From getting Brexit done to fixing potholes, this Conservative manifesto traverses the biggest political issue facing the country in a generation, to the gripes facing local communities day-to-day. Launched in the ultra-marginal Conservative seat of Telford, the 59-page document is an attempted pitch to Leave-supporting Labour voters, and an affirmation to the Shire Tory heartlands.
Instead of competing with Labour or the Liberal Democrats on reimagining the British state; this streamlined manifesto seeks to cement and ultimately bolster the Conservatives’ double-digit lead in the polls by setting out the Party’s unambiguous position on Brexit alongside a comparatively modest series of electoral retail offers on the NHS, the environment and public spending. This includes pledges to:
In contrast to the Labour Party’s proposed increase in day-to-day public spending of £83 billion by 2023, whilst significantly more fiscally generous than the previous three Conservative manifestos, Johnson’s plans equate to a ‘reserved’ £3 billion increase. In addition to a modest uplift in public spending, Johnson has sought to reassure the support of business and industry by pledging not to increase income tax, VAT or National Insurance during the next Parliament.
The manifesto reiterates a series of heavily trailed pledges that have been popular with voters, including the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers, the introduction of a points-based ‘Australian style’ immigration system once the UK has left the EU, and the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband to all homes across the UK by 2025.
Its draftswomen, Rachel Wolf and Munira Mirza, have intentionally steered the Conservatives clear of policy areas where they are perceived as unable to compete with Labour or the Liberal Democrats spending commitments, such as on tuition fees, the NHS and the environment.
It is a manifesto that seeks to play it safe and heed the advice of the Prime Minister’s brother and former Universities Minister, Jo Johnson – “If anyone is talking about it more than 48 hours after it’s been released, you’re in serious trouble.”
It is also a manifesto that seeks to manage expectations, potentially allowing the Prime Minister – with one eye on 2025 – to under promise and to overdeliver, and to avoid becoming hostage to his own fortune. A manifesto with relatively little detail on how pledges will be delivered, it provides opportunities to those seeking to engage with the Party on the development of policy.
However, ‘playing it safe’ is not without its own risk, particularly when the possibility of a Conservative majority is contingent on their ability to win over traditionally Labour-voting seats and stave off challengers. The Conservatives hope that an unequivocal position on Brexit and a few headline-grabbing retail offers, contrasted with Labour’s ambitious plans for public spending, will be enough to see it over the line to a majority government. Time will tell whether the adage ‘fortune favours the bold’ or ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ is most apt come 13th December.