As Parliament dissolves and MPs return home to fight for their seats, all eyes now turn to the release of the party manifestos.
The Tory manifesto is due first, and is expected to be published on 8th May. The commitments so far point to a Prime Minister who is more interventionist than her predecessors, a manifesto designed to support the many, not the few, and a vision of a country “that works for everyone”. In other words, a sharp break from the liberalism of David Cameron’s 2010 manifesto.
The backdrop to this election is of course Brexit, with Theresa May hoping that an increased majority in the Commons will strengthen her negotiating hand. But what of her domestic policies? This is Headland’s guide on what to expect.
Promises made so far
- A cap on energy prices for the seven out of ten UK households paying standard variable tariffs, which is similar to Ed Miliband’s unpopular proposal in 2015.
- 0.7% of GDP to continue to be spent on foreign aid and at least 2% (the NATO minimum requirement) on defence.
- Increased regulatory powers over company pensions; including fines for employers who deliberately underfund schemes, powers to block certain M&As, and a new law to make it illegal to recklessly put a pension scheme at risk.
- 1 million new homes by 2020, with a focus on affordable renting as well as home ownership.
What else can we expect?
Business and taxation
Since arriving at Number 10, Theresa May has made corporate governance reform a flagship policy. Although we are still waiting for the outcome of last year’s Green Paper, its contents provide a useful starting point for what the Tories are thinking.
Big businesses have a reason to be wary. We are likely to see a demand for businesses to publish pay ratios and shareholder veto on executive salaries – both policies which are designed to appeal to provincial Conservatives and traditional Labour voters. A pledge to “protect workers’ pensions from irresponsible bosses” continues the protectionist tone.
Tax changes proved to be a challenge for the Government following the Budget, so don’t expect to see any repeat promises from David Cameron’s 2010 manifesto. The only tax rise which has been definitively ruled out is VAT.
Property will be a key battleground during this election. The Housing White Paper has only just been published, but it is likely that Team May will be looking to build on its contents.
In other words, look out for policies aimed at tackling the current housing shortage, such as one which forces property developers to use planning permission quicker, despite it previously being decried by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as “Mugabe-style” land grabs.
Although policies limiting overseas investors from buying up UK properties and reforming stamp duty have been submitted to Number 10 by Tory backbenchers, the general feeling seems to be that these won’t make the final cut.
The Tories have denied press speculation that they are considering a pause on HS2 for inclusion in the party's manifesto. Pressure has also been mounting from London politicians and businesses for the Government to commit to Crossrail 2. However, it is unlikely any of the major parties will commit to Crossrail 2 without making similar commitments to other transport infrastructure projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail. Equally, a policy on the expansion is Heathrow is unlikely to appear.
Given the prominence of support for regional infrastructure in the Spring Budget, keep an eye out for policies which build on this. Superfast broadband has also been a hot topic of recent weeks, so we may see further support for this in the final document.
Energy and Environment
Theresa May’s green credentials are notable by their absence, and the manifesto offers the chance for her to prove her critics wrong. She will be under particular pressure to endorse the Climate Change Act and build on the support for renewable energy which was including in the Government’s draft industrial strategy, without alienating the climate-sceptic wing of the party.
Pensions and Savings
Speculation has been rife over whether the Prime Minister will review the “triple lock” pledge on pensions – which guarantees a minimum increase in the state pension each year. In her first televised interview of the campaign, Theresa May indicated that she would scrap the commitment, something which polls indicate is backed by the majority of Conservative party members. In a bid to continue attract the “grey vote”, she may replace it with a less generous “double lock” which would ensure pensioners still see a steady rise in their pension.
The Conservatives have come out against Labour’s proposals to introduce pay rises for NHS staff, but have offered little detail on their own policies. So far, Theresa May has pledged to “continue to invest in the NHS to help people at every stage of their life”.
Health campaigners have called on all political parties to commit to full implementation of the Childhood Obesity Strategy and to enforce further restrictions on marketing of certain foods. Meanwhile, the Food and Drink Federation has urged parties to provide financial certainty to industry by confirming there will be no further nutrient taxes on foods.
With Labour losing a swathe of seats to the SNP in 2015, the Scottish Conservatives are positioning themselves as the opposing voice north of the border. With the party now in second place in Holyrood, there may be temptation to offer a further devolution bill, transferring greater financial powers to Scotland.
Who’s writing it?
The manifesto is being written by a tight team of Theresa May’s closest allies, with even Cabinet ministers left out of the loop. Here’s what you need to know about May’s top team of authors.
- This is the man overseeing the operation. Nicknamed ‘Theresa’s brain’.
- He’ll be driving the ‘centre ground’ agenda, making sure that the Conservatives appeal to the ‘Just About Managings’. Given his admiration for Joseph Chamberlain, this is not a surprise.
- ‘The most important minister you’ve never heard of’. As the Cabinet Office Minister, he was previously tasked with implementing 544 manifesto commitments from 2015.
- Gummer is a staunch pragmatist. A key job for him will be ensuring that the promises in the manifesto all add up practically and financially.
- May’s head of policy, and former Special Adviser to Douglas Hurd. His non-political career has most recently included a senior role at Legal &General.
- Godfrey will provide the link between what the departments are up to now and more future-focused ‘blue sky’ thinking.
- Chair of the Downing Street Policy Board and of the Conservative Policy Forum. His job is to act as a conduit between the Prime Minister and MPs, as well as party members.
- He is all about making Brexit work, and has previously described it as an ‘Arctic Convoy’ moment for Britain.