The main themes in UK election campaigning have not played more in favour of either the ruling Conservatives or opposition Labour. In the battle to hold centre ground, the two big parties have made proposals that grew increasingly similar. Each tried to convince the electorate that they are the better managers for the country.
Bringing the budget deficit down is on both their programmes. Government data gave it as 5.7 percent of GDP in 2014. Where they differ is Labour saying they would cut it ‘every year’, the Conservatives that they would balance the books by the end of this parliament.
The Tories’ plans would entail reducing spending by the equivalent of 16 billion euros, three million of which would go to finance apprenticeships. Labour says it would cap structural welfare spending and proposes raising the minimum wage to above the equivalent of 11 euros an hour.
The National Health Service is British voters’ number one concern, ahead of purchasing power, salaries and immigration. To counter accusations by detractors that they would privatise the NHS, the Conservatives commit to more than 11 billion euros worth of investment per year until 2020, but are vague on where the money would come from. Labour promises tax-funded 13.6 billion euros per year on it.
Immigration from other European countries has become worrisome to many, in particular in regions where public services have been feeling strained by newcomers. The Conservatives say they would renegotiate EU freedom of movement rules to be able to expel anyone who hadn’t found work within six months.
Both big parties propose to postpone immigrants’ access to social benefits to four years after arrival, in the Conservatives’ case, two for Labour.
They both want to review the UK’s relationship with Europe, the Tories proposing a referendum by 2017 on Britain in the EU or not, Labour calling for a “return” to greater British leadership in a reformed Europe.