Ice sculptures may be the fashionable metaphor in British political life right now, but assiduous voters who have taken the time to study the manifestos will be hoping that these policy pledges are carved in stone, rather than chiselled from ice.
Watching colleagues from our Energy and Environment and Healthcare teams conduct their side-by-side policy analysis this week, our technology team has been quietly waiting in the wings. Let’s take a look at the technology related policies across a few different areas.
Madano Analysis – By far the most aggressive move was Labour’s pre-announced plan to nationalise parts of BT to deliver high-speed broadband to the nation. The move caused discussion about whether the Internet is, in fact, a public utility and how crucial access is to equality. While not nationalisation, the Tory plan to invest £5 billion to connect premises deemed not commercially viable to connect via the open market represents significant state intervention. The Lib Dem proposal is sensible but does not define clear plans to accelerate bringing high-speed internet to existing properties.
Big Tech and Tech for Good
Madano Analysis – The Tories and Labour promise to get tough on big tech, with Labour pledging to tax the titans in part to pay for the National Broadband Service. The Conservatives say less than the other two parties about how they will produce a safer, fairer tech ecosystem, but they borrow language from the Online Harms review which has been conducted on their watch, building to legislation. The Lib Dems seem to have the best understanding of some of the future challenges we will face as a society thanks to technology advances in AI and automation, and their thinking around a code of ethics and skills anticipate the potentially massive disruption we face.
Skills and Innovation
Madano Analysis – Well, we may well need a lot of investment in skills if, as expected, the open labour market for tech firms shrinks significantly on January 31st. Labour has gone all in on clean tech and the Tories focus heavily on a visa scheme to mitigate Brexit, but all three recognise the vital importance of lifelong learning, pre-empting a period where technology makes skills obsolete ever more quickly. The Lib Dems perhaps have the proposals with potentially the broadest impact (a rising tide raises all boats approach), whereas the Conservatives are more targeted with policies designed to help the best talent and/or drive commercialisation. It’s a “comprehensives” vs. “grammar schools” debate for the 21st century!
Madano Analysis – Singing from the same sheet, the main parties all agree on the need to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and passing legislation to set air quality targets. Labour’s pledges seem to think beyond EVs in a broader “future mobility” vein, with the mention of car clubs. Labour is stripping a decade of the CCCs recommendation for the end of ICE vehicles. Given the Committee on Climate Change prevaricated and then demurred on bringing forward the ban to 2035, Labour’s ten-year acceleration seems quixotic. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories think beyond simply the automobile, with the Conservatives pledging to build on investment in electric flight and Lib Dems looking to boost innovation in zero-emission technology like hydrogen fuel cells.
Madano Analysis – With a focus on frontline technology, the Conservatives continue to lean towards digital health services that can improve efficiency within the NHS or reduce the strain on it. Labour also wants to invest in frontline services but are more vocal on the need to spend more on advanced, emerging technology like AI for diagnostics and also on traditional machinery like more MRI and CT scan equipment.
Madano Analysis – To maintain the UK’s competitiveness as a knowledge-based economy, significant R&D will be a prerequisite, and all three parties make ambitious commitments to expand total R&D spending. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both commit to a 3% of GDP target, while the Conservatives back the more immediately deliverable target of 2.4%. But the most significant difference might be the Conservatives’ proposal to create an ARPA-style agency to fund high-risk, high-reward research.
We’ve taken a look through the three manifestos, pulled out the key policies affecting Health and Care, including the NHS and pharmaceutical companies, and provided our take on who comes out on top; for comprehensive fact checking, please see fullfact.org.
As would be expected, all three of the main parties include substantial policies relating to healthcare and the NHS, and although some policies have been very quickly debunked, the most beneficial and realistic (yet admittedly ambitious) of the three is laid out by Labour, with a disappointing lack of attention to mental health support from the Conservative manifesto.
Madano analysis – An increase in investment (financially and physically) is definitely overdue for the NHS, and all three parties are reflecting this in their policies, however there are significant differences in how to go about this. The Lib Dems might actually take the title for most ambitious policies in NHS management, but come in last for achievability. So far, the only plan ‘fully costed’ with regards to healthcare is Labour, with the backing of economists and academics as achievable, and if implemented, could have long-lasting benefits for the NHS. Of course, the big question on everyone’s lips is whether the NHS forms part of a US trade deal if handled by the Conservatives, with all three parties claiming to be against privatising the NHS. However, with a number of the Conservative policies already debunked (see ‘40’ new hospitals), and questions on the feasibility of some Labour and Liberal Democrat policies, the follow-through on these pledges remains to be seen.
