Still unsure about who to vote for? Are you wondering what the Conservative Party actually stand for aside from “getting Brexit done”? If both of those apply to you then you’ve come to the right place! If not, then read on anyway and you may still learn something new. In the second part of The Yorker’s three-part series, I will give you a full run-down of the 2019 Conservative party manifesto, making sure that you know everything you need in order to make an informed decision come the 12th of December.
In all honesty, my first impression is that the phrase “get/getting Brexit done” must have received some incredible focus testing results because it appears all over the Conservative website and their manifesto. In fact, I commented in my last article that Labour’s 107-page manifesto mentioned the word “Brexit” 21 times, well the Conservative manifesto mentions the exact phrase “get Brexit done” 23 times, with an additional seven mentions of “getting Brexit done,” all in 64 pages. You can also add to that another five mentions of “get Brexit done” on the website for the Conservative manifesto and one more there for “getting Brexit done,” just in case you were still unsure about their priorities.
My next impression is that the manifesto is definitely lacking in a clear structure. Undoubtedly there is a clear and obvious focus on Brexit, but where both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have roughly split their manifesto down into various topics, the sections for the Conservative manifesto are vague at best. To be clear, they are as follows: Introduction; Get Brexit Done; We Will Focus on Your Priorities; We Will Unleash Britain’s Potential; We Will Strengthen Britain’s Place in the World; We Will Put You First. If you are clear on what all of those mean then you’re doing better than me.
Those phrases would traditionally be put in the section below a title, where a party would highlight the impact of their policies. It seems the Conservatives have decided to skip the policy specifics, and instead just focus on the impact they will have. This is of course further strengthened by the brevity of the manifesto compared to the other parties and even compared to their 2017 manifesto.
By way of comparison, the 2017 Conservative manifesto had a total of 88 pages, it only mentioned Brexit 15 times and it did have somewhat of a logical structure with an introduction, conclusion and five key points in the middle. For better or worse the 2019 Conservative manifesto is certainly a break with the past.
It makes sense to start here given that Brexit is clearly the central issue that the Conservative party wants to focus the election on, and “Get Brexit Done” is the title of the first substantiative section of the Conservative manifesto.
In essence, in this section, the Conservative party promise to leave the European Union in January, and not extend the implementation period into 2021. That’s the headline. This would be done through Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill that was on its way through Parliament up until the recent election was called. The manifesto states that this would allow us to reclaim control over our own laws, money, trade policy and immigration, which would then allow us to implement an “Australian-style points-based immigration system.”
The logic behind this proposal is that it would allow us to select people to come into this country who have skills appropriate to our needs, though ultimately where you fall on this debate depends upon your view towards immigrants. If you essentially view immigrants in purely economic terms then this will be welcome news, but if you view migration as a fundamentally good thing with positive social impacts then this will be disappointing. It should go without saying here that the Conservatives do also pledge to end freedom of movement.
For one final comment on immigration here, the manifesto does also promise that they will “overhaul the current immigration system, and make it more fair and compassionate,” and in this, they reference the awful treatment of the Windrush generation, but it’s worth noting that said treatment came from the Conservative government before this one.
Now onto Brexit, though the manifesto does not explicitly mention the topic of “no-deal” it is far from ruled out. Indeed recently, Rishi Sunak, Chief Secretary to the Treasury told the Telegraph that even if the Conservatives won the election, no-deal planning would still resume. Sunak claims this is because “there are all sorts of scenarios that might happen,” but ultimately this has more to do with the Conservative’s promise not to extend the transition period beyond December 2020.
This is important because Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement is not a trade deal. Yes, it would see us leave the European Union, but it would not define our future relationship with them, or with any other nation for that matter. And while Sunak claims that the chance of Britain not having a trade deal by the end of 2020 are “absolutely zero,” the reality is that the probability is a lot higher than zero.
Think about it, we have spent the last three years fighting over a Withdrawal Agreement, and now the Conservatives are promising that a trade agreement is guaranteed to be done within a year? Of course, if, for whatever reason, this could not be agreed and the transition period was not extended then this would lead us into a no-deal scenario. This is, of course, the real reason as to why no-deal planning would resume if the Conservatives win this election.
