Let's be honest things aren't exactly great for the Liberal Democrats at the moment. Only last week the party came fifth in an opinion poll scoring only 7% of the vote. Added to this the party is now the fifth biggest party in terms of membership following the steady rise of UKIP and the immense surge of the SNP after the Scottish referendum.
From what Liberal Democrats have seen the next manifesto is far from being radical, in fact it seems to be small-c conservative and reeks of the very status quo that the public at large have grown tired of. On Tuesday 21st October, Ryan Coetzee, the Lib Dem General Election Director of Strategy was "accidentally" photographed with what appears to be the front page of the party's next manifesto.
Like in 2010 the party seems to be preparing four key priorities to put on the front page. According to Lib Dem Voice, these priorities are:
Balance the budget
Balance the budget by 2018, protecting the economic recovery and bringing down Britain’s debt.
Cut income tax
Cut income tax by £400 for low and middle earners, paid for by taxes on the rich.
Protect mental health
Guarantee equal care and waiting times for mental health as for physical health, by increasing spending on the NHS.
Ensure every child is taught by a qualified teacher and protect spending on nurseries, schools and colleges.
With the exception of the third point on protecting mental health, the rest of the three points seem a little too safe, a little too small-c conservative and a little too status quo. Dare I say that they seem a little too establishment for a so-called radical Liberal Democrat party. Where is the social liberal red meat? Where is the radicalism of David Lloyd George, William Beveridge, and Jo Grimond?
The first point on balancing the budget is completely uninspiring. The general public by now know that the government has a budget deficit to tackle. However I don't think the party of John Maynard Keynes should be reiterating Tory economics in 2015. The first point frankly is merely stating the obvious. The general public are slightly tired of the same point being repeated over and over again.
The second point on continuing to cut income tax can frankly be summed up as “more of the same from 2010.” Now although the principle of raising the income tax threshold to £10,500 was quite progressive and helped low-paid workers, those people have already been helped. We should not become a de facto one policy party, there are more strings to our bow than just tax cuts for working people.
The third point on protecting mental health is one that I genuinely appreciate and am very supportive of. It is about time that mental health was taking as seriously in the NHS as physical health. I believe the policy of guaranteeing the same equal care and equal waiting times for mental health as for physical health, will have a very positive impact and will literally save lives and enhance many more. This is the kind of progressive policy the Liberal Democrats should be standing on in 2015. It certainly earns its place on the front page of our manifesto.
The final point on improving education is welcome. However it is a little safe and could be a lot more radical. It is important that education spending be protected and that pupils have a qualified teacher teaching them. However not unlike the second point it embodies more of the same. Why should someone vote for an education policy that is broadly keeping things as they are? Our last manifesto had the pupil premium on it; our 2015 manifesto should have a similar progressive offer on education that it currently lacks. The education policy seems to lack imagination.
So far I give the front page of the manifesto 1.5 out of 4. The mental health priority is very important and the focus on education is necessary, if at present a little uninspiring. I personally do not think the first two points should be on our manifesto. The focus on balancing the budget is obvious, furthermore we have enacted tax cuts for working people, any further income tax cuts will not help the poorest. We need to think of a new radical policy, hopefully one that will deliver genuine social justice.
Why is there not a point on tackling climate change? The Lib Dems are a proud green party and we know we need to be doing much more to tackle climate change and ensure environmental sustainability.
Why isn't radical constitutional reform a priority? After the Scottish referendum, constitutional reform has become part of the mainstream. Why haven't we taken more of a lead on this issue and why have we let the Conservatives and in particular the Labour Party gain a foothold in what has been traditional Liberal ground since the days of Gladstone?
What our manifesto needs in 2015 is a bold, radical offer to the British people. This is even more necessary considering the fact that we are in danger of being drowned out by newly emerging parties such as UKIP and the SNP. Now is not the time for valueless, soggy centrism. Now is not the time to overlook our social liberal heritage. Increasingly the main parties seem uninspiring and uninteresting and the Liberal Democrats more than any of the other parties need to stand out from the crowd and be counted as a radical force.
The Liberal Democrats should have five priorities on their next manifesto. We should maintain our commitment on mental health. We need to enhance our priority on education. We need a bold and radical policy on tackling climate change. We need a radical priority to take on the establishment and decentralise power along federal lines across the United Kingdom. Finally, we need a priority to deliver genuine social justice that will tackle many of the hardships facing the poorest today such as food poverty, the effects of welfare reform, zero hour contracts and low wages.
The next general election will be the toughest the Liberal Democrats have fought since the merger in 1988. We cannot rest on the laurels of centrism. We need to renew our radicalism. Only with a radical liberal manifesto can we hope to recover some of our lost support in time for the general election. We must ensure that our party continues to be the radical force for political and social change in Britain.