General Election 2015: Liberal Democrat manifesto - here's everything you need to know

 
Emma Haslett
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"Our manifesto is this big" - Clegg unveiled his election strategy today (Source: Getty)

The waiting is over: today Nick Clegg set out the Liberal Democrat manifesto, leading with five "top priorities" which focus on increasing prosperity, balancing the budget, protecting the environment, improving education and "fair taxes". So not unlike his rivals, then...

The manifesto hinted at a party which knows it could easily end up with a portion of power for a second term: it was "fully costed", Clegg pointed out, and will "add a heart to a Conservative government and add a brain to a Labour one".

So what does Clegg want to do? Here's the front cover, complete with those five "priorities" - and a pixelated picture of some hand prints.

For the first time, the Lib Dems were able to make clear they want to build on their track record: although George Osborne may hold the keys to the Treasury, a Lib Dem - Danny Alexander - was his right-hand man. And Vince Cable, who famously predicted the recession, has been in charge of the Department for Business - with varying degrees of success - throughout this parliament.

"The deficit is now half what it was when we took office in 2010," pointed out the manifesto. After five years of cuts, Clegg said he wants "a responsible approach", which includes eradicating the structural budget deficit and ensuring debt is falling as a percentage of GDP by 2017/18.

To start with, its pledges were rather vague:

  • Protect the least well off in society and users of public services from the impact of measures taken to tackle the deficit
  • Invest, over the parliament, extra money for the NHS, essential to protect our health service
  • Extend the current UK budget protection for education to include early years and 16-19 provision. This will result in a stable funding platform for the Scottish Parliament to invest in children and young people
  • Limit reductions in departmental spending to less than half the rate agreed for 2015/16.
  • Limit welfare reductions so we do not destroy the essential safety net that protects us all in times of crisis
  • Continue to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development aid, helping the poorest in the world

Clegg's pet projects

But the document was surprisingly specific when it came to which sectors the Lib Dems will support:

  • Innovation - Clegg wants to double spending on research and development, "making the UK a world leader in advanced manufacturing, clean technology and digital industries"
  • Alternative finance - He wants to support alternative finance providers and improve access to finance for small firms
  • The green economy - The Lib Dems will expand the Green Investment Bank and "set a legally binding decarbonisation target" to "green (yes, it's a verb now) our electricity"
  • Infrastructure - Under Clegg, the much-maligned HS2 will get the green light

The EU also got a thumbs-up, as did "high-skill immigration", suggesting Clegg isn't as afraid of Ukip as some might think.

Businesses react

How did businesses take it? British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) leader Dr Adam Marshall saw it as a mixed bag:

It is good to see that the Liberal Democrats' policy proposals include a commitment to investing in infrastructure, improving access to finance by expanding the Business Bank, and greater support for firms to grow apprenticeship numbers. Companies also badly want to see the promised 'broad and well considered business rates review' materialise.
Continued Liberal Democrat opposition to expansion of airport capacity is short-sighted when the need is so critical. Businesses will also be concerned by a number of Lib Dem tax proposals. Restricting entrepreneurs' relief, hiking dividend taxes and slashing annual allowances for Capital Gains Tax, could have a chilling effect on growth. The last thing the UK needs is tax changes that discourage entrepreneurial risk-taking by startup and growth companies.

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