This should be contrasted with Labour’s manifesto promise of a second referendum, which would not even list no-deal as an option, and the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto promise of a revocation of article 50. So, while Johnson may claim that a no-deal Brexit is off of the table, the reality is very different.
“Your Priorities” (Social Services)
In truth, there is no easy way to structure this summary so I will simply follow the structure set out in the manifesto and provide a summary of each one. This section can roughly be said to outline Conservative policy relating to social services, especially the NHS, schools, police and immigration.
Regarding the NHS, there are probably three key figures, but all of them have come under attack recently. First, the manifesto pledges to increase funding for the NHS by £34 billion per year. However, this is deliberately misleading at best as it does not account for inflation, which would bring the figure down to around £20 billion per year, still welcome, no doubt, but still £14 billion less than stated. Next, the manifesto states that they “have begun work on 40 new hospitals across the country,” yet only six are planned to be finished between now and 2025. Finally, the manifesto promises an increase of 50,000 more nurses, but, as anyone who has watched Gogglebox recently knows, 19,000 of them would simply be retained, as they already work as nurses in the NHS.
That being said, there is more relating to the NHS in the manifesto than those three numbers. Other policies of note include the introduction of an NHS Visa system, equal weighting between mental and physical emergencies and an “end to unfair hospital car parking charges.” The final paragraph in the section also unequivocally states that “the NHS will not be on the table” in any trade deals, quite clearly pushing back against Jeremy Corbyn’s recent accusations.
The manifesto then goes on to talk about improving social care, but if I’m honest, the section seems somewhat lacking. To be sure, there is only one page to it and the “three-point plan” they outline only has one clear step, which is that they will increase funding for social services by £1 billion a year from 2020. To add to that, their final goal is only defined as “a guarantee that no one needing care has to sell their home to pay for it,” which seems like an unambitious target personally.
Now regarding schooling, the manifesto does promise an increase in funding of at least £5,000 a year for each secondary school pupil and at least £4,000 a year for each primary school pupil, which is an objectively positive proposal. To add to this, teachers’ starting salaries would be raised to £30,000, however, their very next point is that they would “back heads and teachers on discipline.” Which does seem like a strange headline, and is only clarified by the paragraph stating that they would “back heads to use exclusions.” Make of that what you will. Then, the last section on schooling states that there would be an increase in funding for arts, music and sport, but the amount by which said funding would increase by is unspecified.
I do find it interesting to note that there is very little said of university students in the manifesto. In fact, one of the only sections that mentions them simply states that the government will “consider” recommended changes regarding tuition fees, and then “look at” the interest rates on loan repayments.
The same section on social services also details the Tory plan to “support working families,” which will be done by increasing the National Living Wage to £10.50 and hour, which is actually higher than Labour is promising currently (£10 an hour), but this will only apply to people over 21, unlike Labour’s proposal. Other promises here include the freezing of income tax, VAT and National Insurance, and a raising of the National Insurance threshold to £9,500, with an ultimate aim to make the first £12,500 anyone earns free of tax. Finally, the manifesto does also state an intention to abolish the tampon tax, a measure which is certainly well over-due.
The final two sections here concern policing and immigration, but they are close enough that they can be covered together. In sum, the manifesto promises to recruit 20,000 new police officers, invest £500 million in youth services for young people and add 10,000 more prison places. However, one should note here that police numbers have roughly fallen by 20,000 since the Conservatives took power in 2010. Their proposal, therefore, would simply be undoing their previous policies.
I have mostly covered the immigration policies already in the Brexit section with the most noteworthy proposals being the ending of freedom of movement and the implementation of an Australian system. But, this section does also detail plans to bar anyone from claiming child support for children living overseas, and to require new arrivals to contribute to the funding of the NHS. However, given that all immigrants do already pay taxes this seems like a double charge for the right to live here.
Overall the Conservative promises on social services seem somewhat underwhelming. There is certainly no plan to overhaul the system and one can be forgiven for distrusting various aspects given that multiple figures have already come under scrutiny. It does seem that the Conservatives are hoping their image as the party of law and order will come through, as promises for “tougher sentencing” are particularly prominent, but it is difficult to square this image with the fact that any increase in crime over the last nine years has happened under a Conservative government.
