One of the joys of a UK General Electino is when the main parties launch their manifesto - it gives ordinary plebs like me a chance to look at the salient points and speak our mind.
For example, today Labour launched their election document - with thanks to the BBC for doing the heavy work for me, let's look at the salient points...
ON THE ECONOMY
Secure the recovery by supporting the economy and halving the deficit by 2014 through growth, fair taxes and cuts to lower priority spending Have they changed their assumptions on projected growth? Because if not, there's an incredibly big risk their plans may go askew...
A commitment not to raise any of the rates of income tax and not to extend VAT to food, children's clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares Big deal - they made the same promise on Income Tax in 2005, and we had a new higher band brought in last week. At any rate, that does not stop them (a) changing the bands of income at which the tax is paid, (b)Increasing the rate of VAT, and most crucially (c) says nothign about the National Insurance increase
National Minimum Wage to rise in line with average earnings by the end of the next Parliament Define average, and if this is a hugn parliament this could easily be ditched.
Government as an employer committed to offering a living wage to staff in all departments. This is currently set at £7.60 - higher than the minimum wage
Promise to keep business taxes "as low as possible" There's a wooly statement if ever there was one - andno mention of potential cuts in said public service staff.
Realise stakes in publicly-controlled banks, introduce a global levy and reform banking rules In other words, we want our money back - and if nobody can pay?
An option to turn Northern Rock into a mutual rather than privatising it as part of a wider commitment to building societies Hmm - is this a recognition they can never sell back this particular bank to return it to the way it was before they bought it?
ON SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES
New rights for parents at schools in England to initiate change in school leadership, with under-performing schools taken over by more successful management teams Right - because parents knwo how to fix years of underinvestment and either demoralised, ill-equipped or downright bad staff?
Expansion of free nursery places for two-year-olds and 15 hours a week of flexible, free nursery education for three and four-year-olds Nice idea - but sometimes it's better to keep kids at home for some of the time. Where's the help fro stay-at-home parents?
One-to-one and small-group tuition for every primary school child falling behind, personal tutors and choice of "good" qualifications for secondary age children Oh, another wooly word - "good". If they said "Appropriate", and defined hwo that can be acheived, I may give them more credit. As it is, it sounds like No Child Left Behind - and my US friends can say how that was received.
Every young person guaranteed education or training until 18, with 75% going on to higher education or workplace training by the age of 30 Well, they;d already started the process of raisign the school leaving age to 18 anyway.
Commitment to raise living standards for the "squeezed middle" from 2012 with a "toddlers tax credit" equating to £4 a week extra for families with one and two-year-olds Generosity - that will buy two tins of follow-on milk or some fresh veggies.
Up to 70,000 advanced apprenticeships a year and Skills Accounts for workers to upgrade their skills See above re: education to 18
Paid paternity leave doubled to four weeks Again, a generous provision - not. The European standard is three months paid paternity leave
Patients in England guaranteed to get results of cancer tests within a week It should be 24 hours if truth be told - and that is possible if the beaurocracy was removed.
Maximum 18-week wait for treatment after initial GP consultation - or private treatment will be offered Err - isn't it a maximum 18 week now?
Routine health checks for those aged 40 to 74, aimed at preventing heart attacks and strokes Again, this is being introduced anyway
National Care Service to ensure free care in the home for those with the greatest needs and a cap on the costs of residential care OH, here we go - one of my personal bugbears is the fact we do nto pay for hoem support for long term sick and the elderly without the need for means testing - that's part of what they paid NI for, after all. Setting a cap is not enough - you need to promise free as needed.
Every hospital to become a foundation trust, with more freedom to run its own affairs No, no, no - with all the talk of consolidation and "efficiency savings", you do NOT make a pledge to do something that will need more administrators!!
ON CRIME, JUSTICE AND IMMIGRATION
Powers to sack chief constables if they fail to meet minimum standards within three years Who sets the standards - and hwo do you account for regional issues/difficulties?
