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Election Roundup: Week 3 - Have Labour become an option for military veterans?

Manifestos launched, senior Conservatives warning of a Labour ‘super majority’, Reform UK overtaking the Tories in the polls, and debates and interviews all week – it’s been the busiest campaign week since the General Election was announced 23 days ago… just 20 days to go now.

Welcome to Navigate Politics’ new weekly election roundup, bringing you all the new policy pledges, stats, polls, insights, and candidates to watch – right up until polling day. If you know somebody who would find this briefing useful, please do forward it on so they can subscribe and get it direct to their inbox each Friday.

This Week's Pledges 📜

As the election campaign hit its halfway point, this week saw the launch of party manifestos. Keir Starmer stated that wealth creation is Labour’s “number one priority” and vowed to “rebuild Britain” by boosting economic growth; Rishi Sunak promised a series of tax cuts; and Ed Davey put forward a £9bn ‘rescue package’ for the NHS and social care, while the SNP and Reform UK are due to publish their manifestos next week. A roundup of the key pledges can be found below.

The Labour Party:

  • Build 1.5 million new homes over the next parliament.

  • Set up Great British Energy, a new publicly-owned company to ‘cut bills for good’ ·

  • Cut NHS waiting times with 40,000 more appointments each week.

  • Add 20% VAT to private school fees to pay for 6,500 extra teachers in England’s state schools.

  • Launch a new Border Security Command to prosecute small boat gangs.

It also pledged to: nationalise railways; cap Corporation Tax at 25%; establish a £7.3bn National Wealth Fund; give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote; replace the House of Lords with an alternative second chamber that is more representative of the regions and nations; set out the path to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence; reset the relationship with the EU and develop ties with European nations, while not seeking to rejoin the EU; and recognise the state of Palestine as a contribution to a renewed peace process. The full manifesto can be viewed here.

The Conservative Party:

  • Deliver 1.6 million homes over the next parliament

  • Reduce National Insurance by 2p by April 2027 and abolish the main rate of self-employed NI

  • Launch the Triple Lock Plus to increase the personal tax-free allowance for pensioners  

  • Introduce a system of National Service for every 18-year-old

  • Bring in a legal cap on migration and remove illegal migrants to Rwanda

Further commitments include: increasing NHS spending above inflation every year, recruit 120,000 more nurses and doctors; invest £36bn in local roads, rail and buses; guarantee no new green levies or charges while accelerating the rollout of renewables; introduce a 25-year prison term for domestic murders; recruit 8,000 police officers; and spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2030.

The Lib Dems:

  • Introduce free personal care based on need, not ability to pay

  • Provide 8,000 more GPs and guarantee cancer treatment within 62 days from urgent referral  

  • Fix the UK’s relationship with Europe and rejoin the Single Market

  • Scrap the Rwanda scheme and replace the current salary threshold for migrant workers

  • Replace first-past-the-post with proportional representation

The manifesto also highlights plans to: build 380,000 new homes a year; introduce an emergency Home Energy Upgrade programme; abolish business rates for small businesses, replacing them with a Commercial Landowner Levy; create a new statutory guarantee that all burglaries will be attended by the police and properly investigated; and reverse the Conservative Government’s cut to the Army, with a long-term ambition of increasing regular troop numbers back to over 100,000.

PPC Insights - Have Labour become an option for military veterans?✒️

Military experience was traditionally a precursor for election to the House of Commons: Winston Churchill, Jim Callaghan and Dennis Healy were all Armed Forces veterans. However, with the move towards a small, professional military, the presence of veterans has steadily declined. Since 2010, the proportion of MPs with military experience has generally sat between 5-8%, and in the 2019 election 7% of candidates elected were veterans.

However, these numbers overwhelmingly skewed Conservative, with Dan Jarvis and Clive Lewis the only Labour MPs with a known history of military service. This has contributed to a perception that the Conservative Party is more aligned with veterans and the Armed Forces. Veteran Conservatives include big names such as Ben Wallace, Johnny Mercer and Tom Tugendhat, who all subsequently proceeded to hold senior positions within the Government that were relevant to their military careers. 2019 was also notable for the election of female veterans, such as Sarah Atherton and Flick Drummond.

As referenced above, many with military experience go on to hold Ministerial and Cabinet positions, so could we see the same with the next Government? When Parliament dissolved, Labour’s Defence team in the Commons did not have a single person who had held a role in the military, but with many of the potential new intake doing so, we could see a new MP immediately become a Minister, with this made all the more likely by Shadow Veterans Minister Steve McCabe standing down. Fred Thomas, up against Johnny Mercer in Plymouth, and Alistair Carns, running to replace McCabe, are potential options.

