By Michael Jarvis, UK Correspondent
The release of manifestos by the major parties for next month’s UK general election has signalled a very important phase in the ongoing very heated and fractious election campaign.
Eagerly anticipated manifesto launches by the two traditional heavyweight parties of British politics, the Conservatives and Labour, have cemented Brexit - the UK leaving the European Union - as the key campaign issue for the December 12th poll.
The Brexit factor was also a key element in the manifesto presentations by other main parliamentary parties the Liberal Democrats(LibDems), The Brexit Party, the Green Party, the Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cymru of Wales.
National issues which have been overshadowed in the main by Brexit are now coming through in a flurry of promises especially by the ruling Conservatives, the main opposition Labour Party and the smaller LibDems.
Taxes and the National Health Service(NHS) are key pillars of their respective domestic agendas.
On Brexit, the Conservatives via Prime Minister Boris Johnson are basing their campaign on the mantra ‘Get Brexit Done’, a reference to the January 31st 2020 deadline - the third extension to finalise the UK’s departure from the block.
Mr Johnson himself, has had as torrid a time as his predecessor Theresa May who resigned over failing to deliver Brexit. It led to him calling the election for next month.
If he also fails, Brexit will have claimed the political head of a third British leader…all from a Conservative government in place since David Cameron quit in 2016 after he lost the referendum vote.
In the ruling Conservatives 59-page manifesto, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s domestic agenda focuses heavily on more funding for the treasured National Health Service (NHS), fighting crime, tightening up on immigration, and what the party claims is a more business-friendly approach than their Labour Party opponents.
The Conservatives promise to keep income tax, VAT and national insurance at their present levels, opting to fund their policies through borrowing.
Labour, which launched their 109-page manifesto before the Conservatives, have pledged to renegotiate Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal with the EU.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says he hopes to have a new withdrawal agreement with the EU by spring 2020 and would hold a referendum on it by the summer. He, however, would adopt a personal neutral position.
That stance has been political fodder for his Conservative, LibDem and other opponents who have pilloried the left-leaning Mr Corbyn for being indecisive in public while being a closet Brexiteer at heart.
Political pledges by Labour range from a slew of re-nationalisation of key services especially in the transportation sector as well as renationalising water, energy, rail and mail.
More funding for the crisis-hit NHS, a more flexible immigration policy, capping private rents, and even offering free broadband service are all hallmarks of the party’s manifesto.
The costing of these two manifestos has become the focal point of much debate and analysis.
The Conservatives propose to pay for their pledges through borrowing, Labour is targeting tax rises at the top 5% of earners, raising corporate taxation and closing tax loopholes.
The Liberal Democrats(LIbDems) for their part are also big on Brexit with perhaps the most unique - and dramatic - approach to the issue. They want to stop it.
The LibDems which have gained a higher political profile this year due to an influx of defecting MPs from both Labour and Conservatives have placed abandoning Brexit altogether as the pinnacle of their campaign.
Party leader Jo Swinson has had to fend off criticism that the LibDems are operating counter to their name and democratic principles by disregarding the instruction of the majority of voters albeit by a small margin of 52% to 48% who voted for Brexit back in 2016.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party(SNP) is pushing a strong anti-Brexit agenda intending to hold another referendum aimed at taking Scotland out of the UK and remaining in the EU.
December 12th will determine if these manifestos pledges see the light of day as government policy.
Regular polling shows the Conservatives holding an average 14 point lead over Labour with the LibDems in third place, although more recently Labour has been narrowing the gap.
But with just about a fortnight to election day, it has not yet brought it down to single digits nationally.
The LibDems which got a boost from the defections of several Labour and Conservative MPs (members of parliament) and at one point were polling ahead of Labour, have not been able to maintain that spurt of popularity.
Survey results have consistently shown that their plan to block Brexit, plus a refusal to consider a coalition deal with either of the larger parties, are eroding their prospects.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the right-leaning Brexit Party led by political maverick Nigel Farage, has failed to shake the perception of being a tunnel-vision, one-policy party.
Its pledge to cut foreign aid and tighten up immigration, while endearing it to some, seemed to have further pushed it out of the mainstream.
The Brexit party won the most seats in the last European Parliamentary elections in the UK but is not represented in the British parliament.
It has strategically withdrawn about half its candidates from seats being contested by the Conservative party…but the Conservatives leader Johnson has repeatedly and vehemently distanced his party from any deal with Farage’s Brexit group.
Present polling suggests that neither the Conservatives (the Tories) or Labour seem likely to win an absolute majority of the 650 seats in the UK’s parliament or House of Commons.
The outcome will probably be a close call or hung parliament at best.
As that realisation sets in one could already see previously strident tones softening somewhat as the prospect of political accommodations gains a foothold.
It’s left to be seen then how the manifestos will manifest themselves.
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