Foodservice Footprint 10-Downing-St-scaled What’s in the election manifestos? Out of Home News Analysis

What’s in the election manifestos?

As the main parties set out their core offer to voters, clear dividing lines are emerging on issues such as net-zero and public health. By Nick Hughes.

Following three weeks spent largely dealing in pithy soundbites and caustic criticism, the main political parties have finally put some flesh on the bone of their pitch to voters in the forthcoming UK general election.

Published last week, the manifestos vary widely in their scope, substance and framing of the key issues the UK faces, including those relating to food, health and the environment; they also offer us the clearest sense yet of what each party would propose to do in government – or push for in opposition. (At the time of writing the Scottish National Party had yet to publish its manifesto and since much food and environmental policy is devolved we focus here on the main English parties).

So what can we deduce from the combined 400-plus pages of text?

‘Elevator’ pitch

The two main parties in particular focus their ‘elevator’ pitch firmly on the economy, albeit the role of the green economy in supporting future prosperity quickly emerges as a clear dividing line. The Conservative Party message is to “stick to the plan” to rebuild the economy and ensure the nation’s security. There is a not-so-subtle thread of anti-environmentalism running through the manifesto with the transition to net-zero framed mostly around affordability and pragmatism and an early reference to “hidden green levies” in Rishi Sunak’s foreword setting a negative and at times combative tone.

Labour counter the Conservative call for stability with a pitch for “change” rooted in sustainable economic growth to be delivered in a “new partnership with businesses” and supported by a “dynamic, strategic state”. Labour notably describe the climate and nature crisis as “the greatest long-term global challenge that we face” and put green growth at the heart of a new industrial strategy.

The Liberal Democrats pitch their promise of a “fair deal” for families and communities with a commitment to tackle the “national sewage scandal” featuring prominently. The “climate emergency” would be a key focus of a new industrial strategy that would prioritise investment in renewable power and zero-carbon transport. 

The Lib Dems also promise to revive the idea for a comprehensive, national food strategy, a pledge that only the Green Party join them in making. Fairness is also front and centre of the Green Party manifesto, which has the transition to a green economy at its core – including borrowing to fund investment – and a commitment to public ownership of public services.

The Conservatives’ net-zero scepticism is as nothing compared to that of Reform UK. In their “contract with you” (currently described as a “working draft”), the party promise to scrap the UK’s net-zero target altogether, which they claim is costing billions of pounds each year (in fact, HM Treasury analysis from 2021 found the costs of global inaction on climate significantly outweigh the costs of action) and suggest “we are better to adapt to warming, rather than pretend we can stop it”.

Net-zero

During his time as prime minister Boris Johnson had (some might say superficially) embraced net-zero as a strategic priority and opportunity for the UK. The Conservatives under Rishi Sunak have since retreated on certain green policies and the manifesto builds on this scepticism by setting out plans to “cut the cost of net-zero for consumers by taking a more pragmatic approach, guaranteeing no new green levies or charges while accelerating the rollout of renewables”. The Conservatives will support solar “in the right place”, but not on high quality agricultural land that can be used for food production. They are more enthusiastic about wind (albeit, again, in the right places) with a pledge to “treble our offshore wind capacity”.

For Labour, net-zero is largely seen through the lens of energy including a headline pledge to establish a publicly-owned company, Great British Energy, which will co-invest in clean energy in partnership with industry in order to make Britain “a clean energy superpower”. The target is to create a zero-carbon electricity system by 2030 with a focus on wind and solar alongside investment in carbon capture and storage and green hydrogen. Labour will also “invest in the industries of the future” through their ‘Green prosperity plan’, including a £7.3bn national wealth fund focused on supporting green industries.

The Lib Dems say they are committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045 at the latest. One eye-catching commitment is to appoint a chief secretary for sustainability in the Treasury to ensure that the economy is sustainable, resource-efficient and zero-carbon.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have reform of the Climate Change Committee in their sights with a promise to give it an explicit mandate to consider cost to households and UK energy security in its future climate advice.

Grid connectivity is an ongoing bugbear for businesses, especially those wanting to invest in renewable self-generation. Labour say that with grid connection dates not being offered until the late 2030s, “important business and infrastructure investment is being stalled or lost overseas”. They say they will “work with industry to upgrade our national transmission infrastructure and rewire Britain”. They will also support the transition to electric vehicles by accelerating the roll out of charge points, while the Conservatives will support people to choose electric cars “by ensuring our charging infrastructure is truly nationwide”.

