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2019 General Election Manifesto Analysis

By PPA Staff

27 Nov 2019

Last week the main UK political parties launched their respective manifestos, outlining policy pledges ahead of the 12 December general election. The PPA Public Affairs Team have been trawling through the detail to bring you the most significant proposals for the publishing industry:.

Conservative Party Manifesto

The Conservative Party manifesto launched on Sunday, promising that a Tory-led government would focus on delivering Brexit by 31 January. The Tory strategy is to play it safe, with a light 59-page document focusing on already announced campaign themes and no major new policies. The Party commits to extra funding for the NHS and £100 billion to fund UK infrastructure projects, with more spending on education and police. Under a re-elected Conservative government, public spending would rise by £3 billion a year above current plans by 2024. The party, which is currently leading in the opinion polls, proposes the following policies of interest:

  • Brexit: If Boris Johnson wins an outright majority, he will bring the current Brexit deal back to parliament, seeking to pass the Withdrawal Bill before Christmas, allowing the UK to leave the EU on January 31 and enter a twelve-month transition phase. The manifesto expressly rules out any extension of the transition period beyond December 2020, meaning a new free trade agreement with the EU will need to be negotiated in record time;
  • Press regulation: The Conservative Party manifesto promises to repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which puts punitive damages on publishers who are not members of an approved regulator. This confirms a previously announced intention and a key PPA ask. The manifesto also confirms the party’s decision not to proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry;
  • Support for journalism: The manifesto recognises that local and regional newspapers are “vital pillars of communities and local democracy” and have announced a commitment to extend their business rates relief. PPA has lobbied for this relief to be extended to local and regional magazine publishers, and will continue to advocate for this extension. Furthermore, the document outlines plans to legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online (taking forward the Online Harms White Paper), while “defending freedom of expression and in particular recognising and defending the invaluable role of a free press”;
  • Digital Platforms: The party intends to proceed with the implementation of a Digital Services Tax. It also intends to harness new technologies and crack down on online crimes;

Wider policy proposals include:

  • Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and tabling an Environment Bill that will guarantee that the UK can protect and restore the natural environment after leaving the EU;
  • Helping employers invest in skills and look at how to improve the Apprenticeship Levy;
  • Cutting business rates for small retail businesses and for local music venues, pubs and cinemas;

  • Introducing an “Australian style points-based immigration system” after Brexit;

  • Reinstating free TV licences for over-75's, funded by the BBC;
  • Increase R&D tax credit rate to 13%, while freezing Corporate Tax at the current 19% (abandoning planned cuts)

Labour Party Manifesto

Launching his Party’s 107-page manifesto in Birmingham last Thursday, Jeremy Corbyn hailed a policy document which sets out a "radical and ambitious plan to transform our country in decades" going further than their manifesto in 2017. The party hopes for a repeat of their 2017 election campaign, where following the manifesto launch, they significantly closed the polling gap with the Conservatives.

Policy proposals include plans to "transform" the UK and to re nationalise rail, mail, water and energy, as part of a wider strategy pushing up day-to-day spending by £80 billion a year by 2023–24.

Key policies for publishers include:

  • Brexit: The party has confirmed it will seek to negotiate a new Brexit deal within three months and hold a referendum with the choice of its new deal or remain, with a ballot held within six months. Labour has pledged to draft a new deal that includes a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union and close alignment with the Single Market;
  • Press regulation: Labour’s manifesto states “a free and fair press is vital to protecting democracy” while pledging to “address misconduct and the unresolved failures of corporate governance” raised by the Leveson Inquiry;
  • Fake news: Labour pledge to consult media-sector workers and trade unions to establish an inquiry into fake news Labour has pledged to consult media-sector workers and trade unions to establish an inquiry into the ‘fake news’ and introduce “a legal right of public interest defence for journalists”. Alongside this, the party promises to provide greater support for local newspapers and media outlets;
  • Copyright: The manifesto proposed a review the copyright framework to ensure fair remuneration for artists and content creators - our understanding is that this is simple an intention to adopt EU Digital Single Market Copyright Regulation in UK law, rather than a wider review;
  • Digital Platforms: Labour proposes to take action and address the monopolistic hold the tech giants have on advertising revenues, following on from the on-going CMA market study;
  • Royal Mail: The party pledges to bring Royal Mail back into public ownership at the earliest opportunity, reuniting it with the Post Office and creating a publicly owned Post Bank run through the post office network.

Other key policy pledges:

  • Ensuring that Ofcom is better able to safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership and to put in place clearer rules on who is fit and proper to own or run TV and radio stations;
  • Delivering free full-fibre broadband “to all” (we understand this is both households and businesses) by 2030 and establishing British Broadband, with two arms: British Digital Infrastructure (BDI) and the British Broadband Service (BBS);
  • Putting the UK on track for a net-zero carbon energy system within the 2030s;
  • Working with trade unions to ensure diversity initiatives in creative workplaces, with a pledge to “open up career opportunities in these industries for everyone and consult on ways to address the gender imbalance” alongside reforms to creative industry tax reliefs to encourage and improve diversity;
  • Introducing a Charter for Digital Rights
  • Reinstating free TV licences for over-75s;
  • Pledge to freeze taxes for 95% of people, while reducing the threshold for the additional tax rate (45%) from £150,000 to £80,000 a year, with a new “super-rich” rate for those earning over £125,000;
  • The party will increase Corporate Tax from 19% to 26%, while taxing capital gains at the same level as income tax and abolishing the lower income tax rate for dividend income
  • Labour will seek to implement a four-day working week within a decade

Liberal Democrat Manifesto

The Liberal Democrats have made stopping Brexit the central focus of their general election campaign and manifesto, outlining policies to be paid for by a £50 billion economic growth, which they call a ‘Remain bonus' alongside a series of new taxes.

