper only started on 30th March, after a lengthy ‘phony campaign’ which had been going on since Christmas. Despite months of rather arid talk, however, the campaign only began to get interesting about a week ago.
The Party Leaders’ Debate
The first sign of life was the leaders’ television debate on 2nd April. Despite the fact it was not a proper debate, with the participants actually speaking directly with each other, it was well worth sitting through the entire program, in which the leaders were subjected to at least some pressure to come clean on the issues by the studio audience and the debate moderator. I thought Nick Clegg came out best of all the participants (though as a LibDem member I may have a slight bias). His insistence on ‘balance’, i.e., between the Tories’ promised (but not detailed) ‘cuts’ and Labour’s promised tax rises and cuts (also not detailed) came across as much more realistic than David Cameron’s and Ed Miliband’s stock appeals to their core supporters. Nigel Farage of UKIP seemed oddly deflated and his performance was not a good omen for the success of UKIP’s campaign. Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP was admittedly a very effective performer, but it was disappointing to read the next day that she was considered to have ‘won’ the debate. If only there were the funds available to carry out her free spending policies, while preparing the way for eventual Scottish independence.
Tony Blair’s Speech Against an EU Referendum
There have been two more important interventions during the past few days – both from the Labour Party. First Tony Blair gave an excellent speech in which he put the case for not having an EU referendum. I covered this topic in a January post. Tony Blair focussed in his speech on the same issues I covered in my blog – in particular commenting on the threat a referendum would post to investment in the UK and employment in manufacturing. He also pointed out as I did that last year’s Scottish referendum is far from a good example of a referendum ‘lancing the boil’ of the public’s concerns with the EU. If anything, there has been an increase in support for Scottish independence since the ‘no’ vote in the referendum, plus a huge increase in membership of the SNP. Hardly a good advertisement for the idea that referenda can resolve issues once and for all.
A Labour Government Would Abolish the Non-Dom Tax Exemption
Tony Blair’s speech was followed by an announcement from Ed Miliband that a Labour government would abolish the tax exemption enjoyed by non-domiciliaries. This exemption relieves non-domiciliaries of UK tax on income and gains arising outside the UK that they do not transfer (or ‘remit’) to the UK. It is true there is an annual charge to take advantage of the non-dom exemption, but foreigners resident in the UK who have substantial income and gains arising outside the UK lawfully avoid enormous amounts of UK tax in this way. So far as I am aware, the UK is the only developed country (apart from recognised tax havens and possibly Switzerland) that provides such a valuable tax exemption to foreign residents. It is extremely unfair to UK tax residents who happen to have been born in the country, i.e., the vast majority of the UK’s population. Even if some of these non-domiciliaries leave the country with their invested funds and deprive Harrods and up-market eateries of their custom, that would be a price well worth paying for the extra fairness that would result.
It was notable that Tony Blair’s speech and Ed Miliband’s announcement on the non-dom tax exemption were followed by an extraordinary intervention from Michael Fallon, the Tory Defence Secretary, who suggested that Ed Miliband, if he becomes the next Prime Minister, would ‘stab the country in the back’ by agreeing with the SNP not to renew the Trident submarine fleet. Michael Fallon’s intervention only served to underscore the aridity of the Tories’ election campaign to date.
Few Developments on Housing and the NHS
On several other issues of key importance, however, we are no better informed of the parties’ intentions after months of unofficial (and now official) campaigning. On housing, the parties are all promising to build hundreds of thousands of houses each year, but without willing the means to make this possible by relaxing the UK’s overly stringent planning requirements. On the NHS, only the LibDems are unequivocally promising to provide NHS head Simon Stevens with the additional funding he says the NHS will need to meet increasing clinical needs over the next few years. However, no party dares to tackle more dangerous ideas like further ‘privatisation’ of health services or patient charges.
Campaign Promises May Fall by the Wayside if there is a Minority Government
We also need to take all of the parties’ pronouncements during this election campaign with more than the usual grain of salt. The polls suggest that neither Labour nor the Tories will win a majority of seats in the House of Commons in this election. The party which eventually forms the government will therefore have to rely on the support of one or more of the smaller parties. Those parties may well insist on high-profile campaign promises being watered down or abandoned as a price of their support.