As part of Redwood’s election coverage, Khevyn Limbajee takes a look at the Conservative manifesto and how it has landed 10 days on.
Reading last week’s YouGov Poll, you could almost have heard the sighs of relief coming from Conservative Campaign Headquarters aka CCHQ. A few days later, following the tragedy of a terrorist attack on London Bridge, things look different. The campaign is now a more sombre affairs, tragic in its parallels with the 2017 campaign.
Following the Conservative Party Manifesto a week ago last Sunday, last week’s opinion polls put the Conservatives firmly ahead, with the Tories on 43%, Labour on 32% and the Liberal Democrats on 14%. The Greens and Brexit Party were both on 3%. Translated into seats, it would mean the Conservatives were looking set to win 359 seats, Labour 211 seats, Liberal Democrats 13 and the Greens one. In Scotland, the predictions were for the SNP to win 43 and in Wales, Plaid Cymru four. In Parliamentary terms, that would mean a very healthy majority of 68 for Boris Johnson. Just an opinion poll of course, but particularly pleasing as YouGov MRP called the 2017 election correctly.
However that was last week. The most recent polls are now showing a tightening – one giving a mere 7% difference between the parties – potentially heading into a hung Parliament scenario. Is it a case of a re-run of 2017? The Conservatives are haunted by their 2017 experience when a huge poll lead over Labour went up in smoke following their manifesto launch. Back then, centre stage in the manifesto was a plan for adult social care reform, the takeaway of which was that natural Conservative voters would suddenly be whacked with a huge bill. Theresa May’s manifesto was the decisive moment that sealed her fate as the Conservative Prime Minister who lost her majority in a monumental strategic miscalculation, with her former supporters deserting the Tories in droves.
This was something the Conservatives did not want to happen again. Their 2019 manifesto, with the slogan Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential, is a 59 page document hoping to be booby trap free. The headline promise is to leave the EU in January or “get Brexit done”, as the Prime Minister has been saying at every media appearance. Every Conservative Parliamentary candidate has signed up to the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and, if he gets a Conservative majority, Boris Johnson hopes to get it through Parliament by Christmas.
But the manifesto promises more than just Brexit. Other key pledges include no income tax, VAT or national insurance rises; a promise of 50, 000 ‘more’ nurses; pensions to rise by at least 2.5% per year; and a pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. With a nod to immigration being a key issue that drove the Brexit result, the Tories plan to introduce an Australian style points-based immigration system, hoping to attract the “brightest and the best” in a post-Brexit Britain.
Knowing there probably is not much mileage in the student vote, they plan for the moment to stick with student fees at £9,250. On adult social care, they want to be clear that no-one will have to sell their home to pay for care, but they also say they want to work cross party on this huge challenge. In reality, they want to say as little as they can on an issue which caused them huge trouble in the 2017 General Election.
The Property Sector
The wider property and built environment sector will be looking carefully at the manifesto. There are some policy pointers on housing with a pledge to increase the number of homes built with a target of 300 000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. The manifesto claims that in government the Tories will build at least a million more homes across all tenures over the course of the next Parliament. Headlining all of this is a restatement that home ownership is a fundamental Conservative value, and that the housing market should be rebalanced towards more home ownership. With regard to council, social homes and renting, there is a promise of a Social Housing White Paper and commitment to renew the Affordable Homes Programme. Also, in the manifesto there is a commitment to not build on the Green Belt. There is a pledge over planning, to make the system simpler for public and small builders and to support modern methods of construction. How they plan to do both of those things is not spelt out, so we will need to await further details.
The manifesto also has broad policy proposals to revive towns and cities. Their headline proposal is the new Towns Fund – to go initially to a 100 towns to improve their local economy, devolving to a local level on how new money would be spent. Added to this, the Conservatives plan to revitalise the high streets by cutting taxes for small retail businesses, pubs, cinemas and music venues. Again broad brush ideas and we will need to see further details of the proposals.
Clear Blue Water?
However some things are very clear: the Conservative manifesto is markedly different to both Labour’s and the Liberal Democrats’. The Tories plan to increase day to day spending by £3bn; this is way off Labour’s proposed £83bn and the Lib Dems’ £50bn. The manifestos collectively open up very different ideologies of the role of the state. Of the two parties that would like to form the next government, Labour’s is manifestly big state, high spending, interventionist, with nationalised industry at its heart. The Conservatives is very much of the rhetoric of smaller government, status quo, steady as she goes, wrapped around with its headline “Get Brexit Done” slogan.
With ten days to go, the electorate are having to make their minds up on what vision they want to buy into. The Conservatives want to continue to feel confident. But in an election full of electoral deals and widespread tactical voting, this is an election like no other. Ten days is long time in an election campaign, and time enough for their opinion poll lead to disappear. However, to answer the question “how did the Conservative manifesto land”? They are still ahead, but not as far ahead as they would have hoped.