Impact on the pharmaceutical industry
Madano analysis – Labour and the Conservatives policies have greater impact in this area than Lib Dems, with agreement that more UK-based research is needed. The Tories’ focus on faster access to drugs could help fast-track molecules from lab to clinical practice, however, clinical trials often need investigation over a lengthy period of time to demonstrate proper effectiveness. Labour takes a firmer stance that, should initial pricing discussions fall through, there could be consequences for pharmaceutical companies in the form of competitor generic products, which could deter companies from approaching the UK as a priority market. Both Labour and the Lib Dems want to raise corporation tax, to differing amounts, though both are still ‘mid-range’ for EU tax rates.
Services and patient care
Madano analysis – Nothing revolutionary from the Conservatives here – “keep on keeping on” as well as reversing a few cost-cutting policies that were brought in by the Conservative Government in the last 9 years. Labour and the Lib Dems have the most extensive policies to improve a wide variety of personal experiences for patients, primarily aimed at addressing inequalities and improving access for all. Questions will abound about the feasibility of implementing all of these policies, but the firm stance taken by both to improve abortion services, along with increasing access for LGBT+ community, are policies notably lacking from the Conservative manifesto.
Madano analysis – Once again, a section neglected by the Conservatives, with Labour and the Lib Dems proposing similar policies. This area is in dire need of investment, so it would have been good to see this reflected in all three main party manifestos. Labour’s policies again seeming the most achievable yet ambitious, and it would be good to see the parties working together to improve things nationally, regardless of election outcome.
Madano analysis – Conservatives are the only party to commit to a specific number of new GPs and nurses, but a closer look at the manifesto reveals that these numbers may not be quite what they appear. The breakdown outlines the 50,000 nurses includes 18,500 ‘retained’ (and therefore not additional nurses) and 12,500 recruited from abroad. The Nuffield Trust also stated that the 6,000 additional GPs may not be sufficient to cover the rising population. All three parties highlight the return of bursaries for nursing students, though differing in approach to this, and all seem to agree that the NHS is currently understaffed and it’s good to see efforts to address this from all.
Carbon neutrality in healthcare
Madano analysis – Labour stand alone for specific policies on healthcare specific carbon neutrality, but check out part 1 of the manifesto reviews for a full analysis on environment.
With all three of the main parties’ election manifestos out in the public domain as of Sunday night, Madano has pulled together a side-by-side analysis of policy pledges across a number of key areas – infrastructure and business tax, energy, environment, transport, heating and R&D.
So, before we all get ready to shout at the telly when Question Time is broadcast on Thursday, let’s look at how the policies compare:
Madano Analysis – On infrastructure and Government investment, Labour’s manifesto is far more ambitious than either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats – promising more than double the spend of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined. If implemented, one of the biggest challenges would be finding enough credible proposals to spend the money on.
Madano Analysis – On energy, the parties agree on what needs to be done, but couldn’t be further apart on how to do it. All three parties are committed to investing in technologies needed to enable the low carbon transition, such as CCS and hydrogen, and are broadly positive about nuclear and hostile to fracking. There is a clear philosophical difference in how to deliver this however. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would leave the current structure of the energy sector in place in order to deliver the low carbon transition, but Labour believes a sweeping renationalization programme is needed to make this a reality.
Madano Analysis – All three parties are keen to be seen as environmentally-friendly as seen by the fact all of them have made ambitious tree-planting and environmental restoration commitments. Labour and the Liberal Democrats also push to make environmental sustainability more important to investors and companies, in the hope that this could help drive change, though the Conservatives stop short of this.
Madano Analysis – Singing from the same sheet, the main parties all agree on the need to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and passing legislation to set air quality targets. For the Conservatives, the commitment to air quality legislation is a significant shift from the previous manifesto, and is a clear example of their determination to avoid being outflanked on the environment, as it rises up the public’s agenda.
