General Election 2019: how to analyse the manifestos

Posted by Charlie Whelton on 04 December 2019

The General Election is your chance to change society for the better – so it’s vital you know what you’re voting for.

While we released the Liberty Manifesto as soon as the election was called, the country’s major parties were not so quick to publish. Now that they’ve finally caught up, and with just a week to go until polling day, here is our guide on what to look out for when reading the manifestos, and what to do next to hold your local candidates to account.

What to expect

Whichever party’s manifesto you pick up, you can be sure of one thing: whatever policies and pledges it might contain, it will surely speak of the sunny uplands ahead with a rise in living standards, a healthy NHS, safe streets and Brexit sorted one way or another, just so long as you give them your vote.

Manifestos serve many functions. They set out a framework for governing, attempt to entice voters with attractive policies and try to establish an image for their party. This framing task is rarely a subtle exercise. In 2017 the Conservatives managed to fit the word “strong” in 86 times in 84 pages, while Tony Blair’s first Labour manifesto in 1997 had 121 mentions of the word “new”.

Not every manifesto pledge should be treated the same. Parts will have been included just to please party activists, donors or individual MPs, or to try to shift the conversation around a particular issue. But even so, reading the manifestos is still the best way to find out for yourself what the parties find important and if they share your concerns.

What to look out for

Manifestos these days tend to be overstuffed with promises in a bid to have something for everyone. In 1945, Clement Attlee’s Labour made 18 pledges in their winning manifesto. In 2010, the Conservatives made 550.

This year, there are only six things we’re asking.

Will they stand up for migrants’ rights?

The discredited and racist hostile environment has ruined lives and destroyed people’s trust in the services they need. Does this party’s manifesto commit to ending it and firewalling off essential public services from immigration enforcement?

Ending indefinite immigration detention has received broad support across all the major parties since the last election. Does a 28-day limit make the manifesto?

Will they stand against criminalising poverty?

All parties tend to promise to reduce homelessness in an election campaign, but pay attention to how they propose to do that. From the Victorian-era Vagrancy Act to the much more recent Public Spaces Protection Orders, will the parties commit to scrapping these unfair and over-broad powers that criminalise poverty?

Will they reject mass surveillance?

We have the most intrusive mass surveillance regime of any democracy. The manifestos may make clear whether this is something that concerns each party, or whether they believe it is an acceptable breach of our privacy. Will they commit to tearing up the Investigatory Powers Act and banning – not regulating – facial recognition technology in publicly accessible spaces?

Will they stand against discriminatory policing?

You can expect every manifesto you read to promise safe streets and more bobbies on the beat, but will they dismantle racist predictive policing tools and end suspicionless stop and search?

Will they defend access to justice?

In among the vague promises and airy language, here is a key specific policy that should be in every party’s manifesto – will they reinstate legal aid in all circumstances to ensure justice is not reserved only for those who can afford it?

Will they protect human rights for everyone?

There will be some very different stances on Brexit reflected across the manifestos, but whether you supported Leave or Remain, nobody voted to have fewer rights. No matter their stance on Brexit, will they commit to plugging any rights gap left by leaving the EU, and maintain our Human Rights Act?

How to hold a candidate to account

So you’ve read the manifestos, you know where the parties stand and now you want to use that knowledge to challenge your local candidates. What can you do?

Get in touch with your candidates directly

Use Liberty’s new tool to easily email all the candidates standing in your constituency at once. Use our template text or add your own to ask them how they plan to protect rights and freedoms if elected. Don’t forget to forward us any replies you get.

Go to a hustings

While the party leaders will face off in a series of televised debates, similar events will take place between local candidates around the country. Hustings may be a debate format or a series of speeches, but they will almost always give you an opportunity to put a question to the candidates and challenge them on the issues you care about. 

To find out what is happening where you are, you can use Democracy Club’s Who Can I Vote For website. Put in your post code and it will tell you your constituency, the candidates and any events scheduled. 

Wait for them to come to you

Up and down the country, longshot candidates and cabinet ministers alike are knocking on doors and talking to voters. If you order a free copy of the Liberty manifesto, you’ll not only have everything you need to challenge them on the issues, but also a poster you can put in your window to show canvassers, candidates and neighbours alike that you are voting for a better society.

Vote

If you do nothing else, make sure you vote. Find your local polling station and vote like your rights depend on it.

Charlie Whelton

Policy and Campaigns Assistant