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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Fact check: A policy-free campaign?
THE CLAIM

As the campaign approaches its last week the focus has turned to personality rather than policies. Is this because no significant policies have been announced during the campaign?

BACKGROUND

At one time political campaigns were full of surprise and passion as parties unveiled their policy plans amid fierce debate, sometimes with negative consequences - such as Labour's tax plans in 1992.

Next time round, in 1997, Labour's manifesto was composed and publicised well in advance. They stormed the election and it has become the fashion for parties not to risk radical policy announcements during campaigns.

Instead repetition and staying on message have become the norm.

THE FACTS

This time Labour launched its 112 page manifesto with over 200 policy pledges. But Labour's policy chief, Matthew Taylor, was hard-pressed to say whether there was anything new except holding a referendum on whether other cities as well as London should have elected mayors.

Labour's press office cited new pledges on reducing waiting times for breast cancer and cervical cancer diagnosis, new rights for parents to demand OFSTED inspections of schools, and a new system of advocates in court for victims of crime.

But it pointed out that most of Labour's plans were already in place as part of the five-year departmental spending plans.

The Liberal Democrats pre-announced their manifesto in the autumn.

According to their head of policy, Christian Moon, it was part of their principles to have openly published policies that they stuck to - while campaign announcements have only spelled things out in slightly more detail.

However, the Lib Dems did produce a more detailed outline of their public spending plans, explaining how they would pay for their policy pledges - and adding in a contingency reserve.

The Conservatives have made the most dramatic announcements during the campaign.

They announced two new tax cuts - 1.7bn in tax relief for basic rate taxpayers who save for their pensions, and 1bn to axe stamp duty on all purchases of properties worth less than 250,000.

And they said they would stop the revaluation of property in England which they claimed would lead to rises in council tax.

But even the Conservatives published the bulk of their proposals in manifesto pre-chapters in February and March, and their full spending plans were published in January.

THE CONCLUSION

All three parties launched the bulk of their policies in detail in the six month run-up to the election, and very little is new.

The Conservatives are unique, however, in making major tax announcements during the campaign.





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