Labour manifesto: More ID cards, less NHS IT
New Labour, mostly old policies
The most remarkable thing about the Labour Party manifesto - A future fair for all (pdf) - is how unconcerned it appears to be with civil liberties or the unintended consequences of its actions when it comes to individual liberty. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds - trust in the state to provide, and it will do so.
On the economic front, the big issue is securing the recovery – which, the manifesto explains, would inevitably be at risk if the Tories were elected.
Businesses have had VAT cuts and the Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme to help them access loans, as well as increased capital tax allowances in 2009/10. For the future, there will be a number of different support measures, such as reduced business rates for start-up.
However, the focus will be on nurturing and growing "the industries of the future", defined as low carbon, biotechnology, advanced bioscience and cutting edge advanced manufacturing. This "cannot be simply left to the market". So government intends to intervene and support where possible. There will be a new UK Life Sciences Super Cluster, and encouragement for businesses to benefit from the introduction of the "Patent Box", a reduced rate of corporation tax applied to income from patents taken out in the UK.
Digital support is crucial, and the market can’t deliver this, either. Labour remains determined to ensure that all homes have access to a line capable of delivering two megabits per second by 2012, and are following this with investment to achieve 90 per cent access to superfast next-generation broadband by 2017.
There will be a new Institute of Web Science, which will work with the government and British business to realise the social and economic benefits of advances in the web, headed by world wide web founder Sir Tim Berners Lee.
Their next administration will liberalise the mobile phone spectrum to enhance 3G coverage and accelerate the rollout of next generation mobile services. They will also make more public services available online to more people.
All nationally broadcast radio stations will be digital from the end of 2015, freeing up bandwidth for small-scale, not-for-profit community radio stations.
A hint of censorship to come is wrapped up in the need to protect our creative artists - there will be stronger protections for intellectual property and measures against illegal file sharing. Broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, will have a new duty to reduce illegal file sharing and online copyright infringement significantly by introducing two specific obligations. These are notification of unlawful activity and, for serial infringers, collation of data to allow rights holders to obtain court orders to force the release of personal details, enabling legal action to be taken against them.
Labour will also provide technical measures for serial infringers, such as bandwidth reduction, if other measures prove insufficient.
In pursuit of a "greener Britain", Labour will create a Green Investment Bank to support private investment in low-carbon infrastructure projects. High-speed rail and off-shore wind farms are part of the programme.
There will be an Innovation Investment Fund, government support for "centres of excellence in emerging technologies" and simplified research and development tax credit schemes.
Labour policy on education will help provide the skilled workforce to support all of the above. Britain will need more graduates than ever before – and Labour intends to deliver.
When it comes to law and order, Labour’s view is that crime is down - the reason that more people are in prison is because they are being tougher on serious offenders. They intend to continue with more of the same, protecting front line policing through the economic downturn.
There will be further clampdowns on anti-social behaviour, lap-dancing clubs, alcohol and illegal drugs – with measures to criminalise possession of current "legal highs". No concessions are made over the DNA database, which is seen as a vital aid to policing. CCTV is likely to be extended, as local communities are given the right to choose – where to install additional CCTV.
Absent from the manifesto – yet woven deeply into its fabric - is any mention of the various intrusive data-gathering schemes that have caused so much angst to readers of The Register over the last few years.
There is a single mention of the vetting database, which the manifesto heaps praise on, and a commitment to work with the volunteer sector - which some critics believe that database has done so much to damage.
And there is little mention of ID cards – apart from confirmation that they are a good thing and will be extended, but won’t be rolled out to the whole population during the next parliament. Apparently they will become self-financing, with the price of the card and reduced public service fraud covering the cost of the scheme.
However, every now and then there is reference to "prevention" of future poverty, crime and offending. Labour believes in "early intervention" and "preventative measures", such as Family Intervention Programmes. These, as is now known, require additional data gathering and a degree of advance judgment not about how an individual is behaving now, but how they are likely to behave in future.
Fear of immigration is to be addressed through biometric visas, the rollout of ID cards for foreign nationals, and electronic border controls to count people in and out of the country by the end of 2010.
When it comes to paying for the above, few answers are given, beyond a commitment to ensure that those earning over £150,000 a year pay more in tax, whilst those people with incomes over £100,000 a year will gradually lose their personal tax-free allowances. Tax relief on pensions will be restricted from next year, but again only for those with incomes above £130,000 a year.
Oh, and the government will also be saving money on the NHS IT scheme, which will be scaled back, "saving hundreds of millions of pounds".
Perhaps Labour's manifesto authors should have applied this philosophy across board - wanna junk Labour policies? Vote Labour.
The above overview is drawn from both the manifesto itself and the currently published online statement of Labour Party policy. As far as we can tell, there is no conflict between the two - the manifesto is simply better spun. ®