The Manifestos – What the UK Parties are offering the voters

June 25, 2024 admin

What are Manifestos?

All the parties elected to the last parliament have now published their manifestos for the UK General Election on 4th July 2024. That includes the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Greens, as well as a separate slate of parties in Northern Ireland. The insurgent populist party Reform UK also produced a manifesto, which party leader Nigel Farage said he preferred to call “a contract” because voters equate manifestos with lies.

These days manifestos tend to be produced some two or three weeks into the six-week election campaign.  Perhaps this is an indication of their dwindling importance as anything other than a publicity stunt for all parties except for those with the potential to play a role in the next government – namely the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. 

Manifestos are not legally binding, and almost never enacted in full, but they present the central commitments which parties promise to deliver to voters if they come to power. By convention “manifesto commitments” can be put into law smoothly because the unelected House of Lords does not obstruct their passage through Parliament. 

Manifestos do not represent the totality of what a government will do in power.  They typically introduce many other measures which are not mentioned in advance of an election. Circumstances change and new challenges emerge.

During every campaign there is much argument over the costings which each party lists for its policies but in reality, they are based on projections and expectations. 

What are the Parties promising in 2024?

Economic policy has been the main battleground in this election. In truth there is not much difference between the Conservatives and Labour. They have both committed not to raise the three main generators of government revenue: Income Tax, National Insurance (in practice an employment related variant of income tax) and Value Added Tax (VAT). They have both pledged not to raise Corporation Tax as well.

Given the cost-of-living crisis, recent spikes in interest rates, and the national debt straining under fiscal rules, the main parties plan for taxing and spending plans are modest. 

UK government annual spending is now around a trillion pounds. Labour proposes increasing it by £5 billion, the Conservatives by £13 billion and the Liberal Democrats by £27 billion. 

By contrast parties with no chance of getting into government splash the cash: the Greens £162 billion and Reform UK £141 billion.

To cover their small-scale extra spending on schools and the NHS, Labour plans to raise taxes by making private school fees subject to VAT (purchase tax) and abolishing non-dom status for rich foreigners. The Conservatives are proposing a further cut in National Insurance.

All parties are predicating much of their spending on greater efficiency and reducing waste in the public sector. Independent agencies have questioned many of these assumptions. 

There are two embarrassing and largely ignored financial facts for both Labour and Conservatives. Both their “costings” quietly admit the overall tax take as a share of GDP is set to rise over the next five years, largely because of so-called “fiscal drag”. Neither party intends to uprate the thresholds at which tax is paid. Millions will be drawn into paying more.  

In both their plans there is also a “black hole” between proposed spending and revenue raised of some £20 billion. Labour projects can be filled by improved growth in the economy. The Conservatives are relying on unspecified cuts and efficiency savings. 

Foreign Policy 

EU: The Conservatives mention “post-Brexit freedoms” and then have nothing more to say, a marked contrast to Boris Johnson’s 2019 “Get Brexit Done” manifesto. Labour pledges “no return to the single market, the customs union or freedom of movement”. They plan to “improve the UK’s trade and investment relationship with the EU” and will seek a new “EU-UK Security pact”. The Liberal Democrats want to “fix the UK’s broken relationship” by eventually rejoining the single market.

Defence: All three parties commit to NATO, to increasing defence spending, maintaining the nuclear deterrent and supporting Ukraine.

Immigration: They agree that legal and illegal migration into the UK is too high. The Conservatives plan to press on with removing illegal migrants to Rwanda and “will always choose our security” over the European Court of Human Rights. Labour and the Liberal Democrats oppose the Rwanda Scheme and back the ECHR.

Israel/Palestine: Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all support a two-state solution. Labour and Liberal Democrats want an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Labour is “committed to recognising a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process”.


All parties have their signature policies. The Liberal Democrats want to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 years old. They would also like to change the voting system towards proportional representation.

Labour favours stricter curbs on the ethics and business affairs of MPs and further cuts in the membership of the House of Lords. 

The Conservatives plan to cut 90,000 jobs in the civil service. 

The SNP claim that if they win a majority of Scotland’s 57 MPs, they will have a mandate to negotiate for independence with the UK Government. This is highly contentious and could even be achieved without winning the majority of votes cast.

By definition, the SNP could never win a majority of the 650 seats at Westminster in the UK parliament. The Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats are fielding candidates across England, Scotland and Wales. 

The presentation of their three manifesto documents provides insight into the moods in the competing camps with just two weeks to go until polling day and some postal votes already being cast.

The Conservatives have produced a 76-page, A4 pamphlet. It contains no photographs, not even of the party leader Rishi Sunak.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have opted for smaller A5 booklets running to over 100 pages each. “For a better deal” carries stock illustrations and two smiling portrait photos of the Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey.

Labour’s manifesto has the single word “Change” stamped on the front next to a black and white shot of Sir Keir Starmer, shirt sleeves rolled up. There are no less than 34 photographs of him in action, complete with his signature as the finale on the back cover. This manifesto is all about presenting the party leader as the next Prime Minister. 

Not many people will read the manifestos cover to cover but the indications are that the voters are picking up Labour’s message. 

By Adam Boulton, Political Journalist and Broadcaster

Photo credit: The Telegraph