Madano Analysis – On heating, while the main parties agree on the direction of travel, Labour and the Liberal Democrats’ proposals are more ambitious. Critically, both those parties plans go beyond energy efficiency measures and include support for the roll-out of heat pumps, a process which is likely to be very challenging for any future government.
Madano Analysis – To deliver a low carbon economy, significant R&D will be a prerequisite, and all three parties make ambitious commitments to expand total R&D spending. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both commit to a 3% of GDP target, while the Conservatives back the more immediately deliverable target of 2.4%. But the most significant difference might be the Conservatives’ proposal to create an ARPA-style agency to fund high-risk, high-payoff research.
Click here for the side-by-side comparisons for the NHS and healthcare.
First of all, lets establish some baseline facts – if the election were today, according to all the available evidence, the Conservatives would win a majority. This is not a matter of serious dispute – anyone denying that basic premise is engaged in the psephological equivalent of claiming the moon landings were faked.
Labour is hoping to repeat its feat of catching up from far behind, as it did in 2017, by squeezing Liberal Democrat support and winning over more of its disaffected supporters.
Here’s five things that could shift the contest:
Can Labour change the subject?
The 2017 election was supposed to be about Brexit, but this wasn’t how it panned out. At the outset, polls from Ipsos Mori found Brexit and the NHS tied as the most commonly cited “major issue” but by the end of the campaign, the NHS was clearly ahead on this front.
The same survey this time finds Brexit is clearly established as the number one issue – Yougov and Opinium, for consistency, have also found Brexit is rated as by far the biggest issue, with the NHS a distant second.
For the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats there is a clear incentive to keep this issue as prominent as possible, as polls have consistently found Labour’s Brexit policy is not clear to the public, whereas theirs are both well understood and (comparatively) popular.
In addition, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats hope to use Brexit as a wedge issue to peel away people who previously voted Labour. If Brexit remains the number one issue, this is more likely to be successful.
Labour’s hopes in this election may well turn on how successful they are in shifting discussion off Brexit or whether the news agenda lends Labour a helping hand.
Will anyone watch the TV debates?
Given that the Conservative campaign has had what I will charitably call a bumpy start, you might be surprised to hear that the biggest mistake the Conservative campaign has made to date has barely even been noticed in the press.
This mistake is agreeing to a TV debate between just Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. For the Conservatives, this is all downside.
Firstly, Johnson already has much higher ratings than Corbyn, according to all polling firms. This means there is little opportunity to grow this lead, but plenty of opportunity for it to shrink.
Secondly, Johnson isn’t great on details, or as good a media performer as CCHQ seem to think. It’s highly unlikely he will land any telling punches on Corbyn in this debate. And although the opposite is also unlikely, why take the risk?
Finally, the most important element of the Conservative electoral strategy is to hope for a split opposition. Put simply to try and ensure Jo Swinson takes more of Labour’s vote than Nigel Farage takes of their own. In this situation, you really don’t need to be a genius to figure out it might be a bad idea to have only one opponent on the same stage as you, implying it’s a straight head-to-head contest.
The TV debates in 2015 and 2017 didn’t shift the election dynamics at all, but we saw in 2010 when people temporarily “agreed with Nick” that they can have a serious impact.
With Labour and the Liberal Democrats competing for Remain-leaning voters, there is the active risk that they will split the opposition, and make the Conservatives’ task easier. Brexit Party supporters are also facing pressure to vote tactically for the Conservatives.
For this reason, there are a range of websites encouraging people to vote tactically, on both sides of the Brexit divide.
There is no shortage of willingness to vote tactically. A recent survey certainly found over half of students would be willing to vote tactically to advance their preferred Brexit outcome.
And tactical voting can be effective – in 1997, the Liberal Democrats in particular benefited from a large degree of tactical voting.
However, orchestrating effective tactical voting is very, very difficult. For example, if voters make their decisions based on what happened last time, they may tactically vote for Labour in seats where they came second in 2017, but where, in 2019, they are less well placed than the Liberal Democrats.
A classic example of this is John Redwood’s constituency of Wokingham, where Labour came (a distant) second in 2017, but where polling shows the Liberal Democrats are in a close contest with the Conservatives. Thus, tactical voters might accidentally back the wrong anti-Brexit horse.