One thing is clear though, and that is Labour under Keir Starmer is seen increasingly as an option for those who have served in the Armed Forces, with up to 3% of Labour’s new intake (on current polling) to have military experience.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this compares favourably to the days under Jeremy Corbyn, when just 1-1.5% of Labour’s Parliamentary Party had military representation, with these MPs also having not first entered Parliament while Corbyn was Labour leader. Despite Labour’s efforts, the Conservatives are still likely to have more military veterans in Parliament, and the percentage of Conservative Party that are veterans could even increase in the event they lose around 300 seats. 

Candidate Deep Dive - Focus on Defence🔍

Bayo Alaba (Labour, Southend East and Rochford) – Spent 11 years with the Parachute Regiment reserves, where he served as a reconnaissance soldier and recruit instructor. He recently partook in D-Day commemorations by parachuting into Normandy.

Richard Streatfield (Liberal Democrat, Sevenoaks and Swanley) – Saw a long career in the Army during which he served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan and received an MBE for his service.

Calvin Bailey (Labour, Leyton and Wanstead) – Served as a pilot in the RAF and received an MBE for supporting humanitarian efforts in Haiti and the Philippines. He eventually rose to become a Commanding Officer in 2020. He is also a close friend of Stephen Lawrence’s brother, and was deeply affected both personally and politically by his murder.

Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst (Conservative, Solihull West and Shirley) – Joined the British Army as a Medical Officer where he served for eight years. He then worked as a surgeon in the NHS before pursuing work as a barrister in healthcare law.

Alistair Carns (Labour, Selly Oak) – Served 24 years in the military, including in the Royal Marines, and was awarded the Military Cross for his actions while serving in Afghanistan. He was also awarded an OBE in 2022.

Louise Jones (Labour, North East Derbyshire) – Pivoted from the Civil Service to the Army, where she became an Intelligence Officer and served in Germany and Afghanistan. She is fluent in Mandarin, having studied it at university.

David Reed (Conservative, Exmouth & Exeter East) – Begun his career in the Royal Marines and the Special Forces Support Group, during which he served in multiple conflict zones around the world over a seven-year career. He was also a parachutist on the Royal Navy Parachute Display Team, and won a place on the Team GB Wingsuit Skydiving Squad.

Fred Thomas (Labour, Plymouth Moor View) – Was a Captain in the Royal Marines from 2016-2023, and is also a former Royal Marines light heavyweight boxing champion. He is reported to be an expert in ‘Arctic warfare’, and it has been claimed (without confirmation) that he served with the Special Forces.

Gary Jackson (Liberal Democrat, North Dorset) – Enjoyed a career in the Army which saw him rise to the rank of Colonel in the Royal Engineers. He then pursued a career as a civil engineer.

On the Campaign Trail 👟

The Sky leaders’ event in Grimsby saw Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer face questions from Political Editor Beth Rigby and the studio audience. The Prime Minister was quick to apologise once again for leaving last week’s D-Day commemorations early, with one self-described ‘lifelong true blue’ in the audience expressing her fury over his actions. Sunak was questioned on his five pledges, particularly immigration, and was sure to pin the blame on junior doctors (again) for rising NHS waiting lists… which didn’t seem to go down too well. Meanwhile, Starmer was grilled on his decision to abandon plans to nationalise energy firms, his refusal to scrap the two-child benefit cap, and his support for Jeremy Corbyn during the election in 2019 – to which he said “I was certain that we would lose it.” His criticism of Corbyn went further this week too, when he accused the Conservatives of producing a “Jeremy Corbyn style manifesto” in reference to his continued insistence that “the money’s not there” to fund the Tories’ pledges.

Rishi Sunak faced a grilling in the first of Nick Robinson’s BBC Panorama interviews. Taking place before the Conservative manifesto launched, the Prime Minister pledged to “keep cutting people’s taxes” (confirmed in the manifesto with a further 2p cut to national insurance promised by April 2027). He insisted that the Conservative’s plans do not mean significant spending cuts for many government departments; emphasised his focus on improving productivity in the public sector; and argued that as PM he had brought in “the biggest, strictest reforms to bring down immigration that we’ve seen”. The most notable moment of the interview, however, was when Sunak admitted that having your own home has “got harder” under the Conservatives. Also this week, Robinson’s interviews with SNP leader John Swinney and Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth aired, with both piling on the criticism of both Labour and the Conservatives. Watch out for Keir Starmer’s interview coming at 7:30pm tonight!

