We know what schools the candidates went to. We’re learning how their kids are educated. And we’re now all familiar with where they buy their jewelry and their suits, and for how much. What we’re far less aware of are the implications of the policies they are proposing and the trade-offs they imply. Yet these, surely, are what matters?
What should we make of the pledges being made by the remaining candidates? What promises are credible? What will be the impact of the policies being proposed? And what might be the implications for faith in our politics, were it to transpire that a candidate was elected on a false prospectus?
These are big questions. But it is important that we try to address them, if only because both Conservative Party members and, eventually, the country as a whole, need to be informed if they are to make wise electoral choices. That is why Full Fact and UK in a Changing Europe have partnered to produce a series of evidence led, research-based assessments of the key issues in this leadership contest.
To do this, we brought together a group of leading experts from respected institutions including the Health Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Royal United Services Institute. We asked each of them to consider, based on the findings of their own research, the challenges confronting the incoming prime minister in their area of expertise, the immediate and longer-term issues they will need to address, and the potential implications of any choices they might make.
We selected the issues partly based on the IPSOS issues index, partly as a function of what has been discussed during the campaign so far (immigration, for instance, was not among the top ten issues in the June 2022 issues index, but has been quite prominent in the campaign). Clearly, we have not provided an exhaustive list of all the topics that have been and are being debated, but we hope to have identified the key issues.
Our aim was to provide information that will help people make up their own minds. For understandable reasons, ordinary citizens do not spend many of their waking hours pondering the workings of the macro economy, or the appropriate levels of taxation and public spending, or the ins and outs of defence or housing policy. Our contributors, for better or worse, do. We were anxious to deploy their expertise to help those who either now or at some point in the future will be asked to make electoral choices based, in part, on the promises made by the candidates.
We also wanted to subject the candidates themselves to scrutiny. Honesty matters in politics, and it is important – for the standard of public debate, to ensure trust in politics and to enable us to know what we are voting for – that those who stand for high office are held to account for the claims they make. We have not undertaken a ‘fact checking’ exercise in this collection (though we would encourage readers to visit the Full Fact website, where this is done). Rather, we have sought to provide information that will allow people to assess the various proposals being put forward.
To this end, we address a number of questions. What are we to make of the rival claims being made about taxation? How will economic choices impact on inequality? What pressures are weighing on our education system? Can the UK meet its net zero commitments? How can the incoming prime minister ensure the NHS and social care systems have the capacity and resources needed to deliver safe care through the coming winter and begin to improve access for primary and elective care? Is there a workable solution to the problem of small boats crossing the English Channel? What needs to be done to address what is widely seen as a housing crisis? What are the international security risks we face, and what kind of defence policy might best address them? What choices does an incoming prime minister face when it comes to dealing with the demand of the Scottish National Party for another referendum on independence?
The answers are rarely simple. And it is clear that any policy choices made will imply trade-offs. In laying these out, our intention is to inform and not persuade. We hope that readers will look at it in that spirit. As an attempt to inform them about the facts; an attempt to allow them to assess rival political claims; and finally, an attempt to ensure the candidates are straight with us.
By Professor Anand Menon, Director, UK in a Changing Europe, and Will Moy, Chief Executive, Full Fact. This article was originally posted in Times Red Box.