We recently delved into the transport policies of what are, traditionally speaking, the three main political parties: the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Now it’s time for some of the other parties.
Before we embark, however, it’s worth asking the question – why? If a party isn’t one of the main parties, why should we pay attention to their transport policies? The answers say something about the nature of modern politics and about the policies themselves.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE OTHER PARTIES
First of all, there’s the fact that the grouping of main parties has changed in recent years. The SNP, who published their manifesto this week, were made the third biggest party in the UK Parliament after 2015’s General Election. At the start of this campaign, they had 54 seats, compared to the Conservatives’ 330, Labour’s 229, and well ahead of the Lib Dems’ 9. These particular numbers will no doubt change after next week’s election, but it’s unlikely that the overall rankings will too.
Then there’s the fact of devolution. The creation of parliaments in Scotland and Wales in the late 1990s, along with their subsequent strengthening, now means that parties such as the SNP and Plaid Cymru can now influence their respective nations’ transport policies outside of Westminster too. The two reports here and here do a good job of summarising what these devolved powers are. They stretch from speed limits to rail fares.
And then there’s devolution of another sort. A lot of current transport policy – including the Clean Air Zones mentioned in the Government’s recent draft Air Quality Plan – is the responsibility of local authorities. This means that smaller parties, such as UKIP and the Greens, can still have their say upon it, even if they end up with no (or very few) MPs next week. Therefore, it bears to know what they’re thinking.
Anyway, with all that said, what are the major transport policies in the other manifestos?
Unsurprisingly, air quality is a theme across all the manifestos – although some are more detailed than others. Plaid Cymru’s manifesto simply promises a ‘Climate Change Act’ that would set ‘ambitious but achievable greenhouse gas and pollution reduction targets for 2030 and 2050’. It doesn’t mention nitrogen dioxide or restrictions on diesel at all, although, presumably, they’d have to be considered were any such Act to materialise.
At first, beyond a promise to push the UK Government to meet its climate change obligations, the SNP manifesto looks almost as sparse as Plaid’s. Yet it does refer to the draft Climate Change Plan that they published earlier this year, and that definitely has more in it. Included in that second document is a forecast that ‘transport emissions will have reduced by around a third by 2032, through the wide-scale uptake of low carbon vehicles, enhanced freight logistics and measures such as low emission zones’.
In a rare moment of agreement, both the Greens and UKIP would introduce scrappage schemes to help diesel drivers transition to cleaner vehicles – but that’s as far as the consensus goes.
The Green Party manifesto intends to ‘remove diesel cars from our roads,’ in part through expanding ‘a mandatory Clean Air Zone network,’ and by upping the Vehicle Excise Duty imposed on diesel vehicles. Whereas the UKIP manifesto would ‘prevent diesel drivers from being penalised through higher taxes, parking fees, or emissions’ zone charging.’ Whoever said that all the parties were the same?
The other parties aren’t just concerned about diesel emissions, but about the cost of diesel too, and the cost of petrol. Both the SNP and Plaid back a ‘fuel duty escalator,’ by which Fuel Duty would be frozen whenever there’s a sharp rise in pump prices. This is something that the two parties have united over before, notably in an unsuccessful joint amendment to the Finance Bill of 2008. Although surely the political power of this measure has been diminished by the seven-year freeze to Fuel Duty that we’ve experienced in the meantime.
It’s no surprise that the SNP manifesto calls for HS2 to be extended into Scotland – their last manifesto did likewise. But, nevertheless, it does create some interesting dividing lines in Westminster. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats also want high-speed rail to be brought to Scotland, whereas the Conservatives aren’t yet committing to anything further north than Leeds. In other words, this could become one of the major infrastructure debates of the forthcoming Parliament.
As for the remaining parties, their collective position is rather hostile to HS2. Both UKIP and the Greens would – in another rare moment of agreement – scrap the scheme outright, and use the money to improve other rail links. Plaid’s manifesto ruefully observes that HS2 is ‘England-only,’ and that Wales should have a £7.5 billion infrastructure fund to redress the balance.
Heathrow isn’t mentioned in the SNP’s manifesto, but they do have a policy on it. It was revealed in December that the Conservative Government’s preferred option of a third runway at Heathrow was supported by the SNP, on the grounds that this expansion would also benefit Scotland. This support could come to matter enormously in the months ahead, as any legislation for a third runway winds its way through Parliament.
This also sets the SNP apart from many of the other parties. UKIP doesn’t support a third runway at Heathrow, instead wanting expansion to happen at smaller, regional airports. The Greens would ‘cancel all airport expansion’ – period.
And that covers the major transport policies of the various parties. Now there’s just the little matter of the election itself. We’ll have more coverage on this blog once the results are revealed on 9th June.