Declaring “I’m ready” Ed Miliband launched Labour’s manifesto, which put economic responsibility front and centre. On the front page, Miliband unveils a “Budget Responsibility commitment”, a clear promise to protect the country’s finances, before stating that everything in the manifesto is funded and that the deficit would be cut every year – meaning more cuts and possible tax rises. This emphasis revealed Labour’s greatest fear of convincing a sceptical public to trust Labour with the books again after the crash of 2008.
More generally he promised to raise the minimum wage; freeze rail fares and household energy bills; increase childcare hours for working parents; more funding for the NHS; and ending certain benefits to the richest pensioners.
On Scotland, there was nothing new or surprising. His Government would implement the Smith Commission in full and maintain the Barnett Formula.
Harking back to the 1970’s, David Cameron looked to steal Labour’s sole by declaring that his party is the “party of the working people” as he unveiled his manifesto. Declaring he wanted to finish the job, he unveiled his party’s “cradle to grave” plan of support. This included increased NHS spending; cutting the deficit; extending Right-to-Buy; taking those on minimum wage out of tax; increases free childcare levels; and continuing to support the economy.
On Scotland he matches Labour’s commitments. However, he also pledges to prevent Scottish MPs voting on English taxes, including Income Tax.
Nick Clegg launched the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto, seeking to win back supporters and set out the party’s red lines ahead of a future coalition. The venue for the London based launch was Testbed1, a versatile arts studio designed for ‘innovation, ideas and experimentation’, the party clearly hoping that the manifesto would be as creative as the venue.
Nick Clegg made a clear pitch to voters that his party would “add a heart to the Conservatives, and a brain to Labour“. The manifesto set out five central pledges which would form the basis of Liberal Democrat support for a coalition after the election including; the ring-fencing of education spending, an additional £8bn a year for NHS by 2020 and a plan to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18.
The SNP are expected to publish their manifesto early next week..
English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)
Ed Balls has stated that any deal between Labour and the SNP would be a “betrayal of the English vote” in comments that go substantially further than his Leader. Ruling out the possibility of any deal with the SNP that would see Scotland benefit to the detriment of England, Balls comments are a direct attempt to convince worried English voters about the potential influence the Nationalist could hold in a hung parliament.
Meanwhile, Jim Murphy has accused the Prime Minister of committing a “brutal betrayal” of the Smith Commission by unveiling plans to prevent Scottish MPs from voting on English only matters, including those over taxation. Although the Tories insist that their EVEL proposals are nothing new, Murphy claimed the moves would lead to a fracturing of the UK tax system while creating “second-class” MPs.
Finally, the Lib Dems have accused the Conservatives of playing a “dangerous game” by talking up the SNPs surge in Scotland. Scottish Leader Willie Rennie accused the Tories of deliberately talking up the SNPs possible influence in a hung parliament to help Cameron get re-elected. The attack comes on the back of more polling, which suggests that the SNP could win a whole host of seats that could prevent Labour from forming a majority and the Lib Dems almost wiped out in Scotland.
Labour’s crossed messaging
Bitterness between Labour and the SNP on the election trail is growing, but the polls aren’t budging. The acrimony was at its clearest during Sunday Politics Scotland which descended into an embarrassing Sturgeon vs Murphy shouting match with presenter Gordon Brewer giving up on refereeing the encounter. Labour’s repeated warnings on the SNP’s plans for full fiscal autonomy have gathered momentum, after the IFS projected a £7.6bn shortfall should Scotland gain full control of its tax and spending. Although Sturgeon has dismissed the analysis, the issue is a growing chink in the SNP’s armoury. On their part, the SNP have criticised Labour for their mixed messages over whether cuts will be required North of the Border. Ed Balls contradicted Jim Murphy’s previous statements that a Labour Government would not implement spending cuts in Scotland. Murphy has been keen to discard the description of Scottish Labour as a ‘branch office’ criticism, but this contradiction will make this all the more difficult.
The latest polling from TNS has recorded a 28-point lead for the SNP. The figure is nearly double that recorded last month, as 52% of Scots say they will back the SNP in May. Labour’s support has fallen 6-points to 24%, while the Conservatives and Lib Dems are recorded at 13% and 6% respectively. Although the polling suggests that Labour continue to struggle to make inroads into the SNP poll lead, they will hope that they are still in the game and can convince the 29% who are yet to make up their minds and are certain to vote.