“Unleash Britain’s Potential” (Housing, business, the environment and the constitution)
This section is a strange one with little direction. Personally, I would have thought that with such emphasis on the importance of the environment as of late the issue would at least have its own section, as it does in both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. In the Conservative manifesto meanwhile, it is given half of a page and is stuck between sections on fishing and the Union.
Nevertheless, the chapter starts with promises to lower taxes for small retail businesses, invest £100 billion in infrastructure spending and invest £500 million in new youth clubs and services. As well as this there are also promises to invest in rail, bus and tram networks across the United Kingdom “to make them as good as London’s.”
£1 billion would also be invested in a “fast-charging network” for electric vehicles, and more would also be invested in cycling infrastructure and pothole-filling programmes. Finally, the manifesto does promise to bring “full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025.” This last promise is similar to one made by Labour but done without the nationalisation of areas of BT.
Regarding housing, the manifesto does promise that a Conservative government would build at least one million houses over the course of the next parliament, and that said government would “end the blight of rough sleeping.” Though one should note that rough sleeping has gone up by around 165% since 2010, so again, one can be forgiven for scepticism here.
There are also promises to remove unsafe cladding, which caused the Grenfell tragedy, and ensure that new houses are environmentally friendly, though there is no specific target set for this promise. Labour’s manifesto meanwhile did promise that new homes would be carbon-neutral. Finally, the manifesto pledges to protect and enhance the Green Belt, similarly to Labour’s.
Now onto business, where the proposals follow a similar trend to the areas before it. By this I mean, that if Labour’s underlying theme was that their manifesto promised a spending spree funded by increasing higher-end taxation, then the Conservative manifesto seems to promise a lowering of taxes in various areas, combined with a modest increase in expenditure. With this in mind, the manifesto promises to cut tax rates and increase the Employment Allowance for small businesses.
The manifesto also outlines plans to double the maximum prison sentence for tax fraud to 14 years, as part of a host of anti-tax avoidance and evasion laws, nicely combining the Conservative Party’s two key focuses of law and order and taxation.
Then onto people, where the manifesto has promised to create a new National Skills Fund worth £3 billion, as part of a general upskilling programme for the whole population. As well as this there are also promises to end discrimination in the workplace and to “crack down on any employer abusing employment law.”
Following on from this, the manifesto promises that 2.4% of GDP would be spent on research and development (less than the 3% promised in the Labour manifesto), and that £250 million would be spent on local libraries and museums.
Then finally onto the environment! Though this section is only half of a page long it does detail plans to create a new Office for Environmental Protection, set aside £640 million for a Nature for Climate fund, increase recycling and crack down on “waste.”
Now the last important section of this chapter deals with the constitution, and it is certainly the one that I take issue with the most. In particular, I take exception with this subsection: “After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.”
I take issue with this section because it deals with incredibly important aspects of our nation and our democracy, yet it makes no promises. To say that we “need to look at” something so consequential is simply unsatisfactory. In essence, this subsection here gives the Conservatives a blank cheque to do whatever they want to any aspect of the aforementioned.
Manifestos are supposed to constrain parties and inform voters, they are meant to detail exactly what a party promises to do and how they promise to do it. By following this voters can make an informed decision upon the coming of the next election as to whether the party met the promises of their manifesto. Unfortunately, in this case, the specification is so vague that anything and nothing could meet their targets just the same. Yet, with issues that are as important as the relationship between the Government and the Houses of Parliament and the Lords such vague statements should not be acceptable.
So, while one may disagree with, for instance, Labour’s proposal to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a new institution, at least one knows where they stand on the issue and can cast one’s vote for them knowing the potential consequences. In the case of the Conservative Party, nothing of the sort can be said as there as no specifics.
Overall for this chapter, it is clear that the Conservatives are trying to appeal to their image as the party of business. In particular, policies regarding tax cuts for small business should prove to be very popular. However, I do find their stances on the environment and the constitution to be unacceptable for the reasons mentioned above, and it would be understandable — given the trends of the last nine years — if one was to distrust their promises on housing as well.
Strengthen Britain in the World (International Relations, animal welfare, climate change and trade)
This section starts with a page devoted to veterans, promising reductions in National Insurance contributions for employers if they take on ex-service personnel, wraparound childcare for forces families and the creation of a Veterans’ Railcard, as well as a guaranteed job interview for public sector roles for ex-servicemen and women.
