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Even the Tories don’t believe in their manifesto

Planning for a non-existent future in government. Credit: Getty

June 11, 2024 - 1:30pm

What did we learn from today’s launch of the Conservative manifesto? Nominally, it’s about what Rishi Sunak would do if returned to office on 4 July. But with the Tories at least 20 points behind in the polls, and no sign of the gap closing, it isn’t really about that.

The public knows it. The journalists in the room knew it. But most importantly, the people drawing up the manifesto knew it. As a result, according to figures I’ve spoken to inside the Government, it has been a very cynical process: eye-catching initiatives designed to create dividing lines with Labour.

Sunak is lucky that there is so little between his party and the Opposition on many policy areas. Were Labour planning to restore index-linking of income tax thresholds, Sir Keir Starmer could shred the Prime Minister’s pretensions to be the heir to Nigel Lawson.

Even more dangerously, Rachel Reeves could point out that the “pension tax” he warns of is a tax the Conservatives intend to inflict on all non-pensioners every year, as so-called “fiscal drag” sees millions of workers handed rising income tax bills for the same real income.

Overall, however, the policy line taken in the manifesto is, if anything, a bit weird. It isn’t an honest programme for government — one journalist pointed out that it says nothing about the swingeing spending cuts Jeremy Hunt earmarked to create his “fiscal headroom” — but it isn’t a go-for-broke letter to Santa either.

Take the self-employed. Sunak made a big pitch to those voters, promising to abolish their National Insurance contributions. But according to IPSE, the freelancers’ union, the single biggest issue facing such workers is IR35 — a tax-avoidance measure which has seen huge numbers of contractors reclassified as employees for tax purposes. Suffice to say, those workers won’t benefit from any new measures targeted at the self-employed.

The housing offer is awful, with absolutely no mention of increasing building, and what is there mostly involves reheated versions of the past decade’s failed policies. Only index-linking the Right to Buy discount, which might revive Margaret Thatcher’s transformational policy, will make a difference.

Immigration? The Prime Minister offers an annual cap, which will be voted on by Parliament. It’s not a great policy approach at the best of times, but most importantly it means that it will be up to MPs whether or not Sunak was able to meet his headline pledge to halve net immigration. He’s also promising flights to Rwanda will take off in July — but if he believed that, we wouldn’t be having a general election now.

Fundamentally, this manifesto is hobbled by the fact that the Conservatives have a 14-year record to account for. Since 2010, net immigration has tripled, taxation is at historic highs, and the costs of essentials such as housing and childcare have spiralled.

Both Sunak and Hunt have had over a year to show the nation that they grasped the scale of the problem and were prepared to deliver radical remedies. Instead, we received Treasury-brained commitment to the status quo and airy talk about making difficult decisions in the “long term”. Not now, in other words.

There is simply no good reason for voters to believe any claims to radicalism now; nor is much of the record, education aside, especially saleable. The best frame the Prime Minister can really muster is “better the devil you know” — but with Labour leading on every policy issue, that isn’t going to work.


Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.

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Robbie K
Robbie K
6 days ago

This whole campaign has been a disaster – it’s a miserable manifesto with policies apparently paid for by clamping down on tax avoidance. What utter nonsense. I can’t vote for Sunak, it’s finished.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
6 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

They’re the patron saints of tax avoidance. They wrote the book on it. Hard take any talk of a clamp down seriously. But then again, they can safely promise whatever they like at this point.

Last edited 6 days ago by Simon Blanchard
Robbie K
Robbie K
6 days ago

They could always start with Rayner I suppose.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
3 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

We erstwhile Badenoch supporters warned it would come to this, but those oh-so-shrewd MPs wouldn’t listen.
Elections aren’t “won from the centre”. Heath, Major, May, and now Sunak, prove this. Margaret Thatcher, by contrast, racked up three formidable victories.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
6 days ago

There is no basis to take any of the parties at face value on their tax commitments. None of them have excluded using fiscal drag to increase tax by the back door whenever they feel like it, so their promises are literal toilet paper.

