Labour and Conservative - is there really any difference?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said in January 2015 that for the first time in many years voters had a “stark choice” between the two major political parties, who appear to be moving away from each other politically. Nonetheless, similarities on key issues remain.
Economy and taxation
• Both support the free market (selling products without restrictions). Blair changed Clause IV of Labour’s constitution, which had committed the party to nationalise (government control) industry.
• The Tories adopted the Lib Dem policy on tax, whereby the lower paid keep more of their money. Labour does not oppose this.
• However, Labour claimed to have spent more on public services when they were in power (1997-2010) than any previous government. While the Tories are cutting the deficit through spending cuts. Labour has said it would have cut the deficit more gradually and relied more heavily on tax increases instead of spending cuts. Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn opposed cutting in-work benefits like the Working Families Tax Credit.
• Labour introduced a new top rate of tax for those earning over £100,000 per year – the Conservatives lowered this.
• Other parties: The Lib Dems supported intervention in the banking system (similar to Labour) and also support tax cuts for the low paid. They would like to introduce a Mansions Tax (a tax on large properties) but the Tories blocked them from doing this in coalition. Labour now supports the Lib Dems on this issue. The SNP aligned themselves to Labour in the 2015 General Election and promised to end “Tory austerity”.
Law and order, civil liberties and immigration
• Until 2015, Labour and Conservatives supported tough curbs on immigration – it was just the emphasis that was different. Labour introduced a points system when in government whereas the Tories have introduced a cap on numbers coming in from outside the EU. Labour’s “Blue Labour” faction believes that working class white people drifted away from the party because of its open door policy on Polish immigration, and have sought to influence party policy towards a more Conservative line.
• Labour has said it will not oppose Tory plans to reduce prisoners early and to focus more on community service.
• However, Corbyn (and indeed even New Labour types like Yvette Cooper) called for greater compassion when dealing with Syrian refugees. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has spoken on an inevitable “borderless” world that the UK should prepare for. The Tories, on the other hand, have refused to involve themselves in any EU-wide quota scheme for Syrian refugees and have fought to restrict benefits to migrants who have not lived in the UK for four years. On civil liberties, the two parties differ over the Human Rights Act – the Tories want to scrap it.
• Other parties: Lib Dems believe civil liberties have been eroded. They support the HRA (similar to Labour) and are vocal opponents of extending detention without trial (similar to Conservatives). The Lib Dems oppose a Conservative plan to allow intelligence agencies greater access to people’s personal emails (the so-called snoopers’ charter that is supported by Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May). UKIP are more in line with Tory plans on immigration and favour scrapping the Human Rights Act.
Provision of services
• Social security: Labour’s welfare to work scheme (the New Deal) was an attempt to reduce the numbers of people claiming benefits, described by Thatcher as “scroungers”. Cameron is attempting to reduce out-of-work benefits to the long-term unemployed, in order to encourage them to find a job. In this sense, both parties support reducing the numbers of people on benefits.
• Education: When in power, Labour supported closing “failing schools” and league tables. They did not closed grammar schools. Private schools enjoy tax breaks. There is little difference here with the Tories. Until 2015, both support extending the number of academy schools.
• Healthcare: Labour allowed private investors to build hospitals and lease the building back to the NHS. This is not something the Tories opposed when the secured power in 2010.
• However, the Tories were opposed to the targets that the Labour government imposed on locally run services. They favour more local control and are scrapping centrally run primary care trusts in NHS.
• The Tories are cutting much deeper into welfare and benefits than Labour – their cuts in EMA and Housing Benefit were opposed by Labour.
• Former Shadow Education secretary Tristram Hunt has called into question the coalition’s free school programme, which the Tories have promised to expand. The Tories have pledged to turn all schools into academies and allow grammar schools to expand. Under Corbyn, Labour is dubious of the former and against the latter.
• Other parties: The Lib Dems support choice in education (similar to both main parties) but Clegg seemed closer to the Tories on cutting the deficit. However, the Lib Dems do support a Pupil Premium, where schools get extra money to help students from poorer backgrounds (similar to Labour). The party is bitterly divided over spending on public services, which is especially seen on tuition fees.
• Both Labour and Conservative support international efforts to combat climate change.
• They support a strong relationship with the United States.
• Both parties supported the war in Iraq and NATO action in Libya
• Labour and Conservative voted in favour of the Iraq War 2003.
• Some Labour MPs sided with the Tories in 2015 and voted in favour of action in Syria.
• However, the Tories are wary of the EU, while Labour is not. It is unlikely that Labour would have vetoed the December 2011 EU treaty on financial regulation, which Cameron did.
• Labour has taken a keener interest in global poverty and development aid, while the Tories are probably still lukewarm (although Cameron recently visited Africa and ring fenced spending on development aid).
• Labour voted against military action in Syria 2013, unlike the Conservatives.
• Other parties: The Lib Dems are the most pro-EU, pro-UN party and opposed the Iraq War. This makes them different to both parties. Nick Clegg has openly criticised the Tories for their anti-EU stance. Of course, UKIP wishes the UK to leave the EU.
• Labour introduced the minimum wage and allowed every worker the right to join a trade union.
• The Conservatives have announced a small rise in the minimum wage in March 2015 (they initially opposed it).
• Labour warned public sector workers not to expect big pay increases under a future Labour government, which follows on from below inflation pay deals proposed by the Tories (1% increase for nurses etc.).
• However, the minimum wage has barely risen under the Tories.
• Labour signed the EU social chapter on workers’ rights, a policy the Tories still oppose.
• Labour support a “Living Wage” under Miliband, which is not supported by Cameron, even though Osborne has stolen the term to champion a small, incremental increase in the minimum wage.
• The Tories want to make it easier for firms to sack workers and some in the party have suggested that workers be given shares in their company if they give up their maternity and other rights. Labour opposes this.
• The Trade Union bill that the Tories are introducing would make it harder to strike. All sections of the Labour Party are opposed to this.
• Other parties: The Lib Dems tend to favour EU laws that would improve workers’ rights but have a limited relationship with trades unions.