The Lib Dems say they plan to build the grid infrastructure required to accelerate the deployment of renewable power and invest in energy storage and battery capability.

The ever-contrarian Reform Party, meanwhile, would tax rather than subsidise renewables as part of a “common sense energy strategy”.

Circular economy

Despite their focus on green growth, Labour has precious little to say about the circular economy. The party say they are “committed to reducing waste by moving to a circular economy” but don’t provide any details on how this might be achieved in practice, while specific issues like packaging reform and targets don’t get a look-in.

The Lib Dems are a little more forthcoming with their promise to “cut resource use, waste and pollution by accelerating the transition to a more circular economy that maximises the recovery, reuse, recycling and remanufacturing of products”. The Lib Dems are also aiming for the complete elimination of non-recyclable single-use plastics within three years and replacing them with “affordable alternatives”. The Greens, meanwhile, want to introduce a “comprehensive ‘right to repair’”.

Neither the Conservatives nor Reform have anything to say about the circular economy at all.

Food and farming

New commitments regarding food and farming are similarly thin on the ground, particularly among the two main parties. The Conservatives hint at a move back towards the area-based subsidy model of the EU with a pledge to increase the UK-wide farming budget by £1bn over the course of the next Parliament which can be spent on boosting food production. This would be in addition to the funding already available for environmental land management schemes.

For their part, Reform want to replace current environmental subsidies entirely with direct payments to farmers.

The Lib Dems are also offering farmers an extra £1bn in funding a year but this would be an extension of current green schemes and would go towards supporting “profitable, sustainable and nature-friendly farming”.

The Greens blow the other parties’ funding pledges out of the water with their ambition for financial support for farmers to be almost tripled to support their transition to nature-friendly farming.

Labour, meanwhile, offer only a vague commitment to “make environment land management schemes work for farmers and nature”. They do, however, pledge to introduce a land use framework that has long been promised, but not yet delivered by the Conservatives who now say their own land use framework will be informed by “a legally binding target to enhance our food security” – something the National Farmers Union has long been demanding, although how such a target would be set and enforced is not made clear.

The Conservatives also pledge to introduce long-awaited deforestation regulations early in the next Parliament, which will ban the purchasing of palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather and soy sourced from land used illegally.

The Lib Dems promise to produce a land use framework of their own, while the Greens would introduce a new Rights of Nature Act, giving rights to nature itself, and ban “bee-killing pesticides”.

Both Labour and the Conservatives restate previous commitments to ensure at least 50% of public sector food expenditure goes on food produced locally or to high environmental standards, a policy the Conservatives consulted on in 2022 but never responded to. Reform, meanwhile, say taxpayer funded organisations should source 75% of their food from the UK.

On trade, the Lib Dems promise to renegotiate the government’s widely criticised agreements with Australia and New Zealand “in line with our objectives for health, environmental and animal welfare standards”, while Labour hints at greater alignment with the EU on food standards in a statement that “we will reduce food prices by removing barriers to businesses trading”

In a largely beige collection of food-related pledges, the Lib Dems bring some much-needed colour with a promise to introduce a research and innovation fund to support new and emerging technologies “including the development of alternative proteins in which the UK can become a world leader”.

Public health

Labour claim their ‘Child health action plan’, published separately to the main manifesto, “will create the healthiest generation of children ever”. This bold claim is underpinned by several new policies that create clear water between Labour and the Conservatives on public health – specifically a ban on the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to under-16s and new powers for councils to block the development of fast food shops outside of schools. Labour also restate a commitment to “banning advertising junk food to children”, something the Conservatives had committed to legislating for in the previous Parliament and now propose doing in 2025.

Ultra-processed food is also under scrutiny by the Conservatives, albeit only as part of an evidence gathering exercise on how it impacts people’s ability to make healthier choices.

Elsewhere, the Lib Dems pledge to protect children from exposure to junk food by supporting local authorities to restrict outdoor advertising and plan to extend the soft drinks levy to juice-based and milk-based drinks that are high in added sugar.

The Greens are the only party proposing universal free school meals for all primary school children, although the Lib Dems would do so “when the public finances allow”; the Greens also want schools to involve children in growing, preparing and cooking food, as part of the core curriculum – the kind of whole-school approach to food that was previously championed by the Conservative government but didn’t make it into the manifesto.

Promises made in manifestos are often abandoned once a political party ascends to power, but they at least help crystallise the choice facing the public on July 4th.Dividing lines have now been drawn: the battle to win hearts and min