UK general election: your guide to the manifestos 

By on 16/06/2024 | Updated on 14/06/2024
Image: Pixabay

Ahead of the UK general election on 4 July, the UK’s major political parties have been setting out their plans for if they win the election. Global Government Forum examines the pledges in the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party manifestos. 

This first article looks at the pledges related to the economy and government management and workforce, and sustainability, while Global Government Forum’s upcoming newsletters will cover pledges on digital and data, artificial intelligence, public services, and procurement

The parties’ main pitches 

The timing of the election might have come sooner than expected, but the parties’ main pitches for the electorate had been developed for some time. 

In his pitch to voters, Conservative leader and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak said that the government had restored the UK’s economic stability after Covid and the outbreak of war in Ukraine – and, though it goes unmentioned, Liz Truss’s premiership. 

“Inflation is down, real wages are up, growth has returned – and we are cutting taxes to give working people financial security,” said Sunak. “This did not happen by accident. The economy is turning a corner because we built strong economic foundations before the pandemic and we have stuck to our plan. We must stick to this plan and take bold action to secure the future of our nation and society.” 

The Labour party, however, has put change at the forefront of its message to voters. Party leader Keir Starmer says that the election is about change, and a “chance to stop the endless Conservative chaos that has directly harmed the finances of every family in Britain”. 

He said that the country faces a number of challenges over the next decade. “[W]e’ll face challenges to our energy and national security from foreign conflicts; to our border from uncontrolled and illegal migration; to our economy from global shocks and to our society from those seeking to divide and disempower communities.  

“Dealing with these challenges requires a clear plan and bold action. We have that plan and the courage to take the bold steps necessary to build a secure future for you and your family.”  

The party’s five missions are its response to this:  

  • Kickstart economic growth 
  • Make Britain a clean energy superpower 
  • Take back our streets 
  • Break down barriers to opportunity 
  • Build an NHS fit for the future 

The Liberal Democrats also promise change and “a fair deal”.  

“In so many ways, things in our country are broken. The economy, the National Health Service, the climate, the housing market – all are in crisis after years of Conservative neglect,” the party’s manifesto states. “Schools are crumbling and clean rivers seem a thing of the past. The Conservatives have wrecked our relationship with our nearest neighbours in Europe, and our political system is simply not fit for purpose. Millions of people feel powerless and excluded.” 

“[O]ur fair deal would give everyone the power to make the most of their potential, and real freedom to decide how they live their lives.” 

The economy 

As Global Government Forum has previously examined, tight public finances are the overarching context for the election, with the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, Richard Hughes, saying that the current lack of information on departmental spending beyond 2025 means that government spending plans are “worse than fiction”. 

The overall assumption is that government revenue spending will be limited to a 1% increase in real terms in the following four years, so the election campaign is defined by the tight fiscal constraints that the next government will face – and all parties put a strong focus on growing the economy, which would grow tax revenue for public services. 

The Conservatives say that economic security “is the bedrock of any future success, which is why we have a clear plan to take the bold action needed to build a strong economy”, and have set out five key economic priorities: 

  • reducing borrowing and debt 
  • backing businesses to invest, innovate and trade 
  • cutting taxes and reforming our welfare system 
  • delivering world-class education  
  • delivering an affordable transition to domestic, sustainable energy 

Kickstarting economic growth is among Labour’s top priorities. The party has pledged to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7 – “with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country making everyone, not just a few, better off”. 

To do this, the party has pledged to take six actions. These include delivering economic stability with tough spending rules, such as a pledge that the party will move the current budget into balance, so there is no borrowing for day-to-day government spending.  

The party also proposes a new partnership with business through the development of an industrial strategy and strategic partnerships, and a National Wealth Fund to invest in jobs. Planning reform, which is intended to build 1.5 million new homes, will also contribute to growth, while ‘a new deal for working people’ will ban “exploitative zero hours contracts”, end fire and rehire, and introduce basic rights from day one to parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal. 

The party pledges a new approach to economic management – “securonomics” – that focuses on sustainable growth. “Our approach will depend on a dynamic and strategic state,” the manifesto states. “This does not mean ever-growing government, but it does mean a more active, smarter government that works in partnership with business, trade unions, local leaders, and devolved governments.” 

Read more: UK general election: top tips to get ready for the next government

The Liberal Democrats promise a strong, fair economy that benefits everyone in the UK. “Core to our economic policy for improving stability and growth will be responsible management of the public finances, fixing the broken trading relationship with Europe, and an industrial strategy focused on the skills the future UK economy will need, from the renewables industry to the digital and bioscience sectors,” the manifesto says, arguing that the Conservatives “have badly mismanaged the economy and recklessly damaged the public finances, grinding economic growth to a halt and adding billions to the cost of servicing our debt”. The LibDems say they will “empower people and support businesses to thrive by encouraging investment and boosting productivity”. 

Civil service management and workforce  

In government, the Conservatives have pledged to improve the productivity of central government, with the aim of closing the productivity gap that has developed since the coronavirus pandemic.  

