Friday 4th October: As the party conference season draws to a close for another year, Politeia Director Sheila Lawlor reflects on the messages to take away from the Conservative gathering.
The Conservatives made the journey home from their Manchester party conference buoyed by their leaders' aspirations: aspirations for a better Britain with lower taxes, a benefit system to ensure the young ‘earned or learned’ and a promised freeze of fuel duty – the sequel to deficit reduction and economic growth. So, as the party prepares for the 2015 election, the question will be: are the Tories ‘new’ or ‘blue’?
The evidence from the BBC, if it is to be trusted, suggests that the party is nothing if not ‘new’. The pictures from Manchester showed a visually smooth conference, a smart hall packed with glossy under 30-somethings who could also be seen queuing for the cameras for the ‘random’ interviews or packing the Paxman studio to give their ‘take’ on the speeches. It came as no surprise that they endorsed modernisation and trumpeted the importance of reaching out to ‘the young’. The beautiful hairdos and slick voices represented the triumph of PR over substance. This was no land, it seemed, for old men (or women), and certainly not for Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader, invited to address the fringe, but whose security pass was apparently withdrawn.
Friday 27th September: At its conference in Brighton, Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged to freeze the price of energy after the next election if his party are in government. But, argues David Mowat MP, this will only serve to further hamper the ability for UK energy companies to attract the investment that is essential for a secure energy supply in the coming years.
On Tuesday, Ed Miliband announced that a future Labour Government would cap energy prices for its first two years.
At first glance, this seems like a great idea. Many people have struggled because of the rising costs of gas and electricity over recent years and the cost of living is set to be a key theme of the next general election.
However, Britain is facing a looming energy crisis: over the next decade, due to power stations reaching the end of their operating life and EU Directives, a total of 20GW of generating capacity needs replacing.
This is an unprecedented challenge. Ofgem have said that meeting it (and the additional “Green” targets we have imposed upon ourselves) will require an investment of £200bn by 2020. The “cliff edge” effect we face is steeper than any other Western country.
Monday 23rd September: As Labour gathers for its party Conference in Brighton, its leaders will have two main aims: to woo the voters and show the country that the party is ready for government.
Frank Field MP, Labour’s MP for Birkenhead and a former Minister for Welfare Reform, explains that in future governments will face tougher fiscal constraints with public spending limits of c.40 per cent of GDP. If welfare is to meet people's aspiration for security, a new deal with contributors will be needed.
Mr Field proposes that his party champions a return to contributory national insurance, so contributors own their own benefit and funds are managed by new mutuals under their own elected boards on the model of the John Lewis Partnership. As Mr Field writes:
Welfare as we have known it looks like going down to defeat. Labour must use this week to begin to set out an alternative.
Successive governments have deserted the system based on the duty to contribute before the right to help was conceded. Increasingly benefits are now provided only after a test of income – method abhorred by voters.
Friday 20th September: As the Liberal Democrat conference closes, Politeia's Director, Sheila Lawlor, reflects on its leader's aim:
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, announced to his party’s conference in Glasgow, that to remain in power he is ready to change coalition partners as often as voters change their government. The party, he says, has proved its fitness for continued office by the part played in ‘fixing’ the economy. Besides, being in coalition allows it to temper the policies of the main party of government, whichever that may be. The mission he mapped out was of a future in which his party would be in perpetual coalition in order to prevent the party with the most seats from acting as it promised voters. For Mr Clegg this is the ‘centre ground’ and a truly liberal mission.
While true that no single party won enough seats to form a majority government in 2010, Mr Clegg may be whistling in the dark about coalitions being here to stay. The evidence is that a majority of British voters do not like them, and the recent AV referendum which rejected a system of alternative voting (and the coalitions to which it might lead), suggested the electorate was unlikely to change its mind: voters want to know for whom or for what they are voting - just as they want to put a party out when the time comes.
Friday 13th September: As the child experts and teachers’ unions attack government policy and an early school starting age, ministers insist early schooling helps close the attainment gap between the rich and the poor. But is that the right question? Here, Politeia’s director, Sheila Lawlor, goes behind the headlines.
Dr Lawlor writes: This week's battle is about play versus formal learning, not about where that should takes place. For both experts and government alike, the assumption is that very young children will be put in institutions- nurseries or reception classes. They differ on what the focus should be when there. Should it be on play or formal learning? The experts want more play, which they insist matters to children’s development. Government does not rule out play, but say ministers, children should, when ready, be prepared for school.