2019 UK General Election, Brexit, Brexit Party, Climate Change, Conservative Party Manifesto, Democratic Unionist Party, Green Party, Labour Party Manifesto, NHS, Plaid Cymru, Scottish National Party, Supermarkets, Tory Party Manifesto
I’ve been following all the hype, rhetoric and hoo-hah surrounding the upcoming general election next month, trying to make sense of all the arm-waving mouth-watering promises, impossible-to-verify predictions, and evasive and sometimes duplicitous answers made by politicians while on their podiums. What party should I vote for? What’s the decision-making process? I’m still undecided but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s the same process as choosing a supermarket based on the prices and variety of their products, their reputation, my entrenched loyalty, and the convenience of their location assuming a preference for hands-on tomato-squeezing shopping over online grocery shopping. Here are the reasons behind my startling but insightful conclusion.
Who are the main political players?
Four main parties currently hold just under 92% of the 650 seats in the House of Commons: Tory (298 seats), Labour (243 seats), Scottish National Party (35 seats, representing Scottish voters) and the Liberal Democrats (20 seats). Various representatives from each main party have received wide coverage within the news media culminating, finally, in the publication of their party manifestos (except the SNP). So, here we are, struggling to see through the loosely-worded promises and passionate arguments for or against an if-I-am-elected pledge. How on earth do you fight your way through the promises and finally decide who to vote for? The answer: the same as you choose your supermarket for a stock-the-shelves shopping expedition. Let’s take a closer look.
Choosing a supermarket
When you select a supermarket from your selection of local supermarkets (there are nineteen within a 5-mile radius of my home), how do you do it? You probably start by making an item list to include basics (tea, coffee, milk, bread, chocolate…), big ticket items (Sunday joint, case of wine…), unusual or specialist items (Cantuccini biscotti, Braddock Whites duck eggs, Opies pickled walnuts, Craster kippers…) and items targeted at your age group (dandelion and burdock for those born during or just after World War 2, fashion clothing for teenagers, character party clothing for pre-teens and party-going millenials…). If the choice of supermarket is not yet obvious, you add convenience (location, accessibility, parking and opening times), and loyalty, and then finalise the choice. Once selected, you depart in your car or by public transport with a handful of recyclable shopping bags, a loyalty card and clutch of money-off coupons, a token for the trolley, and a resolve not to be seduced into opportunistic ‘want not need’ buying.
Now apply the same process to choosing who to vote for on or before December 12th. Here’s how.
Big ticket items
First, decide if any of the big-ticket items is important enough to either select or remove a candidate. This general election has been dominated by three big tickets: Brexit, the parlous state of the NHS, and climate change. If Brexit is your hot button, the Tories want leave, the Lib Dems and SNP want remain, and Labour wants a renegotiation of the exit deal followed by yet another referendum. In, out, or indecision; make your choice.
If the state of the NHS makes you sick to the stomach, so to speak, all four parties are promising improvements such as 50,000 more nurses (Tory), more money for investment in hospitals, doctors and nurses (Labour and Lib Dems), and protection from overseas interference via trade deals (SNP). But how realistic are these promises? Where’s the money coming from and, more importantly, the additional nurses and doctors? Scrutinise, dissect and analyse carefully and clinically.
Climate change, the third big-ticket item, is also attracting vote-catching promises with targets of net zero carbon emissions by the 2030s (Labour), 2045 (SNP) or 2050 (Tory), and a more specific 80% of electricity generated by renewables (wind, solar and biomass) by 2030 (Lib Dems). These are all rather speculative targets and given that we have an opportunity to change our government, and thus policies, every five years, they are more statements of intent that serve to acknowledge the movement championed by Greta Thunberg, Richard Attenborough, Extinction Rebellion and many others. The devil, as always, is in the detail and the statements of intent are woefully devoid of detail.
If none of the big-ticket items resolve the who-to-vote-for question, take a look at the basics. You’ll find them in the manifestos: staples such as housing, immigration, wages and taxation, retirement age and pensions, primary and secondary school teaching, and social benefits (particularly the simplified Universal Credit scheme that is not yet fit for purpose). For some, one or more of these basics may rise to the careabout surface – the impact of uncontrolled immigration from member EU countries, or the serious lack of social housing and an inability to enter the home ownership market, for example. If this is the case, look closely at the promises of each party and decide your vote accordingly.