As a "last resort", failing forces could be taken over by more successful constabularies The sound you hear is a lead balloon falling as the force eladers contemplate their workload doublign overnight...
Funding to maintain police and community support officer numbers, with them spending 80% of their time on the beat Not increase, maintain - and who will do the mountain of paperwork they have to fill in now?
Family intervention projects to tackle anti-social behaviour, with financial support for victims to pursue injunctions - with the costs being met by police forces or councils "who let them down" Here's an idea - and I can't believe I'm saying this - but give th epolice effective powers to crack down on the perpetrators of the anti-social behaviour, rather than directing money to failing schemes to tackle the source of the problem.
Harder English tests to be taken by all migrants before they arrive; in the public sector, all employees who have contact with public to have "appropriate" level of English Hmm - not sure where I stand on this one. Let's see what the others have to say.
The link between staying for a set period and being able to settle or gain citizenship will be broken - replaced by a points-based system Isn't that what they're doign now for non-EU residents? Just need calrification...
ON POLITICAL REFORM
Public right to recall MPs not disciplined in Parliament after being found guilty of gross financial misconduct Oh please - apply the same rules we have in business. If you're caught fiddlign the books, you're sacked and preosecuted.
Referendums on the alternative vote method of electing MPs and proportional representation in an elected House of Lords, before 2011 I support reform of oru electroal system, and of the House of Lords, but if this is a paper pushing exercise which cna be ignored, it has no staying power.
Fixed-term parliaments and free vote in the Commons on reducing the voting age to 16 In principle, fine - the ability to decide when to call an election should not be in the hands of one man. In practice...
MPs banned from working for lobbying companies and independent body to rule on applications from MPs to take second jobs Let's see the detail - the devil will be in that.
IN OTHER AREAS
No stamp duty for first-time buyers on all house purchases below £250,000 for two years, paid for by a 5% rate on homes worth more than £1m for those wondering, stamp duty is a tax on house purchase - 1% of the purchase price when it is over £200,000, rising as the price goes up. Personally, £250,000 is too small - that barely covers a flat in London.
A "People's Bank" to be created at the Post Office, helping to sustain the network, alongside legal rights to accounts in private banks and a clampdown on doorstep lenders Funny - we used to have a "People's Bank" at the Post Office called Girobank, before it was sold off...
Labour appear to have dropped their commitment to privatising Royal Mail This is a real politcal hot potato - they want to sell of the Post Office, but it's too complicated and costly to do so without upsetting a lot of people.
Job or training place for young people out of work for six months but benefits cut at 10 months if they refuse a place. Guarantee of work for anyone unemployed for more than two years. How is this going to be enforced - and what sort of work.
A right to request flexible working for older workers, ending default retirement at 65. The link between the state pension and earnings re-established from 2012 On the first one, there's a lot of legal red tape to untangle - and what about those of us who have retirement ages written into our contracts? On the second, the link should never have been broken in the first place!
Commitment to high-speed rail linking London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Manchester, northern England and Scotland And yet no commitment rto help fund Crossrail in London? Interesting...
A goal that all young people contribute at least 50 hours to their communities by the age of 19 Now, this sounds so like the Conservative announcement on a National Citizen's Service commitment - is this a late addition? And, in addition, what if you don't believe this should be a cumpolsary thing?
Powers for supporters' trusts to be able to buy stakes in football clubs A la Barcelona? Why does this need special legislation anyway?
About 40% low-carbon electricity by 2020, and 400,000 new green jobs by 2015 The sums don't add up on this - but it needs to be compared to the other plans to be announced this week.
Legislation for "Pay as you Save" schemes allowing people to fund home energy improvements through subsequent savings on utility bills Need more detail
Biodegradable and recyclable materials banned from landfill This smacks of "ticking the green credentials" box. Also, is this the first step to forcing homwowners to sort their waste out into different boxes/bags/recepticles?
So, there's my first thoughts. Tomorrow - the Conservatives...