Whatever you do at this election, vote

This election is a good time to look back over the last twenty years. A lot has changed, and a lot will change in the future.

Twenty years ago there was no Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly. The age of consent for homosexual acts was 5 years higher than the age of consent for heterosexual acts. There were no gay marriages or even civil partnerships. Interest rates were set by the treasury and there was no Office of Budget Responsibility.

Since then there have been great improvements. Across the income spectrum people are richer, broadband access is near-universal, and the public as a whole has become more individualistic[1]. London has a governing assembly[2], Northern Ireland is at peace, and the British people are in the process of getting our very own high speed rail network.

There have also been colossal failures. Tony Blair forced a divided Labour party into rushing into an illegal war in Iraq. This was opposed by a quarter of Labour MPs and all Liberal Democrat MPs, and supported by almost the entire Conservative Parliamentary Party. There was also a massive banking crisis, which was made possible by a lack of regulatory oversight. In the run up to this crisis there were calls for less regulation by the press and the Conservative Party[3]. The Labour government also ran a deficit in the run up to the crisis, although the deficit by 2008 was 2.1% of GDP, compared with an inherited deficit in 1997 of 3.9%, and under David Cameron and George Osborne the Conservative Party had promised to match Labour’s spending plans. The deficit then rose to eye watering levels as a consequence, rather than cause, of the financial crisis.

All the major reforms of the Blair government, from devolution, to Bank of England independence, to civil partnerships, were opposed by the Conservative Party. The major failures – Iraq and the financial crisis – were a consequence of the Labour Party leadership adopting conservative practice. Then there was the coalition.

Most people forget that by the time of the 2010 election the UK economy was in recovery, with an annualised growth rate of 2.1%. The first two years of austerity were a failure – both 2012 and 2013 saw a quarter of negative growth. Since then, the coalition has effectively softened austerity and as a consequence there has been a steady return to growth in the last couple of years. The greatest achievement of the coalition apart from saving the British public from the 2012 recession is the legalisation of gay marriage, which was opposed by the majority of Conservative MPs and made possible by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party.

Looking ahead, the Tories have promised to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million, a policy which will disproportionately benefit those at the top of the income spectrum (IFS 2015). They will also extend the right to buy to about 500,000 people, a policy which amounts to confiscating the social housing of councils and Housing Associations, and selling that housing on at well below market value. The policy is inherently unfair – why should someone who lives in social housing be given a cut rate house to sell on, when someone on a lower income whose private rent is much more expensive receives nothing?

In contrast, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have proposed a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million and the Labour Party have also promised to increase the minimum wage and end non-dom status. Labour will also extend rental contracts and abolish letting agent’s fees, whilst putting an upper limit on private rent rises so they do not outpace those of the market.

The politicians listen to those who vote. Pensioners and those with higher incomes have greater influence than the young and those with lower incomes because they vote in greater numbers. If you live in a Labour/Tory marginal, I strongly urge you to vote Labour, and if you live in a Lib Dem/Tory marginal, I strongly urge you to vote Lib Dem. But whatever you do this election, please vote.

[1] http://www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/downloads/bsa-30-downloads.aspx

[2] The original London Assembly – called the Greater London Council – was abolished by Margaret Thatcher.

[3] http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Politics/documents/2007/08/17/ECPGcomplete.pdf – p54.

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