If big-ticket items and basics have not provided you with a crystal-clear decision, try demographics. Are you a senior citizen? If so, pensions, inheritance tax, home care, and the disinclination to sell your home to pay for a care home may become paramount. Look at the Tory and Labour statements on these factors: a promise to continue the guaranteed yearly increase in state pension and ‘no-one will have to sell their home to pay for care’ (Tory), or a halt to the planned rise in eligible state pension age coupled with a new National Care Service providing free personal care for older people who need it (Labour).
Or you might be a working mother with young children trying to juggle the conflicting requirements of childcare and your job? If so, look at the Tory and Lib Dem policy statements regarding extra childcare places (Tory) and free childcare (Lib Dems).
Maybe you’re a student concerned about the level of your university tuition fees? If so, the Tories are promising to continue freezing fees for the foreseeable future. Labour, on the other hand, is campaigning for free bus travel for the under-25s. That should get you to the lecture theatre if the buses are on time!
Unique selling points
If none of the promises aimed at your demographic gets your juices flowing, you are left with the unique selling points. The Tories, for example, are promising a new railway connection between Manchester and Leeds; terrific if you live in one city and work in the other (although, if this is the case, you might consider either moving home or changing your job!). The Tories are also promising to re-examine the fundamental relationships between the governing executive (government and crown), the legislative body (Parliament), and the judiciary. This became a big talking point when Boris Johnson’s recent attempt to prorogue parliament was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. For some people, the rules of these relationships transcend all other issues and go right to the heart of modern-day democracy.
Labour’s unique selling point is a pledge to reverse Thatcherism and renationalise the big energy firms, the railways, the broadband arm of BT, the water suppliers, and the Royal Mail. Hmm. If renationalisation seriously rocks your boat, there is a raft of pros and cons to consider such as cost, potential benefits and pitfalls, and whether the changes can be completed within a 5-year government window.
If you are a proponent of legalised wacky-baccy, go with the Lib Dems. They want to legalise the recreational use of cannabis by over-18s. But, be prepared to support your advocacy down in the local pub. The suggestion that legalisation of cannabis will undermine the role of drug dealers is often met with a stiff rebuttal which, if you or your argumentative opponents are not stoned at the time, may lead to verbal fisticuffs! Be warned.
Well, that’s it. Using the well-known techniques of composing a shopping list and selecting your supermarket based on the items you wish to buy plus other factors, you now know how to make a wise and logical decision on who to vote for on December 12th. Big tickets, basics, demographic, or unique selling points – select the item that pushes your hot buttons, evaluate the proposals, decide if they are viable, and vote accordingly. If this technique doesn’t work for you and you’re not entrenched in your voting habits, there are other courses of actions: don’t vote (not recommended); vote for one of the smaller parties such as the Brexit party, Plaid Cymru (representing Welsh voters), Green party, Democratic Unionist Party (representing Northern Ireland voters)…; or make a random choice (also not recommended).
An alternative way to make your decision
Or, here’s an alterative tongue-in-cheek way to make your decision based on your supermarket preference:
If you normally shop at Waitrose or M&S Food, vote Tory.
If you normally shop at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons or Tesco, vote Lib Dems.
If you normally shop at Asda, Lidl or Aldi, vote Labour.
If you shop anywhere else such as Budgens, the Co-op, Iceland, or Spar, toss a coin!
And don’t forget to collect your free tin of baked beans, Heinz or own-brand, on your way out of the polling station!
Further reading and Fact Checking
You can obviously search for and read the individual manifestos online but if you want just a quick summary of the main points with some commentary, take a look at the BBC’s articles:
Tory manifesto: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50524262
Labour manifesto: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50501411
Lib Dem manifesto: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50459123
SNP election pledges: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50349642
The minority parties of Plaid Cymru, DUP, the Green Party and the Brexit Party are not covered in my commentary above but may be important if you live in Wales or Northern Ireland, or are particularly passionate about climate change and associated environmental issues, or see Brexit as the most dominant decision-making factor:
Plaid Cymru manifesto: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50506359
Green Party manifesto: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50464641
DUP election pledges: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50315891
Brexit Party policies: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50515516
Have a good general election!