Last summer’s Conservative leadership election quickly became a coronation. As such, the Conservative manifesto published today, titled Forward, Together, is the first time that Theresa May and her team have presented their comprehensive policy programme to the electorate.
As expected, the manifesto seeks to portray May and the Conservatives as the serious choice for government and as the only party with the ability to guide the country through the upcoming Brexit negotiations and into a new position as ‘global Britain’.
The manifesto indicates that the Conservatives see the current political context as an opportune moment to take tough policy decisions. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated that in the area of social care, where after years of political procrastination individuals with assets over £100,00 will have to pay for their care.
Seeking to drive clear water between themselves and the opposition parties, the manifesto emphasises May’s desire to govern for ‘the mainstream of the British public.’ The manifesto is positioned as a pragmatic set of proposals to help tackle the challenges and problems faced by ‘ordinary working families’. It’s focus, providing a framework beyond Brexit is to create the ‘Great Meritocracy’ in Britain
Whilst the obvious target of this approach is Corbyn’s Labour, the manifesto also has another target in sight – namely the ‘libertarian right’. Today’s publication represents May’s attempt to reset thinking within the Conservative party and take on those within her own party with an aversion to the role of ‘government’ or ‘the state’ to achieve outcomes. Among some sections of the party and the media, this manifesto will be seen as a repudiation of Thatcherism.
The manifesto is clear that this is a party leadership that believes in ‘the good that government can do’ and that there is an ‘active role’ for the state in determining a modern industrial strategy. In place of ‘untrammelled free markets’ the manifesto states the case for intervention to ensure markets work for consumers. May is clear that for the UK economy to continue to succeed it must be reformed.
May is in an exceptionally strong position as the election campaign progresses. But there should be no illusions that this manifesto marks a substantial divergence with recent Conservative thinking in a number of areas. The PM may yet find that compared to the General Election, the battle with her own backbenchers and grassroots members is far harder.
Key manifesto commitments
Among the main commitments contained in the Conservative manifesto are:
Taxation and public finances
• Reiterating that the Conservatives remain the party of ‘sound money’.
• Re-commit that by 2020 the income tax personal allowance will have risen to £12,500 and the higher rate tax band to £50,000.
• Achieving a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade as per ‘the fiscal rules announced by the chancellor in the autumn statement last year’.
• Considering longer-term reform of the business rate system to address the way it works and make sure it is ‘up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online’.
Reforming consumer markets
• Delivering markets that ‘work for consumers’.
• Strengthening the ‘hand of regulators’ and strengthening the powers of consumer enforcement bodies.
• Giving consumers ‘a voice in the regulation of business’.
• Strengthening the ‘hand of online consumers’.
• Considering how the home-buying process can be reformed and modernised.
• Ensuring that telecoms bills are fairer and easier to understand.
• Reviewing rail ticketing and the introduction of a rail passenger ombudsman.
Health and social care
• For care and support, introducing a ‘single capital floor’ of £100,000, ensuring that ‘no matter how large the cost of care turns out to be, people will always retain at least £100,000 of their savings and assets, including value in the family home’.
• Extend current freedoms to ‘defer payments for residential care to those receiving care at home, so no-one will have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care’.
• Increasing NHS spending by £8bn over the next five years.
• Programme of building and upgrading of primary care facilities.
• Recovering the cost of NHS treatment from persons not resident in the UK.
• Extending the scope of the CQC to cover health-related services commissioned at a local authority level.
• Retaining the 95% A&E target and 18-week elective care standard.
• Making the UK the ‘leading research and technology economy’ in the world for work into mental health.
• Introducing a new Mental Health Bill to help deliver parity of esteem.
• Continuing commitment to Free Schools with ambition to deliver 100 new Free Schools a year.
• Placing a condition upon universities seeking to charge maximum tuition fees that they are ‘involved’ in academy sponsorship or founding a Free School.
• Lifting the ban on the establishment of new selective schools – subject to conditions.
• Committing to making sure ‘that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new [funding] formula’.
• Increasing the overall schools budget by £4bn by 2022.
• Paying for the increased schools budget by replacing free school lunches with a free school breakfast to every child in primary school in England – with low-income families still receiving free school lunches.
• Implementing T-Levels across ‘fifteen routes’ to boost the quality of technical education.
• Introducing a right to request leave for training for all employees.
• Continuing the National Productivity Investment Fund – worth £23bn – for large scale infrastructure development across the UK.
• Implementing Future Britain Funds – UK sovereign wealth funds build on the revenues of shale extraction, dormant assets and public asset sales.
• Completing HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Heathrow expansion.
Work and welfare
• Continuing to increase the National Living Wage to 60% of median earnings by 2020.
• Ensure people working in the ‘gig’ economy are properly protected.
• Requiring listed companies to ensure worker representation of Boards through a number of channels.
• Replacing the pension Triple Lock with a Double Lock in 2020 – based on earnings or inflation.
• Committing to a million new homes by 2020 and half a million more by 2022.
• Delivering the reforms to the housing market set out in the Housing White Paper.
• Council Housing Deals with pro-development local authorities to help them build new stock.
• Building new fixed-term social housing, to be sold privately after fifteen years under a Right to Buy with the proceeds recycled into new housing.
• Reforming CPO to ensure councils pay a fair value for land.
Energy and environment
• Introduction of a ‘standard tariff cap’ protecting consumers for energy price rises.
• Commissioning an independent review into the Cost of Energy, making recommendations as to how the UK can deliver the lowest energy costs as possible.
• Delivering a diverse range of sources but ‘do not believe large-scale onshore wind is right in England’.
• Developing the shale industry in the UK, legislating to change planning for shale applications and establishing a Shale Energy Regulator.