The Conservative manifesto was launched this weekend, though many would be forgiven for missing it. It was less of a launch and more of a nudge into the public eye. Indeed, if you did miss it, that will be fine by the Conservatives, so scarred from their disastrous 2017 manifesto experience, they’re happy for this one to go below the radar.
The 2017 Tory manifesto was a turning point in that election campaign, with a social care policy labelled the ‘dementia tax’ by its critics. Theresa May’s smooth sail to what was meant to be a hefty Conservative majority unravelled as much by poor policy choice as her ridged campaigning style. Boris Johnson’s team were very aware that they could not afford to be undone by another ill-thought manifesto pledge. They seemed less interested in innovative policies than in simply coming out of this unscathed. An unconventional approach perhaps, but in the context, understandable.
As a result, to say this was a risk averse document would be an understatement. In contrast to the Labour manifesto which sought to solve every problem in British society (and they identify a lot of them) in a whopping 106 pages, the Conservative manifesto is half the length and much more focused on what the Party think the public see as the key issues.
So of course the manifesto has the old standbys: getting Brexit done, home ownership, and cash for the NHS. There is also a proposal to increase public spending in real terms, with an extra £3bn of current spend and £8bn of capital spend per year. Yet in the face of Labour’s £83bn promised annual additional spend, it appears that £11bn is the new fiscal conservativism and despite their hefty price tag, the Conservatives will retain the appearance of the fiscally responsible party in contrast. What we are seeing is an election that is changing the spending threshold for terms that have dominated British politics for generations.
Ultimately, the manifesto was unremarkable but safe, and that was the gameplan. No ammunition for their opponents and no ground-breaking, but possibly alienating, policies. Not to mention that there is little to hold them to should they get back into Government. The Conservative manifesto has been out for 72 hours without any major upset, so maybe the team can breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve cleared this particular hurdle.