Seven party leaders and senior figures reappeared for ITV’s second General Election debate yesterday, with representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, Reform UK and Plaid Cymru discussing topics including immigration, tax, child benefits, healthcare and the cost-of-living. Each party representative was also given the chance to ask another a question, with Angela Rayner asking Penny Mordaunt if she would allow Nigel Farage into the Tory Party; Stephen Flynn asking Rayner if she would end arms sales to Israel; and Daisy Cooper questioning Mordaunt on the NHS. Nigel Farage was also keen to highlight YouGov’s latest survey, showing that Reform UK overtook the Conservative party in a major poll for the first time.

The leaders of Scotland’s five biggest parties participated in a BBC Scotland leaders’ debate on Tuesday (this time the Greens were actually invited), clashing over NHS waiting times, the cost-of-living crisis, housing, energy and independence, a topic which interestingly seemed to be pushed forward by the Scottish Greens’ co-leader Lorna Slater more than SNP leader John Swinney. During the debate, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar promised “unequivocally” there would be no austerity under a UK Labour Government; Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said his party would reverse the two-child cap on benefits “immediately”; and the SNP and Conservatives expressed their opposition to Labour’s plans for a windfall tax on the energy industry. With the SNP facing criticism for the lack of clarity on their stance on oil and gas, Deputy leader Kate Forbes set out the party’s ‘in-between’ approach on Question Time in Edinburgh yesterday, saying the SNP will consider new licenses to drill in the North Sea on a “case-by-case” basis.

Other Campaign News 📰

The Green Party launched its manifesto on Wednesday, with pledges including: increasing the NHS budget in England by £8bn in the first year of the parliamentary term, with this rising by £28bn more by 2030; investing an additional £20bn in social care and making personal care free; introducing a new tax on the wealthy, levied at 1% a year on the assets of people with more than £10m and 2% on those with more than £1bn; removing the Upper Earnings Limit which restricts the amount of National Insurance paid by high earners; scrapping university tuition fees and abolishing Ofsted; reaching net zero by 2040 at the latest; dismantling Trident but remaining in NATO; implementing a frequent flyer levy and banning short-haul flights; nationalising the railways, water and the big five energy companies; and imposing rent controls and banning no-fault evictions.

Plaid Cymru also unveiled its election manifesto, with leader Rhun ap Iorwerth calling for “fair funding” for Wales. Pledges include: consulting on the path to Welsh independence (rather than a referendum as set out in the 2021 Senedd manifesto); recruiting an extra 500 GPs; increasing the child benefit by £20; raising windfall taxes on oil, gas and energy companies; devolving policing to Wales; re-joining the single market and allowing freedom of movement; reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and calling for Wales to have greater control over its energy resources; opposing the renewal of Trident; backing an immediate ceasefire in Gaza; and pressing for reforms to devolution and the Barnett Formula to enable fairer funding, arguing that Wales is “owed £4bn” from HS2.

Are the Conservatives already conceding defeat? With the election campaign passing the halfway mark, Conservative messaging and tactics appears to be shifting – moving away from continuing to argue blindly that they can win on 4 July, and more towards seeking to prevent a Labour wipeout and ensuring a strong opposition is in place to hold Government to account. Three weeks in, and the polls have not narrowed, which has perhaps led to a change in approach. In an interview on Wednesday, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps warned of the possibility of a Labour “supermajority”, stressing the need for “a proper system of accountability” for the next Government and highlighting there are many good Conservative MPs who can hold the Government of the day to account. Then, in the ITV debate last night, Penny Mordaunt encouraged people not to vote Reform, arguing this would enable more Labour gains by splitting the Conservative vote.

And just in case you missed it, enjoy this clip of Rishi Sunak lamenting over not having Sky TV as a child. In an interview with ITV News, he insisted he went without “lots of things” as a child, despite attending the notoriously expensive private school, Winchester College. Who said politicians are out of touch?

This Week's Election Stats 📈

117 – the number of pages in the Lib Dem Manifesto released on Monday.

£17bn – the value in tax cuts by 2030 promised by the Conservatives in their manifesto.

50 – the number of local Labour members in Chingford and Woodford Green that resigned from the Party, following the deselection of Faiza Shaheen as Labour candidate.

294 – the number of times the words ‘green’ ‘greener’ or ‘greens’ was mentioned in the Green Party manifesto.

80 – the retirement age that will be imposed on House of Lords members if Labour wins the General Election.

