The Wokingham Paper

TONY JOHNSON: How much do the manifestos REALLY add up to?

General election
Picture: Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

With claims, counter-claims, analysis and fake news all competing to describe what the parties are actually proposing, the electorate’s reaction to manifestos and their costs have run back and forth between baffled, bamboozled and ‘bothered if I know’.

It’s been week 4 of the 2019 general election and this was the week of checking what the parties had actually said in their carefully prepared manifestos.

Every pound that’s fit to print

As the third and final print copy manifesto finally arrived on Monday (thank you Conservatives) the comparisons of the downloaded PDF files and ISBN hard copies have finished and the results are available on (or via email) if you want to see for yourself what the differences were.

Comparisons aside, what really matters is discovering what the parties are pledging, planning or proposing to spend on anything they’ve put in writing.

The discovery process started with searching for every single £ sign in the three print manifestos. These show what the parties value the most and are the best indications available as to what the parties are planning to actually do if they’re elected. 

Then to assess and eliminate any irrelevant, duplicate or past spending numbers, along with any figures clearly indicated as part of a larger commitment.

Note that as the forward looking commitments made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Sept 30th haven’t been implemented yet, where they’ve appeared in the Conservative manifesto, they’ve been included in the calculations.

The Clapham Omnibus test

The aim was to get the same sense of changes in future government spending that the “common man on the Clapham omnibus” would get if they wanted to read the manifesto and work out what was and wasn’t a commitment.

In the same spirit, the numbers have been divided into two categories. 

‘Groceries’ represent things you regularly spend your money on and might include your weekly shopping and fuel bills, monthly council tax payments or annual insurance costs.

‘Big buys’ represent things you either have to save up for or get a loan for. They might include such items as a washing machine, a car or a house. Some are paid for outright and some have the cost spread out over many years by way of a loan or a mortgage.

And while government spending is a lot more complicated because there’s more things to consider, the principle is the same.

Adding up the numbers

Using ten years as a best guess as to how long the average ‘Big Buy’ takes to complete, the manifesto commitments add up as follows :

Groceries (Annual)Big Buys (One-off)10 year total
Conservatives£89.1 billion£160.5 billion£1,051 billion
Labour£47.0 billion£598 billion£1,068 billion
Liberal Democrats£29.2 billion£562 billion   £855 billion

And what turned up as the most surprising number was the first one – the Conservative’s annual Groceries bill wasn’t the 3 billion horsefeathers that the media have been telling us.

Over 80% comes from just three items:

we will have raised funding for the NHS by 29 per cent. By the end of the Parliament, that will be more than £650 million extra a week”. Page 7 – 33.8 billion (650 x 52)

We will raise the National Insurance threshold to £9,500 next year – representing a tax cut for 31 million workers”. Page 15 – 26.9 billion (9500-8632) x 31M using‘s current NI threshold.

Our ultimate ambition is to ensure that the first £12,500 you earn is completely free of tax – which would put almost £500 per year in people’s pockets”. Page 15 – £15.5 billion (500 x 31M)

It’d be easy to argue that the second and third figures aren’t costs. But they result in the government having that much less to spend on other things so they’ve got the same effect (Clapham omnibus test remember).

However, if you don’t believe the figures at all the remedy’s simple – just check what the manifesto actually says in writing, in print, rather than what the soothsayers want you to believe.

The Last Word

The real world of politics is a lot more complicated than a short headline or a sound bite can describe.

And as you’ll probably have realised by now, finding ‘the numbers’ in the manifestos has been a Diogenes-like search for the truth and I’m far from certain that I’ve found it, despite my best efforts.

The spreadsheet, with all the calculations, the line by line manifesto wordings, along with my assessments, is available via email if you want to see for yourself.

While the totals can all be traced back to specific lines on specific pages of the party manifestos, as ever, it’s up to you to choose which set of commitments you prefer and want implemented.

And therefore which party deserves your vote next week.

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