In addition, Brexit isn’t the only tactical voting motivator. For some voters, especially some of those considering the Liberal Democrats, opposition to Jeremy Corbyn may motivate them to vote Conservative in an effort to try and prevent that outcome at all costs. Reportedly, several Lib Dem candidates are encountering this challenge in their campaigns.
Therefore I’m sceptical that tactical voting will shift the outcome in many seats – but it has the potential to influence results significantly, especially in places with possible three-way contests, like many seats in London.
Will the SNP factor come back?
Labour’s campaign strategy has implicitly conceded Scotland to other parties, and has instead sought to court the SNP for some form of arrangement – hence the statement they would allow another independence referendum, in direct contradiction of Scottish Labour.
This decision has profound ramifications, starting with the campaign. Firstly, it more or less takes a Labour majority off the table – they would need a swing of at least 6.5% to win enough seats in England and Wales alone, which is pretty far-fetched – especially as polls actually show them losing a lot of ground to the Conservatives.
That means if Labour are going to govern, realistically, they are very likely to need some kind of arrangement with the SNP. Such an arrangement has two massive risks for Labour.
In the campaign, it allows the Conservatives to warn voters of the prospect of Nicola Sturgeon pulling the strings of a Labour government. If anyone doubts the effectiveness of that line, I suggest asking any of the defeated Labour or Liberal Democrats incumbents from 2015.
Secondly, should they survive the campaign, it means Labour would actually have to govern on the sufferance of the SNP. Given that the SNP has a clear goal of achieving independence, they will have every incentive to turn any Labour government into a disastrous failure, because this will serve to alienate Scottish voters further from the union. If the SNP are in a position to do so, they will make Labour’s life a misery – and if Labour think otherwise they will be in for a rude awakening.
Who will the Brexit Party take votes from?
On the face of it, this is a question with an obvious answer. As a party advocating the hardest possible Brexit, the Brexit Party is clearly aiming to win support from Leave voters almost exclusively – and that means it is overwhelmingly likely that they take more votes from the Conservatives than Labour.
But it’s not so simple. In the run-up to 2015, many Labour strategists were eagerly anticipating the damage that UKIP would do to the Conservatives vote share.
In the event, though UKIP took 13% of the vote, the Conservatives gained votes. I imagine if you told Labour strategists that would have happened before 2015, they’d have called you an idiot.
This time, the available evidence suggest the Brexit Party actually will take more votes from the Conservatives than Labour, about twice as many. But this is before the Conservatives have had the chance to really turn the screws on Brexit Party supporters.
And the hemorrhaging of Labour Leave voters directly to the Conservatives currently outweighs the impact of the Brexit Party – in fact, according to Yougov, about 4% of the total voting electorate are Labour Leave voters who have made this direct switch, with almost zero moving the other way.
That could prove far more telling in the final analysis.
The UK’s fifth fastest growing communications agency adds wealth of experience to its leading-edge insight offer.
Strategic communications consultancy Madano has hired Matt Whiting as a Director in its Insights and Intelligence practice.
Matt joins from communications consultancy Archetype, where he was a Global Insights & Analytics Director. He also has experience working at Bite Communications, WE Communications and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
Building on his educational and occupational background in psychology, Matt has spent the past 13 years supporting clients by helping them to connect the dots between consumer behaviour, industry trends and business needs.
He said of his appointment: “At a time when so many companies, people and countless other forces are competing for our attention, the industry must be smarter and better informed to best help clients break through and connect with key audiences in meaningful ways. Madano has recognised this and I can’t wait to join current projects and continue the team’s good work in growing the Insights and Intelligence practice. Like our clients, we must continue to think differently and approach challenges with innovative ideas that cut to the core of what truly matters. There’s no better place to do this than at Madano.”
Michael Evans, Managing Partner at Madano, said: “Our approach to communications over the last 15 years has been built on insights and it remains critical to helping clients solve the world’s biggest challenges. It’s fantastic to have Matt join the team as his experience will be valuable in helping clients effect behavioural change and tell a more compelling story. ”
Madano’s insights team provides a clarity that drives better, bolder decisions for clients by fusing data science with traditional research methods. Their work underpins impactful and measurable communications programmes that have a positive impact on organisations tackling the big challenges of the 21st Century.
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