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What you need to know today

  • Lib Dems kick off manifesto week;
  • Skirmishes continue between Labour and Tories on taxes;
  • Ross resigns as Scottish Tory leader.

Manifesto watch

The Liberal Democrats were first out of the traps this week with the release of their manifesto. After a series of attention-grabbing stunts by leader Ed Davey, now came the serious bit.

There was clearly a high level of interest; the party’s website seemed to be initially overwhelmed by traffic when the manifesto was published.

Here is a topline summary of what the party has announced today:

  • In a move likely to stoke the Brexit fires of yore, but is predictable red meat for their base, the party has said it would seek to “place the UK-EU relationship on a more formal and stable footing by seeking to join the single market”. This would sit alongside the “longer-term ambition” to rejoin the EU.
  • Health has been a key focus of the campaign, with the party announcing a £9.4bn package of support for the NHS and social care in England, paid for by increasing taxation on the banks. The manifesto promises everyone “the right to see a GP within seven days, or 24 hours if they urgently need to”. 8,000 more GPs will be recruited to deliver this, and the Lib Dems have also pledged to guarantee access to dentistry.
  • A cross-party commission on establishing a new funding model for social care sits alongside a broader package of interventions, including giving unpaid carers a right to paid leave from work and expansion of the carers’ allowance.
  • All those water-based campaign events served a purpose. The Liberal Democrats have pledged to “end the sewage scandal” by turning water companies into public benefit companies, banning bonuses for water bosses until discharges and leaks end and replacing Ofwat with a new, empowered regulator.
  • A roadmap to net zero would be introduced, alongside a pledge to expand the market for climate-friendly products through changes to criteria in public procurement policy and support for low-carbon processes and technologies in energy-intensive sectors.
  • On the cost-of-living crisis, the party proposes to cut energy bills through an “upgrade programme” and tackle rising food prices through a “national food strategy”.
  • Education spending would go up under the Lib Dems, with increases to school and college funding per pupil “above the rate of inflation every year”, the flagship element of its education offer.
  • Like the other parties, they are committed to maintaining the triple lock on the state pension.

Manifesto analysis

The Lib Dems today launched their manifesto - a ‘fully costed’ programme that focuses on providing a health funding boost to ‘save the NHS’.

This is not a programme for government - unlike his predecessor, Ed Davey is not telling voters that a Lib Dem vote will result in him becoming Prime Minister.

And it is, like all Liberal Democrat manifestos, a long list of policies - the real democracy that powers his party reduces Davey’s ability to arbitrarily add or remove policies in the way that leaders of Labour and the Conservative Party can and do.

But this document is designed to show potential Lib Dem voters what the party will prioritise in parliament and what they will pressure the next government to do.

That is where the core offer - social care, NHS funding and tackling the sewage crisis - comes to the fore. These are issues that many middle-class voters, particularly in the ‘Blue Wall’ seats Davey is targeting, want whoever is in government next to tackle.

The pledge to return the UK to the single market has attracted headlines as an attempt to reopen a front in a war which ended long ago. Given their membership, it was predictable that something like this would be included. However, as Labour seeks to achieve a “better deal” for the UK in its dealings with the EU, it is clear this is something Davey will push Starmer on.

Taken in the round, though, it is worth mentioning that were this manifesto to be implemented in full, the cost would be astronomical - it feels like caution (the watchword of Labour’s proposition this time round) has been slightly thrown to the wind by the Liberal Democrats.

Davey’s pitch is that he is the man, and his is the party, to keep Keir Starmer honest. The manifesto is the policy scaffolding to reassure voters that he can and will push Labour in a more progressive direction.

What have the other parties been up to?

Ahead of their manifesto launch tomorrow, the Conservatives have sought to retake the initiative after Rishi Sunak’s D-Day diary drama sapped all momentum from the campaign over the weekend.

A welfare crackdown and a promise to permanently exempt first-time buyers of homes worth up to £425,000 from stamp duty were trailed as likely keynote announcements.

All of this nuanced policy debate is however being lost in increasingly rancorous navel-gazing about the future of the Conservative Party. The latest example is Suella Braverman saying the party should welcome Nigel Farage back into the Tory fold.

To add to the narrative that the party is over, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has announced he will be resigning from that position; he will carry on in the role until after the election and will also resign as an MSP if he is returned to Westminster as MP for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

It comes after last week’s unseemly row over Ross standing instead of David Duguid, who was effectively deselected while in hospital.

Labour is teeing themselves up for their big manifesto launch on Thursday with their fundings and costings increasingly under the microscope.

On a visit to a primary school to promote Labour’s new policy of funding 100,000 extra childcare places, Starmer refused to rule out raising capital gains tax to help pay the bill. Labour’s education proposals appear to be a source of increasing party rancour, with the Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson saying Emily Thornberry was wrong to suggest that VAT on private schools fees could lead to overcrowding in state schools.

One thing which will reportedly not be in Labour’s manifesto is a plan to bring back the pensions lifetime allowance, over concerns it would generate unnecessary uncertainty for savers.

Reform UK has called for a Great British Tax cut as part of its economic proposals. This would entail raising the personal tax allowance for income tax to £20,000 and paying for it by ending interest payments on quantitative easing.

Dates for the diary

The Conservative manifesto will be published tomorrow, with the Green Party and Labour following on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

The first of the BBC’s Panorama interviews with the party leaders is aired tonight, with the Prime Minister in the hot seat.

Wednesday evening will see Sky host a “Leaders Special Event” in Grimsby, with Starmer and Sunak being interviewed before answering questions from a live studio audience.

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