UK Prime minister Theresa May is unveiling the Conservative manifesto on Thursday morning, ahead of the general election next month. The Tories have a commanding lead over Labour in the opinion polls with three weeks to go.
- Promise to freeze income tax, national insurance and VAT rates scrapped
- Pensions triple lock to go
- Planned cap on limit people have to spend on social care to go
- Brexit: Britain will leave the EU single market and customs union
- Restatement to bring net immigration down to tens of thousands
- Budget deficit to be eliminated by “middle” of 2020s
- Share buybacks to be reviewed to ensure they don’t inflate executive pay
- New rules on takeovers with greater scrutiny of foreign investments in telecoms, defence and energy
Good morning and welcome to our coverage of the launch of the Conservative manifesto with exactly three weeks to go to the election. Some of the policy pledges have been heavily trailed this morning and over the last few days. For a quick reminder of what we know so far, have a quick read of our UK online splash if you haven’t already. You can read it here
What we know so far:
- The 100,000 net migration target remains, although senior ministers disagree with it. Companies will have to pay £2,000 for each non-EU worker they bring in, double the current rate.
- The pensions triple lock is gone. State pensions will, in future, rise by whichever is higher of earnings or inflation, but not by at least 2.5 per cent. The winter fuel allowance will be means-tested.
* The pledge not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance is gone. Those taxes account for almost two-thirds of tax revenue. Cameron’s advisors have confessed the pledge was a gimmick.
* Elderly people who need care in their homes will not have a £72,000 ceiling on how much they need to pay. Instead there will be a floor: no one will be forced to pay if they are down to £100,000 or less in assets. So they don’t have to leave their homes, people will be able to defer payments.
* Nick Clegg’s policy of free school lunches for all primary schoolchildren will be jettisoned. Instead there will be free primary school breakfasts, and free lunches for poorer children, freeing up an estimated £650m a year for the school budget.
Reaction from the right
Theresa May’s apparent shift to the left in many policy areas has unsurprisingly upset some on the right.
The Bow Group, a centre-right think tank has labelled the changes to social care “The biggest stealth tax in history”. Here’s a bit more from the press release:
“These proposals will mean that the majority of property owning citizens could be transferring the bulk of their assets to the government upon death for care they have already paid a lifetime of taxes to receive. It is likely to represent the biggest stealth tax in history”
and the core arguments against the proposal:
- c.75% of over 65s in the UK are home owners
- The average value of a property in the UK is £280,000
- Conservatives committed in 2015 to cap state elderly care at £72,000 in total
- The Dilnot Commission into elderly recommended a cap of £35,000 in total
- The average cost for residential care is £29,270 per annum
- The average cost for nursing care is £39,300 per annum
- The new proposals mean there will be an unlimited maximum charge for elderly care
- The new proposals open up each citizens primary property to seizure upon death to cover care costs, even if care was received at the primary property
- With increased life expectancy it is anticipated that at least 70% of people will require some form of elderly care (Source: Age UK)
The full press release is here.
Remember the 2015 manifesto?
Well, here’s a reminder that many of David Cameron’s promises proved a little too ambitious. Examples of unmet pledges…
- safeguard British interests in the Single Market. (Ahem.)
- eliminate the deficit, and start to run a surplus. (The 2020 target was dumped by Theresa May.)
- annual net migration in the tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands. (Latest net migration figure: 273,000.)
- build… 200,000 new Starter Homes exclusively for first-time buyers under 40. (Only 60,000 commissioned as of earlier this year, making the target almost impossible to meet.)
- scrap the Human Rights Act.
- not reduce army below 82,000. (Latest figure: 79,000.)
- continue to build a Northern Ireland where politics works. (Hard to define, but things not going smoothly.)
Hunt defends social care reform
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, sought to defend the proposed social care reforms – which are seen as direct attack on core middle-class Tory voters – earlier.
He said the Conservative party dropped its previous plan for a cap on care costs after concluding that it would be unfair. Instead a Tory government would make those needing care in their own home – currently estimated at 300,000 people – use the value of the property to contribute to the cost. The only caveat is that no one would be forced to reduce their overall assets to less than £100,000.