While the party is unlikely to win enough seats to become the next government, it could play a key role if one of the two larger parties fails to secure a majority. Leader Jo Swinson has pledged that Liberal Democrats “will not put Corbyn or Johnson in Number 10”.

The 96-page manifesto (designed by PPA Member, Think Publishing) sets out key policies, including:

  • Brexit: The Liberal Democrats intend to stop Brexit and revoke Article 50 if they secure a parliamentary majority. If they fall short, their MPs will vote for a referendum with a Remain option;
  • Press regulation: The party has pledged to proceed with part two of the Leveson Inquiry. The manifesto also prioritised the introduction of a “Leveson-compliant regulator to be given oversight of both privacy and quality, diversity and choice in both print and online media”.

Wider policy proposals include:

  • A £10,000 allowance for each adult to spend on skills & training throughout their lives;
  • The rolling out of hyper-fast broadband across the UK;
  • Introducing proportional representation for electing MPs and councillors, and votes at 16;
  • The introduction of a Zero-Waste and Resource Efficiency Act to ensure that the UK moves towards a circular economy, including the banning of non-recyclable single-use plastics within three years;
  • An ambition to end plastic waste exports by 2030;
  • Raising £7bn by increasing Income Tax rates by 1% at each level – to 21%, 41% and 46% respectively – with funding ring fenced or the NHS and Social Care;
  • Introduce a Frequent Flyers Tax;
  • Increase Corporate Tax to 20% and maintain a stable rate with “predictable future path”
  • Support creative industries with “tailored industry-specifc tax support” and allowing companies to claim R&D tax credits against the cost of purchasing datasets and cloud computing

SNP Manifesto

Although only contesting the 56 seats in Scotland, the SNP currently form the third largest party in Westminster and polling suggests they are on course to retain that position. The manifesto has been published today, and we will update this article as we digest it.

Digital Publications: the Party pledge to press the UK to keep pace with the EU and scrap VAT on e-books and digital publications

Other political parties’ manifesto pledges

Both the Green Party and Brexit Party have launched their manifestos, providing insight into the parties’ policy ambitions.

Key takeaways from the Green Party manifesto include:

Press regulation: The party’s appetite to develop a new independent regulator to better safeguard healthy plurality of media ownership and implement the recommendations made within the 2012 Leveson Report;

Copyright: Pledges to modernise and reform copyright and intellectual property rights to ensure a better balance between the rights of consumers and the rights of those working in the creative economy;

Support for journalism: New grants to support local news publishers;

  • Increasing the rate of Corporation Tax to 24%;
  • Intention to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2030;
  • Ambition to establish a Frequent Flyers Tax;
  • Using a People’s Vote to decide the way forward on Brexit;
  • Instating a proportional voting system;
  • Extending the right to vote to 16-year olds;
  • Reinstating free TV licenses for over 75-year-olds
  • Tightening the rules on media ownership so no individual or company owns more than 20% of a media market.

And from the Brexit Party manifesto ‘Contract with the People’ offers:

  • No extension to the Brexit transition period;
  • Calls for the abolition of the TV licence;
  • Make MPs who switch parties subject to recall petitions;
  • Ambition to put a cap on net migration of 50,000 a year;
  • Plans to scrap the HS2 rail project;
  • Start-ups to be given a £10,000 tax-free allowance to boost entrepreneurism;
  • Pledges to scrap VAT on fuel;
  • Tax cuts are for small business Corporation Tax cuts for small businesses, creating a £10,000 tax-free allowance.

PPA Managing Director, Owen Meredith commented: “The manifestos give us an insight into each of the main political parties priorities for government, but they rarely paint the full picture. During the course of the election campaign policies will be clarified, pledges fine-tuned and new announcements made. That is why the team at PPA will be keeping a close eye on developments in the final two weeks, as we head towards polling day on December 12. The PPA public affairs team are already working to follow up with the main parties, seeking clarity on those manifesto pledges and raising your priorities with politicians.

“Whoever wins on December 12, the PPA will be campaigning to ensure the new government acts to support publishers. Be it ending the anomalous VAT regime for digital publications, investigating anti-competitive practice of tech giants, or protecting the rights of a free press in the UK; throughout the election and beyond PPA is here to champion consumer magazine and business media, taking your concerns to the heart of government.”

If you have any questions regarding the general election or how specific manifesto pledges could impact the publishing industry then please contact Public Affairs Executive Amy Owens at amy.owens@ppa.co.uk.

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