May 19, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
Well, this was the big one. This is the only manifesto that will have to be delivered. Therefore, there can be no hostages to fortune, no uncosted promises, maximum flexibility. At a time when no Prime Minister could ever sensibly suggest that they know what is going to happen, when our future depends on the negotiating stance of a group of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels with no accountability to anyone apart from themselves and the European Federalist dream, this manifesto had a lot riding on it. Thus, it will be rightfully scrutinised, memorised and used as bulwark against which everything that happens in the UK until 2022 (or, of Corbyn stays in charge, 2032) are measured.
This explains the dropping of the commitment to (but, bear in mind, not the actual delivery of) the pensions triple lock. This explains the dropping of the ridiculous ‘tax lock’ which bound the hands of the Chancellor in such an unhelpful way (although with VAT at what is generally consented to be its upper limit they have committed to that lock).
I would like to be reporting the dropping of the equally ridiculous commitment to keep net immigration in the tens of thousands a year, a commmitment impossible to deliver without harming the country, in which the loss of a highly skilled foreign National is supposed to be a ‘good’ thing, and the re-entry of a highly skilled British ex-pat is supposed to be a ‘bad thing’. Sadly, I assume in an attempt to secure the UKIP votes that could carry Theresa May to a massive majority, she hasn’t dropped it. She will rightly be held to it, and will regret it. There is a doubling of the amount levied on firms who employ non-EU migrant workers, and ultimately May wants to encourage firms to train UK workers as well as perhaps pay more to attract them, but whether that will happen is conjecture.
The section on Brexit is particularly interesting. The truth is that all May can do is to go into negotiations with a position, for which this manifesto is an attempt to get a mandate, and hope to achieve it. She may not do so, but the commitment to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union means at least we know where she and her Government will stand. She should realise that she appears to be up against opponents who don’t understand how these things work, given that Labour state they want to be in the Single amarket but end Freedom of Movement, which simply not both possible at the same time. The Tory manifesto acknowledges that securing the rights of EU nationals in Britain has to be done at the same time as securing the rights of British nationals in the EU, which is, most people knowthe way negotiation works.
May is in between a rock and hard place here, as she could simply not put anything here, as now if she doesn’t get it she will be assumed to have ‘lost’, but not putting anything means she can’t claim any electoral mandate for her negotiation position. This election, if it does anything else, means that May can go to Brussels saying she has a mandate as PM, a mandate for her negotiation position, and a majority meaning she can get whatever deal she achieves through Parliament.
The continual putting off of the day of reckoning we need to have with our ageing population has partially stopped. As people live to an older age, and those that do so have a lot more private wealth than they used to, their care costs rise, and to continually expect just the state to pay for that is unrealistic. The manifesto doesn’t suggest at any point that people should sell their home to pay for care whilst they are still alive, but their estate (including their home) may need to be sold to pay for it after both partners have passed away. This targeting of inherited wealth whatever you think about it, is more progressive than targeting income tax to do the same job. The Tories are rightly means-testing the Winter fuel allowance, but leaving the free bus pass and free TV licence alone. This is rather cautious, when they know full well that this is a great chance to force through some changes to the inter-generational imbalance causing such friction in the country. Who else are they going to vote for?
On a personal note I was interested in the section on education. In order to create more money to help those negatively affected by the ‘fair funding’ formula which was beginning to cripple many schools, the Tories will end universal free school meals for infants (up to year 2). Some will argue that is unfair on hard-pressed families who don’t qualify for it, but as I explain soon when I analyse Labour’s policy for providing free school meals for all primary school pupils, not means tested free school meals was reducing the Government’s ability to identify, and then help, the low income pupils who they used to be able to help through the pupil premium (an annual amount given to schools for each low income pupil to help in their education). So, a policy aiming to help everyone was adversely affecting the poorest among us, which made no sense. They are instead going to fund free school breakfasts, which is cheaper whilst being equally if not more effective. To encourage people to join the teaching profession, they would not have to pay back university tuition fees whilst teaching. As widely publicised, there is a lifting of the ban on grammar schools being created, a policy about which the best question to ask someone is “what would you think of it if your child would not get in?”
Finally, it is noteworthy that the manifesto calls for the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. This has been shown to be redundant as no opposition party would dare oppose a Government that tries to call an election, as we have just seen.
The key to all this, and the way to sum up this manifesto, is that it names what May sees as the biggest challenges facing her – the need for a strong economy, Brexit and a changing world, enduring social division, an ageing society, and fast-changing technology, without tying her hands as to how she addresses them.