Talking to the BBC, he said: “It’s about fairness between the generations.” He added that the measures were nothing like the so-called death tax Labour proposed in 2015, which would have seen an extra levy on all estates, “because it is not a tax.”
Latest opinion poll – Labour UP
Conservatives: 49% (-)
Labour 34% (up 8)
Lib Dems 7% (down 6)
Greens 3% (up 2)
Ukip 2% (down 2)
That’s from Ipsos Mori. It is, of course, just one poll.
It appears the prime minister is slightly delayed – the manifesto launch was due to start at 11:15am.
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is “trolling” the Twitter hashtag #torymanifesto with his own election messages (or at least the person operating his account is).
Here’s one of them:
For those who can’t access Twitter it reads:
Conservatives promised to raise living standards, but working families are set to be on average over £1,400 a year worse off. #ToryManifesto
Theresa May is in the building
So the magic should start shortly. The delay is apparently due to protestors having found out the undisclosed venue in Yorkshire.
Appeal to UKIP voters
Although a lot of the proposals in the manifesto are aimed at winning over Labour voters, one key pledge is bound to appeal to UKIP supporters and that is a promise of a so-called “hard” Brexit, which would see the UK leave the EU single market and customs union.
Here’s what the manifesto looks like (thanks to the Huffington Post’s Paul Waugh). There are apparently no photos.
Halifax is Labour mariginal
The choice of Halifax for the launch of the manifesto is no accident. Labour hold a slim lead over the Conservatives of less than 500 votes. And crucially UKIP won almost 6,000 votes last time round. This is what the result looked like in 2015 for the main parties:
Labour – 17,506 votes
Conservatives – 17,078 votes
UKIP – 5,621 votes
LibDems – 1,629 votes
Greens – 1,142 votes
Conservative Party website has crashed
The link to the manifesto on the Conservatives website appears to be broken. Either that or it was put up too early – it is meant to be embargoed until Theresa May starts speaking. We are close to the start now
Britain will leave the customs union
Theresa May had fudged the issue in January, saying Britain could stay within a reformed customs union. But Sky reports that the manifesto makes clear that Britain will leave both the EU single market and the customs union.
Good news for newspapers; bad news for Channel 4
Britain’s major newspapers have got what they wanted from the Conservative manifesto: a pledge not to continue with part two of the Leveson inquiry, and a pledge to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, under which newspapers would have to pay legal costs in libel claims even if they won, if they hadn’t joined a settlement system. Labour and the Liberal Democrats had both committed to part two of Leveson.
Channnel 4, meanwhile, will be relocated out of London. Obvious options are Birmingham or Manchester.
It has started – eventually
Brexit secretary David Davis has kicked things off. He says May “has a clear plan for Brexit and a clear plan for our country” as he introduces the PM.
May is at the podium
Budget deficit until “middle of the next decade”
The manifesto pledges a balanced budget “by the middle of the next decade”. The 2015 document had pointed to 2018/19.
May is running through the preamble
She is painting a picture of a post-Brexit country:
“For Britain to succeed we need to unleash the potential of every person”
“We can build that brighter future together”
“Let’s not be in any doubt it will not be easy”
“There will be many who will us to fail”
She talks of a “unity of purpose” across all the nations that make up the UK.
“We need to unite behind a clear plan to make the most of the opportunities ahead”
“A plan that unlike the offerings of other parties is upfront and honest about the challenges we face”
“If we get Brexit right, we can use this moment of change to build a stronger, fairer, more prosperous Britain here at home.”
She says the manifesto addresses 5 “giant challenges”:
1. The need for a strong economy
2. Brexit and a changing world
3. Enduring social divisions
4. An ageing society
5. Fast-changing technology
“If we fail the consequences for ordinary working people will be dire”, she warns
Here they are:
Promise to fight injustice
“Injustice is a scar on the soul of our nation and I will fight it wherever it is found”, she says as she promises a Mental Health bill.
