May breaks with Thatcherism and promises something for everyone

Big Ben and Westminster Bridge at dusk, London, UK; Shutterstock ID 323366084

Never has the Conservative Party been more confident about winning a general election. Theresa May’s popularity ratings have broken all records; her aim in this campaign is not just to defeat the Labour party but to destroy it. The Tory MPs who talk about ten years in power are the more cautious ones; some talk about staying in government until the 2030s.

Setting her tanks firmly on Labour’s traditionally West Yorkshire heartland, Theresa May today launched her Party’s manifesto from Halifax – a top Tory target with a Labour majority of just 428 votes. The town meets a lot of the criteria you would expect as the Party looked for a location to launch the 2017 General Election manifesto. A target seat, check. A working-class, post-industrial provincial town, check. A significant Leave vote, check. The message was clear: she intends to succeed where her predecessor and others before him failed.

The launch of the manifesto, which was slightly delayed due to protesters, sees the Tories pledge to lower immigration, raise the tax-free personal allowance and increase NHS funding. In its foreword, the Prime Minister warns that the next five years will be the most challenging period the UK has faced for 60 years. As well as the massive task of pulling the UK out of the European Union, the government elected next month will need to deal with the challenges of building a strong economy, tackling social division, meeting the pressures of an ageing society and making sure that Britain responds to the upheavals caused by fast-changing technology.

The central theme of the manifesto was a commitment to tackling ‘five giant challenges’. The first, building a strong economy, sees the Conservatives pledge to eradicate the deficit by the middle of the next decade – a far cry from Osborne’s pledge in 2010 to reach a budget surplus by 2015. David Cameron’s tax “triple lock”, which guaranteed there would be no rise in national insurance, VAT or income tax, will be scrapped in favour of a general statement of intent to lower tax and simplify the tax system. A commitment to raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500, and to raise the threshold for the 40p tax rate to £50,000, however, will stay.

 

The message was clear: she intends to succeed where her predecessor and others before him failed.

 

Insisting there is no ‘May-ism’, only “good, solid Conservatism”, she rejected suggestions that policies such as an energy price cap, a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid and new rights for workers represented a move away from the Conservatism of Margaret Thatcher. These, however, are not entirely unfair judgements. The manifesto, for example, also includes a policy stolen from Ed Miliband — a cap on energy prices — designed to set out the extent of Mrs May’s willingness to intervene in the market. Had any of these policies been advocated by Jeremy Corbyn, the widely-read Daily Mail newspaper might have denounced them as left-wing extremism. As it is, May has been lauded all the way. Team May have calculated, correctly, that the traditional middle-class Tory voters have nowhere else to go.

Mrs May’s motives are less ideological and more a practical desire to connect her party to millions of working-class voters who have perhaps never voted Conservative before. Simply put, there’s something for everyone. A commitment to a “hard” Brexit of leaving the EU single market and a promise to restore grammar schools — both of which dreams of the Conservative right – confirms this view. Likewise, the ending of the pensions triple lock, the means-testing of winter fuel payments and a new social care system that leaves wealthier pensioners exposed to huge liabilities suggests she will do what needs to be done.

There is an impression that May is beginning to feel that she has the powers to defy political gravity. Forget your tribe: vote Theresa, the campaign screams. Except it was not so long ago that another Tory leader came to view herself as exceptional. We know how she reached that point, but we also know how it ended.


Tax and the economy

  • Increase the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 by 2020
  • Maintain pledge to cut corporation tax to 17% by 2020
  • Regulate more efficiently, saving £9bn through the Red Tape Challenge and the One-In-Two-Out Rule
  • Increase the National Living Wage to 60% of median earnings by 2020

 

Social security and public services

  • £8bn extra for the NHS
  • Means test winter fuel payments, taking away £300 from wealthier pensioners
  • Raising cost of care threshold from £23,000 to £100,000
  • Scrap the triple-lock on the state pension, which guarantees it rises by the highest of average earnings, inflation or 2.5%
  • Scrap free school lunches for infants in England, but offer free breakfasts across the primary years
  • Pump an extra £4bn a year into schools by 2022

 

Brexit and migration

  • Immigration cut to under 100,000
  • Seek to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements
  • Create a network of Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioners to head nine new regional overseas posts
  • Reconvene the Board of Trade to increase exports from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England