Public service productivity is currently estimated by the Office for National Statistics to be 5.9% below pre-pandemic levels, and analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggests that raising public sector productivity by 5% would be the equivalent of around £20bn extra in funding. 

They set out a six-point plan to make government more efficient: 

  • Halve the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on external consultants and introduce controls on all ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ initiatives and spending. 
  • Bring quango spending under control. 
  • Move 25,000 more civil servants outside of London, building on moves already made in the government’s Places for Growth programme
  • Open up civil service recruitment by requiring jobs to be advertised externally to identify the best candidates.  

On skills, the Conservatives also pledge to double digital and AI expertise in the civil service, “to take advantage of the latest technologies to transform public services”, and say they will require departments to deliver plans for 2% annual productivity growth at the next Spending Review. 

The party also pledges to devolve power out of Whitehall, with the objective of ensuring that every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal by 2030.  

However, there are also some pledges to curtail local discretion. The party plans to maintain restrictions on the amount that local authorities can increase council tax by without a local referendum, as well as banning the development of ‘four-day working week’ practices in local authorities. 

Labour has also said it will take action to devolve power out of Whitehall, with pledges to widen devolution to more areas beyond existing combined authorities, and local authorities encouraged to come together and take on new powers. 

The party has made few specific pledges around how it would manage Whitehall, beyond a promise to “improve resilience and preparation across central government, local authorities, local communities, and emergency services” and a plan to reform the migration system by strengthening the Migration Advisory Committee and establishing a framework for joint working across skills bodies and the Department for Work and Pensions. This is intended to “end the long-term reliance on overseas workers in some parts of the economy”, reducing immigration. 

Read more: Policy delivery – the challenge that government can no longer ignore

Devolution is also a key part of the Liberal Democrats’ plans, with a pledge to “shift power out of the centre in Westminster and Whitehall, so local decisions are made by and for the people and communities they affect”. 

Other pledges related to Whitehall include a promise for an independent review to recommend a genuine living wage across all sectors, “with government departments and all other public sector employers taking a leading role in paying it”. 

The party also pledges to move departmental lead on drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care, transfer policymaking over work visas and overseas students out of the Home Office and into other departments, and appoint a cross-departmental minister for rural communities. 

The LibDems call to end the practice of what the party calls ‘government by WhatsApp’ by requiring all ministerial instant-messaging conversations to be shared with their department. 

Sustainability and climate 

The Conservative party has made a number of pledges on sustainability, including legislating to reach net zero by 2050.  

However, current prime minister Rishi Sunak set out a new approach last year, which he said would reach net zero without imposing “unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families”.  

The manifesto continues this approach by setting out what the party calls its plan for “an affordable and pragmatic transition to net zero”.   

Pledges include guaranteeing a parliamentary vote on the next stage of the UK’s pathway to net zero, intended to ensure that “adoption of any new target is accompanied by proper consideration of the plans and policies required to meet the target”.  

Read more: Report sets out key principles for mission-driven government

The Conservative manifesto has also called for the body that currently advises the government on its progress on net zero plans – the Climate Change Committee – to be given an explicit mandate to consider the cost to households and UK energy security in its future climate advice, while it also pledges to lower green levies on household bills. 

Labour defines the climate and nature crisis as “the greatest long-term global challenge that we face”. Actions proposed to tackle it include investing in green jobs to boost economic growth and help the UK get to net zero, a moratorium on issuing new licences to explore new offshore oil fields, and a concerted push to improve international collaboration on climate action through a new Clean Power Alliance “bringing together a coalition of countries at the cutting edge of climate action”. 

The skills investment is part of a Green Prosperity Plan intended to make Britain a clean energy superpower. This plan will include forming a state-owned energy company, Great British Energy, as well as improving residential housing insulation. 

There is also a pledge to “ensure the institutional framework for policymaking reflects our commitments to reach net zero and meet our carbon budgets” – but the Liberal Democrats go one step further by promising to create a new UK government ministerial post of chief secretary for sustainability in the Treasury to ensure that the plans for the economy are “sustainable, resource-efficient and zero-carbon”.  

The LibDems also pledge to create a new Net Zero Delivery Authority to coordinate action across government departments and work with devolved administrations on net zero action. 

They acknowledge that the world faces a climate emergency, and propose new government structures to address it which also include national and local citizens’ assemblies to develop policies to meet the country’s biggest challenges – including the drive to net zero. Alongside this, there is a pledge to create a joint climate council of the UK’s nations to encourage collaborative action and foster innovation.  

Sign up: The Global Government Forum newsletter provides the latest news, interviews and features on AI, data, workforce, and sustainability in government.

About Richard Johnstone and Nancy Johnson

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career. Nancy Johnson is an international politics student at City University of London who is working with the Global Government Forum as an editorial and events intern. She has a keen interest in global politics and government, and has previously spent time as an intern at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), in political communications.

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