I’m not sure people understand the absolutely huge impact of fiscal drag in a high inflation environment. By my back-of-the-fag-packet calculation (and taking into account average earnings increases), Hunt’s actions over the last couple of years are the equivalent of a 5% tax rise on people below the 40% threshold and a whopping 8% average tax rise on people earning above the threshold. This is not even counting ever increasing numbers of people pulled into the higher bracket. In that situation the decreases in national insurance are meaningless – the equivalent of that pickpocket who grabs your wallet, and then slides a couple of quid back into your pocket in the hope that you won’t notice your wallet is gone.

Nor are their promised small business bon-bons worth the paper they are written on. I’m a freelancer in IT and they wouldn’t do a single thing for me, so who are they aimed at?

But most of all what astonishes me is that the Tory high circle went out of their way to penalise every single grouping that might have been their natural supporters, either monetarily or culturally, and having alienated absolutely everyone the numpties had the hubris to think people would still vote for them.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
7 days ago

Having a migration cap, without mentioning what the cap actually is, strikes me as utterly pointless.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
6 days ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

As pointless as the debt “ceiling”

Peter B
Peter B
6 days ago

I remember thinking back at the Truss-Sunak decision that the least worst option was Truss, simply because she potentially had it in her to run an election campaign and would at least have some energy and contrast to the opposition. Even given her quite obvious faults and unrealistic policies, still the least worst option.
But I could never have imagined that Sunak could be quite this inept. He might as well get his campaign Ed Stone carved now: “everything that can go wrong will go wrong”.
He’s not only inept himself. Everyone he’s hand-picked in his team seems to be too. There’s not a single person in this Conservative campaign I actually respect or want to hear from. If they all lost their jobs it would be no loss.
At the start of this campaign, the Tories were 4:6 on to lose more than 200 seats. It seemed incredible that could ever happen and the odds looked generous. Today the price is 1:12 on !

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
3 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Out-of-touch Liberal Democrats, masquerading as Tories, with a clear disdain for cultural conservatism, and even more astonishingly, a tin ear for the needs of business.
What could possibly have gone wrong?

Andrew Sweeney
Andrew Sweeney
6 days ago

Considering that the Tories have never honoured manifesto promises why would anyone take anything they say seriously? They are a joke party. Still, voting Labour is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the face so what do we do? Reform has my vote.

David McKee
David McKee
6 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Sweeney

And what good will a protest vote for the Farage ego-trip do?

Pip G
Pip G
6 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Sweeney

Have you read reports of Reform candidates flirting with the current fascist grouping? As horrible as Corbyn era flirtation with Communists.

Graham Bedford
Graham Bedford
6 days ago

This PM definitely wants out, it is a fine line in not making it too obvious

j watson
j watson
6 days ago

Obviously desperate.
But also says much about ourselves and fact our politicians all fear telling us the truth. And that’s because we generally don’t like the truth and we don’t like complexity and nuance either. We generally vote for someone who makes us feel better, temporarily at least. Added to which unfortunately one has to add sufficient numbers demonstrating short sightedness and selfishness and we can end up running our of road eventually. And that’s what has happened.

David McKee
David McKee
6 days ago

No one will believe a word of this manifesto. But then, no one will believe a word of Labour’s either. Things can only get worse.

It’s true to say that France and Germany are in just as much trouble. But that will cut no ice with the voters.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
3 days ago
Reply to  David McKee

France and Germany are in just as much trouble, and for the same reason. The dominance of bland, centrist, uninspired decline managers.

Pip G
Pip G
6 days ago

I read the Labour 2019 manifesto. The spending promises were unaffordable, and other parts were bonkers: but it was more coherent than Con24.
In time the Conservative Party will come back, but the legacy of failure and mistrust must be overcome.

Ash Sangamneheri
Ash Sangamneheri
6 days ago

Is it just me, or I get the feeling you can’t trust either of the two main parties? Might have to vote Lib Dems to avoid giving either a majority and keep them in check.

Jane Hewland
Jane Hewland
5 days ago

And vote for a party that thinks women can have penises? And believes all that net zero green no thanks.

Gary Chambers
Gary Chambers
1 day ago

It’s a manifesto that will never be delivered. Raising tax thresholds is something they could have done but chose not to. That would have delineated a clear dividing line between Labour and themselves. But they chose not to. The inevitability of catastrophic defeat means real policy is a dish not worth serving.

Last edited 1 day ago by Gary Chambers