And she throws in one of her favourite catch-phrases: “Britain needs a strong and stable government”
What’s in the manifesto
- Budget deficit to be eliminated by “middle of the next decade”
- Britain will leave the customs union and the single market
- Pensions triple lock is jettisoned, part of “a restored contract between the generations”
- More civil servants and Channel 4 to be relocated outside London
- Share buybacks to be reviewed, to stop performance targets being artificially hit and boost executive pay
- New rules on takeovers: more scrutiny of foreign investment in telecoms, defence and energy.
- No Scottish independence referendum; Fixed-term Parliaments Act to be scrapped.
It’s all about me
She appends the phrase “every vote for me and my team. . . ” in front of a series of promises. You may recall the Tory battle bus features the words “Theresa May” writ large with the Conservative Party in small type on the door.
May answers questions
BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg says some voters may conclude it’s a “bleak picture” – higher care costs, fewer free school lunches, etc. May says it’s about “hard choices”.
Sky’s Faisal Islam asks if manifesto gives May a “mandate for no [Brexit] deal”. May doesn’t really answer.
Channel Five’s Andy Bell asks if May has turned her back on Middle England, because she is seeking votes elsewhere. May says people receiving care won’t have to pay while they’re alive.
Channel Four’s Gary Gibbon asks what the economic cost of bringing immigration down will be: Have the Conservatives costed it? Why do people have to pay for dementia care but not for heart treatment? And why is she giving business such a hard time? May says that workers need protections but businesses need a framework in which they can create jobs.
And some more questions for the PM
Are you being upfront that pensioners need to bear more of the costs, asks the Guardian? May says pension triple lock was introduced when there was a disparity; her new double lock will continue to protect pensioners against rising prices.
Are you moving to the centre ground? Are you proud of being a Red Tory, asks the Sun? May says Conservatives have always been in the centre ground. “We want to encourage aspiration” – people’s outcomes should not depend on where they come from.
Do you consider yourself a Thatcherite, asks the Daily Mail? “Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative, I’m a Conservative, this is a Conservative manifesto.” Ahem.
Why should people trust you on the immigration pledge, says the Mirror? There’s no one thing you can do to hit it, says May. You have to work at it constantly. Also Britain will be able to control migration from the EU after Brexit.
Labour hijacks manifesto search online
The FT’s UK news editor, Malcolm Moore points out on Twitter that the top search result for the term “Conservative manifesto” in Google returns this link (at the time that he was searching at least):
Here’s the full Tweet:
Tories well ahead in election fundraising
The FT’s political correspondent Robert Wright points out that in terms of fundraising the Conservatives are well ahead, with the LibDems really struggling.
The Conservative manifesto launch came as the Electoral Commission revealed that, during the first election funding reporting period, the Conservatives raised significantly more money than all the parties combined.
The Conservatives raised £4.1m between May 3 and 9, while Labour, the second most successful fundraiser, £2.68m. The Liberal Democrats raised just £180,000 in the period.
“There is no Mayism”
… the PM says, after a BBC journalist points out her manifesto rejects rigid dogma and “the cult of selfish individualism”.
She dodged questions over how much tax high earners would pay, and whether a big majority would allow her to stand up to those Conservatives demanding an “extreme Brexit” (as David Cameron had helpfully said a few days ago).
That’s the end of her appearance, but stay tuned for more analysis from the 88-page manifesto.
National infrastructure police force
Here’s an excerpt from the manifesto that appears to confirm plans that the FT reported last October to create a national infrastructure constabulary, bringing together a number of forces that currently protect different parts of the country’s infrastructure.
We will help Britain’s world-leading police forces and prosecutorial services to fight crime, protect the public and provide security for businesses. We will create a national infrastructure police force, bringing together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and the British Transport Police to improve the protection of critical infrastructure such as nuclear sites, railways and the strategic road network.”
The FT revealed that police chiefs were looking at creating a 4,000-strong armed force under one central command by combining firearms officers from the three separate forces.
Read the full story here.
Some reaction: tone, personality or ideology?
Rupert Harrison, former advisor to George Osborne: “If May-ism exists it is a (v successful) political strategy not an ideology. Represents change of tone – substance is continuity / evolution.”