152 – the number of candidates standing for the Workers Party of Britian in the Election, as the deadline for candidates closed last Friday.

4 – days left to register to vote.

20 – days until the Election.

Elections around the World 🌍

The right surged to victory in the European Parliament elections, with the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists bloc winning 14 more seats and the slightly more centrist European People’s Party gaining seven. At a national level: the far-right National Rally stormed ahead with over 30% of the vote in France; Germany’s ruling party came third to the far-right AfD and opposition CDU; Italy’s hard-right Brothers of Italy triumphed; Poland’s centrist ruling party defeated the right-wing Law and Justice Party by less than 1%; and Spain’s centre-right opposition defeated the governing socialist party. The results were overshadowed when French President Emmanual Macron stunned the continent by dissolving parliament and calling an early general election. The first round of voting will take place on 30 June.

Belgium and Bulgaria also held national-level elections. Belgium’s ruling party held onto its majority by just one seat, leading to Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announcing his resignation; while in Bulgaria no party gained a majority, although the centre-right GERB–SDS remained the largest party.

This Week’s Polls 📊

The Election when UK Politics changed? If YouGov’s latest voting intention poll is accurate, the Conservatives will end a General Election with less votes than two other parties for the first time in its existence. The poll has Labour out ahead on 37%, Reform UK in second with 19% and the Conservatives on 18%, the first poll with Reform in second. With under three weeks to go and the poll carried out after the launch of their manifesto, Sunak and his Party do not have much time to turn this around.

Labour’s desire to lower the voting age to 16 appears to face significant opposition, as 59% of people oppose the policy according to a poll from YouGov. Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ national service policy is opposed by 52% and supported by 39%. The Liberal Democrats seem to have the most supported policies, with their proposals for giving Blue Flag status to some rivers to protect them from sewage discharges, cutting VAT on children’s toothbrushes and toothpaste, and providing Free School Meals for all primary school children in England being the most supported announcements on the campaign trail so far. Labour’s most supported policy appears to be creating a publicly owned renewable energy provider, while the Conservatives' is aligning pensioners’ tax-free income with the annual state pension increase.

The SNP and Labour are neck and neck in Scotland, as both parties have 36% of the vote, according to an Ipsos poll, with it also showing that 55% of voters have made up their minds, while 42% state they could change their minds before polling day. The NHS was revealed to be the issue most important to voters, as 33% of people listed it as ‘very important’, while 18% listed the economy and 17% listed Scottish independence/devolution. When it came to trusting the parties with the NHS, 30% of voters trust Labour, while 28% trust the SNP most.

48% of people believe the Conservatives are having a ‘bad’ campaign since the General Election was announced, with 17% believing it to be a ‘good’ campaign, according to an Ipsos poll. In comparison, 36% of people believe Labour is having a good campaign, compared to the 25% who stated it was ‘bad’. Meanwhile, the other parties seem to have similar statistics, as 25%, 22%, and 19% believe Reform UK, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party are having a ‘good’ campaign, respectively.

Campaign Gaffes 😂

Another extraordinary gaffe from Team Sunak this week, as his Parliamentary Private Secretary Craig Williams was revealed to have bet on when the General Election would be called, just three days before it was. The £100 bet would have allegedly paid out £500, around 0.55% of an MPs annual salary. Williams said it was a “huge error of judgement” and confirmed the Gambling Commission were looking at it…

In funnier stories this week, Labour’s candidate for Brent East Dawn Butler rapped her own version of So Solid Crew’s ‘21 Seconds to Go’, titled ‘21 Days to Go’, so if you had an MP rapping on your General Election Bingo, cross it off…

…Surrey Heath Conservative candidate Ed McGuinness announced he was moving to the constituency with a lovely set of moving in pictures – before the house he posed in front of was revealed to be an AirBnB, and is available after 4 July…

…Minister for Common Sense Esther McVey being almost laughed out of the hustings hall when she declared “the Conservative Party always gets the country back on its feet”…

…David Cameron quoted one of Britain’s best live TV moments to evade the question of his party’s potential eradication at the polls…

… an attack ad launched by the Conservatives on Facebook suggested they could finish THIRD in the General Election, behind the Lib Dems, on just 57 seats. It’s an interesting tactic to tell the voters just how much they don’t want to support you…

… Conservative candidate and owner of one of the more famous mops in Westminster shared a photo of French President Macron with his wife Brigitte, with Fabricant pointing out the striking resemblance between he and Brigitte…

Amid the deluge of TV debates, manifestos and dizzying poll results, the gaffes and slip-ups continued to keep us entertained – long may it continue!


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