Government and Institutions

Have UK political parties run out of original ideas, or are they too afraid to put forward new ones?

Reading through each manifesto, it quickly became apparent that all of the parties are offering up some variation of the same plan: spend more now, balance the budget later – just as soon as the next guy or gal comes to power.

(Labour has arguably taken a slightly different line than the others; rather than reinforcing the broken policies of today, the party is gunning to implement the failed policies of “yesterday” – known as 1970’s socialism.)

Changing demographics, underfunded liabilities and growing welfare commitments inch us closer each day to a breaking point – but not closer, it seems, to any kind of progressive or innovative solutions to these looming time bombs.

From Ukip to the SNP, the parties are turning inward: preaching even louder about their cherry-picked issue of the day, whether that be independence from Brussels or independence from the rest of the UK. But on those crucial domestic policy issues, there seems only one, uniform answer: keep trotting down the same old path, paving it with a bit more taxpayer money along the way.

The obvious exception to this was the Conservative manifesto shakeup on social care. The Tories, in an attempt to address inter-generational inequality and acknowledge the simple truth that younger generations cannot feasibly fund social care spending long-term, attempted to implement reform by partially shifting the burden of care onto wealthier pensioners.

The Conservatives inability to defend their position was a painful one, but the backlash from the other parties was even more concerning. No one put forward a better solution to address the social care funding crisis. The only goal was to discredit any change to the current system – to crush any thinking outside the box.

This political era has given rise to mass disincentives for innovative thinking. The scaremongering that occurs across the political spectrum tends to brand new ideas as a threat to the public’s way of life.

Employment law is massively behind the new landscape for jobs and self-employment, but a re-think of how business is regulated is deemed an attack on workers’ rights. Corporation tax is out of date and comes out of employee wages, but suggestions to scrap and replace the tax are met with accusations of being in the pockets of big business.

The case-in-point example is the National Health Service – a system that is now in a perpetual state of crisis and in need of reform more than almost any other British institution.

Yet this is the one institution politicians dare not criticise, let alone propose alternative solutions to provide universal access to healthcare.

In the past 72 hours alone, the news has been littered with NHS woes – from frustrated doctors and staff, to shortages in hospital beds, to rationing vital care. Meanwhile, longer-term evidence continues to show how social health insurance systems in other parts of Europe provide far better treatment and get significantly better outcomes for patients than the NHS delivers.

In any rational debate, the winner would be the person or party who puts forward pioneering reforms that could save the NHS and make it fit for purpose in the long-term.

But when it comes to the NHS, the reality is not rational. It is purely emotionally driven by all corners of political debate, with every party pledging billions of pounds more, to be guzzled up by a healthcare system that is so inefficient and outdated, not even billions will fix it.

Less than a week from election day, the parties will play it even safer, and the messaging will become even more familiar. But come June 9, the new government must flip the incentives on their head, and create space for bold ideas to solve our growing list of problems – because playing it safe is looking evermore dangerous.

This article was first published in City AM.

Further IEA Reading: Taxation, Government Spending, and Economic Growth; And How Much Do You Earn?; Universal Healthcare Without the NHS

Kate is Associate Director of the IEA. Kate oversees the IEA’s Media Centre and digital platforms, creating and commissioning content for the website, social media, and ieaTV. Kate regularly features across the national media, including appearances on BBC News, Sky News, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV and BBC’s Question Time.

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