Nick Robinson, Radio 4 presenter: “”There is no May-ism” says PM whose manifesto launch includes the words me, my & I more than any I’ve seen before.”
Ukip: ““It is official. The Tory Party has become almost identical to the Labour Party. They offer no end to mass immigration, no firm Brexit, no end to spending billions of our hard-earned money on so-called foreign ‘aid’, and they offer no curb on our National Health Service being used as an international drop-in centre.”
Not sure Ukip are being entirely fair as May did promise Brexit and to meet the 100,000 migration target.
Promise on tackling white collar crime, terrorism and cybercrime
The Tories are also promising to “strengthen” all other main areas of crime fighting, as you might expect, including a plan to merge the Serious Fraud Office with National Crime Agency:
“We will strengthen Britain’s response to white collar crime by incorporating the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency, improving intelligence sharing and bolstering the investigation of serious fraud, money laundering and financial crime. We will extend direct entry into the police, including at chief officer level. We will continue to invest in our world-leading security services and maintain and develop our counter-terrorism strategy to protect us from terrorism at home and abroad. And we will bolster the response to cyber threats on private businesses, public services, critical national infrastructure, and individuals, working with the National Cyber Security Centre to prevent attacks wherever possible and with the police and international law enforcement agencies to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.”
FT writers’ verdict
Sebastian Payne, leader writer: The Conservatives’ new ideology can be summarised in one word: “restraint”. Theresa May proposes limits on immigration, more intervention in markets, low taxation, limited government spending and curbs on some foreign investment.
Such ideas are a world away from the free market ideals of Margaret Thatcher, or even the liberal conservative principles of her predecessor David Cameron. Mrs May has made the calculation that most voters have little interest in ideology and will go along with whatever works.
Sarah Gordon, European business editor: Regarding business policies, the manifesto was heavy on rhetoric, and light on specific commitments. Workers in strategically important areas of the economy might be excluded, it suggests, from net migration numbers. Business will welcome that possibility.
The manifesto commits to an investigation into the use of share buybacks, suggesting that these are sometimes used artificially to inflate executive pay. Other promises on corporate governance and executive pay do not stray far from previously announced commitments.
On takeovers, Theresa May has already made it clear that she regards foreign takeovers of British companies with a more suspicious eye than her Conservative predecessors. However, there appears to be no intention to set up the equivalent of the US’s CFIUS, which has the power to ban foreign takeovers of domestic companies that appear to threaten the national interest.
You can download the full manifesto here.
Levy on social media companies to counter internet harm
The manifesto says the Tories will “put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm.”
It looks like this will be achieved in part by taxing social media companies similar to the levy on the gambling sector:
We will also create a power in law for government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry.
Britain won’t leave the ECHR
In 2010 and 2015, the Tories pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act. In 2016, Theresa May said Britain should leave the European Convention on Human Rights. And now?
“We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.” (emphasis added)
Chris Giles on May’s social care plans
The FT’s economics editor has looked at plans to charge people for care in their homes. It’s fair to say he’s not that impressed:
Die quickly, let’s say from an unexpected heart attack, and your children will stand to inherit all your wealth. Be unlucky and die a slow death from prolonged dementia and your children will be burdened by your illness and a depletion of all but £100,000 of your capital.
Two big questions arise. Is this fair? And is it efficient?
Read the full article.
New powers to prevent “under-resourcing” of pensions
The Tories have promised to give the Pensions Regulator new powers to fine anyone who “wilfully” leaves a pension scheme under-resourced. It would also consider extra powers to “disqualify the company directors in question.”
There can be little doubt this is in response to the BHS scandal, which saw the high street chain collapse with a pension deficit of £571m after it was sold for £1 by retail tycoon Sir Philip Green.
In February, Sir Philip struck a deal with the Pension Regulator to pay £363m to the insolvent pension fund of BHS.
The manifesto adds:
We will consider introducing a new criminal offence for company directors who deliberately or recklessly put at risk the ability of a pension scheme to meet its obligations
And Sir Philip may even have inspired this line about reviewing Britain’s honours system:
We will review the honours system to make sure it commands public confidence, rewards genuine public service and that recipients uphold the integrity of the honours bestowed.
