Incisive Health’s analysis of the Liberal Democrat manifesto

Stop Brexit. Build a Brighter Future. Front and centre of the Liberal Democrat general election 2019 manifesto, the message couldn’t be clearer. If you voted Remain in the EU referendum, if you’ve changed your mind and decided maybe the EU isn’t so bad after all, or if you just want to stop Boris Johnson, then the Lib Dems think they are the party for you.

This distinction has been working for them until now: they have more members than ever before; they’ve acquired a net increase of eight MPs from the main two parties since the last general election; and their performance at the European elections means they can claim to have bested both Labour and the Conservatives in a national election for the first time in a century.

But recent polls suggest this momentum has waned and the electorate aren’t fully convinced that there is a third party in the race. So, can their general election manifesto turn this around? Other than immediately revoking Article 50 if they came into power, what else do the Lib Dems have to offer?

The NHS is, as always, one of the key election battlegrounds. Labour and the Conservatives have already started trying to outdo each other with announcements on health. But, unlike the other parties who have been accused of finally finding that mysterious magic money tree, the Lib Dems have spelled out how they’re going to pay for it. If elected, they would immediately increase income tax by 1p in the pound to raise £7 billion per year, to be used to tackle areas that are in urgent need of financial attention – social care, workforce shortages and mental health services.

Some will welcome this spending; others will say it doesn’t go far enough. But what tax rises probably won’t do is woo Conservative Remainers to vote Lib Dem. If Jo Swinson believes her party is the only party that can gain seats from the Conservatives and stop Boris Johnson winning a majority, this may not have been the way to go about it.

Other healthcare investments include a further £10 billion of capital funds in hospitals, equipment, ambulance and mental health services. There is a strong focus on public health – upping efforts to tackle obesity (extending the sugar tax), smoking (with a levy on tobacco companies), alcohol (minimum unit pricing), and even air pollution (legislating for the right to unpolluted air). There’s also a proposal that the impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing should be considered in every aspect of national and local decision making.

While these are all important areas, there’s surprisingly little set out to aid with the obvious strain on the health service. Provisions for dementia and cancer don’t feature (other than with regards to social care). There’s no mention for innovative technologies like genomics and AI, save for a broader commitment to build upon the industrial strategy (which they helped develop while part of the last coalition government).

Where they are keen to innovate is on drugs policy (would it even be Lib Dem manifesto if they didn’t commit to legalising cannabis?), which would move from the Home Office to the jurisdiction of DHSC. Legalising cannabis has never been popular with the Conservatives so here’s another policy that may deter the centre-right contingent from voting Lib Dem.

There’s a family-orientated theme running through the manifesto, with new policies and a heck of a lot of cash going into support for working parents and carers, perinatal mental health and a cap on the cost of care footed by those affected and their families. One of the boldest, potentially popular but most expensive promises is the introduction of free childcare for all from nine months until the age of four.

With taxes-a-plenty and a continued drive to reform drug policy, it looks like Lib Dem members worried about the influence of former Tory MPs recently acquired had nothing to fear. And they may be reassured to see mental health and wellbeing remaining firmly at the fore with ex-Labour MP Luciana Berger as health spokesperson. But will these policies attract enough airtime to help the Lib Dems cut through the noise and change the minds of voters? And, given this election is still predicted to come down to that single issue of Brexit vs Remain, does this really matter?