Victory’s challenges

Ahmed Mustafa , Tuesday 11 Jun 2024

Both Conservative and Labour campaigns were found to be using fabricated data, leaving UK votes in a state of distrust before the upcoming general election.

Victory s challenges
Sunak

 

Neither of the major two parties competing to take charge of the UK on 4 July have released a manifesto, but the Conservatives and Labour have been trading criticism over the potential policies and their impact. According to opinion polls, the opposition Labour Party, headed by Keir Starmer, is leading by up to 20 points against the Conservative Party, headed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Starmer

Despite the lead, and the wide expectations that Labour will win the largest number of seats in the next parliament, there are doubts that the party will secure a  majority big enough to comfortably form a government. A huge part of Labour winning is due to the Conservatives in decline rather than voters believing the opposition has a solution to the country’s problems.

At the centre of the campaign that began last week is the state of the economy and the cost of living burden on British families. In the first debate between Sunak and Starmer on ITV, the PM claimed that the Labour government will raise taxes, adding an annual £2000 to the family’s tax burden. Starmer denied the claim, which later turned out to be a “made-up” estimate based on assumed spending policies that are either no longer adopted or nonexistent.

Labour also briefed journalists on huge unfunded spending plans by the Conservatives, claiming a gap of more than £70 billion. All in all, both parties circulate a public funding gap (deficit) of almost a trillion for the next parliament’s five-year term.

Electioneering by exaggerating figures about state finances and the economy ultimately deprives the British population of a fair debate about the future. Contrary to what happened in the Dutch elections recently, where parties submitted their plans to an independent body to scrutinise, the two major parties in the UK are “fabricating” data.

Regardless of what policies are genuine and if any party will truly commit to their promises after the election, it is certain that people don’t feel they are going to be better off after the elections. In a report published this week, the Resolution Foundation think tank concluded that “UK households will be stung by an annual £800 (more than $1000) rise in taxes after the election, based on decisions taken by the last parliament that neither Labour nor the Conservatives have said they will reverse.”

Both parties vowed not to raise taxes, but these are “stealth tax rises” due to the freeze on tax band thresholds in place since 2019. That means more people move to higher tax rates every year, which will provide the treasury with more than £20 billion. In addition, many temporary tax cuts introduced following the pandemic will end by next spring.

The Conservatives are making pledges that will probably be dropped if they win the election, including tax cuts and spending increases. Labour is trying to lure businesses by promising high-cost measures likely to antagonise the traditional base of the party: workers’ trade unions.

Apart from the two main parties, a newcomer to this election is the far-right Reform, led by the controversial politician Nigel Farage. Farage’s last minute decision to run for Reform is another blow to the Conservatives, who already suffer from infighting and loss of electorate’s trust. Smaller parties, like the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and others are set to gain more seats than in the 2019 election. These would be either protest votes against the Conservatives due to their poor handling of the economy or against Starmer’s Labour for a variety of reasons including the party’s stance concerning the war on Gaza.

Many middle class voters Al-Ahram Weekly spoke to show apathy about the election, though they will still vote next month. They cannot see much difference between the two main parties, especially when it comes to improving the situation for citizens, whether in terms of cost of living or overall living standards.

On the last day of last month, the Institute for the government think tank issued a paper about the challenges facing the next government. Taking into account the campaign vows of Conservatives and Labour so far, neither seems prepared to meet the ten challenges the paper set. Those included “underperforming public services, battered public finances, tensions within the union, and a fragile civil service.”

But the most urgent is the daunting task of fixing public services, some of which are “on the brink of collapse.” According to the paper, “most public services are performing worse than at the time of the 2019 election and substantially worse than in 2010.”  The institute’s paper concluded: “Without an honest reckoning with the problems the next government will inherit – or resume responsibility for – from the minute it takes office, the visions they are selling to voters are simply not achievable.”

Labour is more likely to form the next government. But from what we have seen in the dissolved parliament, its leader Keir Starmer has made Labour only a slightly “modified” version of the Conservatives. So, not much should be expected despite the claim of change, whether on matters of interest to the British public or on foreign policy.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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