Distance between Thatcher and May
Jim Pickard, the FT’s chief political correspondent, points out that Theresa May has chosen to distance herself from Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first female prime minister.
Theresa May has distanced herself from the Thatcher era by promising to “reject the cult of selfish individualism” as she launched an election manifesto pledging to move resources away from the middle class and elderly and towards “ordinary working families”.
Brexit and foreign policy
The manifesto says Britain will leaving the customs union (May had been ambiguous before). The tone is perhaps a little softer than previously. Britain will pay a “fair” divorce settlement. Overall:
The negotiations will undoubtedly be tough, and there will be give and take on both sides, but we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK.
On foreign policy, the document is notably vague. The 2015 manifesto had committed the Conservatives to specific stances – a two-state solution in Israel/ Palestine; a rejection of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; maintaining Britain’s military progress in Afghanistan etc. The 2017 manifesto settles for generalities. It does say that Britain may ditch the internationally-agreed definition of aid spending, if it can’t be reformed. (That would require a change in British law too.)
Increased scrutiny of foreign ownership in key sectors
The Tories promise to “take action to protect our critical national infrastructure” covers the defence, energy and telecoms sectors.
The big two UK defence contractors, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, are already protected from unwanted takeovers by a so-called government “golden share” but not so utilities and telecoms.
Indeed, Nathalie Thomas, the FT’s energy correspondent, points out that four of the big six electricity and gas suppliers are owned by foreign companies.
Similarly, in telecoms the FT’s Nic Fildes highlights that apart from BT and Vodafone the other big operators are also foreign owned.
This measure is not expected to result in any forced change of ownership but it reflects Mrs May’s concerns about Chinese investment in sensitive areas.
A decision by the former Labour government to allow Chinese telecoms supplier Huawei to provide equipment to upgrade the core UK telecoms network has been criticised by some senior Tories, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
Mrs May eventually cleared Chinese involvement in the Hinkley Point nuclear power station project having called it in for reviewed.
The IFS view: a lack of radical changes
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told the BBC:
- “On the whole, there aren’t big, radical changes in here”
- The manifesto has choices, e.g. a bit more funding for social care; reducing winter fuel.
- Conservatives are “pretty much” matching what Labour is offering in terms of NHS funding.
- Immigration cap would be a “cost” on business.
The Conservatives gave a strong signal in their manifesto that the public and quasi-public sectors will be the next target of attempts to ramp up housing supply if they are re-elected, reports the FT’s property correspondent Judith Evans.
“We will never achieve the numbers of new houses we require without the active participation of social and municipal housing providers,” the manifesto says, while at the same time attacking councils for “failing to build sustainable, integrated communities”.
As trailed last week, the Tories will seek new “Council Housing Deals” to fund at low cost local authorities that are “ambitious and pro-development”. A new fixed-term social rent deal will see these discounted homes sold off after 10 to 15 years.
The manifesto has also lifted the target for new homes from the existing 1 million by the end of 2020 – which the National Audit Office earlier this year termed insufficiently ambitious – by promising to build a further 500,000 homes between 2020 and 2022. This would require a substantial increase to current building rates. This is the most specific housing commitment in the manifesto, which is otherwise vague on housing details.
Housebuilders, who were the conduit for most of the Cameron government’s housing initiatives, have less to celebrate.
Conspicuously absent is a promise to extend the Help to Buy equity loan scheme for new-build buyers, which has been supporting purchases from housebuilders since 2013 and is due to expire in 2021. The absence of any mention of this scheme comes despite a Labour pledge to extend it until 2027.
Overall, says Johnny Morris, research director at Countrywide: “This is the most explicit acknowledgement to date that to fix the housing crisis you need to have all hands to the pump. The mention of housing associations and local authorities is a good sign.”
That’s it from us – here are some links to more analysis
Our political editor George Parker says May is confronting her core voters
Our economics editor Chris Giles gives his view of the Tories’ social care plans
Here’s a rundown of the key news.
And the full manifesto is here
Thanks for joining us.