Following on from this, the manifesto promises to continue meeting NATO targets of 2% of GDP spending on defence, combined with a 0.5% increase of the budget for every year of the new parliament. The armed forces and intelligence agencies would also be “modernised,” and the Trident nuclear deterrent would be maintained. Regarding the last proposal, while one may disagree with Trident in principal, at least the Conservatives have been consistent with then intentions to renew it, unlike Corbyn’s recent u-turn in the Labour manifesto.
Then, continuing the theme of law and order, the manifesto details Conservative plans to introduce tougher sentences for animal cruelty, crack down on illegal smuggling, introduce and extend the ivory ban and ban primate pets. As well at this, there are plans to introduce cat microchipping, just to finish on a lighter note!
The manifesto then moves onto climate change, which gets one whole page. So this means that the combined total discussion of the environment and climate change in the 2019 Conservative manifesto is one and a half pages or 2.34% of the manifesto. Anyway, the manifesto lays out a plan to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which is at least 10 years later than Labour have promised. That being said, a £500 million Blue Planet Fund would be set up and two million new jobs would be created in the clean energy sector.
As well as this, £800 million would be invested in carbon-capture technology, and £500 million would be set aside to help industries utilise lower-carbon technologies. Interestingly, however, the manifesto only states that a moratorium has been placed on fracking. The manifesto does state that fracking will not be resumed unless “science shows categorically that it can be done safely,” but it does raise the question of why there has only been a temporary ban put in place, instead of a permanent one?
Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens have all pushed for a total ban, and have accused the Conservatives of pulling a political stunt. This possibility is made more likely given the fact that Cabinet Minister Andrea Leadsome referred to the ban as “disappointing,” and while he was Mayor of London, Boris Johnson did say that companies should “leave no stone unturned, or unfracked.”
However, returning back to the topic of climate change in the manifesto, there would also be plans to invest £9.2 billion in the energy and efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. Then, finally, the manifesto states that consultations will be made regarding the phase-out of the sale of conventional new petrol and diesel cars in the future.
Then onto the last topic in the manifesto, trade. The idea here is that trade deals in the future will be tailored to “the needs of British firms and the British economy,” with plans for free trade agreements with the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan within the next three years.
However, one should note here that the European Union just negotiated a trade deal with Japan at the start of 2019, and that took six years from start to finish. With that in mind, three years is certainly optimistic.
Overall this section is largely uncontroversial. Of course, there are issues around fracking and the sincerity of the moratorium placed on it, but otherwise, the rest of the policies are as one would expect from the Conservatives. As with the rest of the manifesto, the pledges mostly focus on the idea of tougher sentencing for criminals and tax breaks/cuts wherever possible, combined with a modest increase in expenditure in various areas. I do personally find the content on climate change lacking and unambitious, but also unsurprising.
The 2019 Conservative manifesto is largely unambitious and light on details. Now one should probably expect an incumbent party to promise less than one vying for power, but there is a clear disparity between the targets set out in the Labour manifesto and the Conservative one, especially regarding social services and the environment.
I will say, the Conservative policy regarding Brexit is clear throughout and if one is a staunch supporter of that then one may be more than happy to make concessions in other places.
However, there is little-to-no consideration of changes to the justice system, which is currently under dier strain, and if anything the changes referenced in the manifesto will only increase that strain with no real solution mentioned. Additionally, even if one accepts the solutions proposed in the manifesto for areas like the NHS or police force, there are issues with the reliability of the numbers that have been put forward.
I also feel like Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party more generally is trying to strike a strange balance. In many policies they have put forward they are trying to distance themselves from the Conservative governments before them.
Regarding police cuts, or the Windrush scandal, the rough sleeping explosion or the Grenfell tragedy, the strain on the NHS or the strain on teachers. None of these can be blamed on Labour anymore, as various ministers have tried to do. Labour has not been in power since 2009 so it seems strange to see Johnson railing at the failings of the last decade when it has seen almost uninterrupted Conservative rule. Policies like the recruitment of 20,000 police officers seem particularly disingenuous to pass off as innovative when they are simply reversing previous cuts.
But, with that all being said you can now choose who or what you wish to believe. The above will give a good summary of Conservative policies, with a critical commentary, and it should mean that you are well enough informed on their policy stances. Now just make sure you go out and vote on the 12th of December.