With the 2019 General Election campaign now underway, the political parties are working against the clock to finish their manifestos.

With the content of the manifesto and the launch itself critical to electoral success, all parties will be keen to learn the lessons of the 2017 General Election: the good and the bad.

With this in mind, Headland looks at who is writing this year’s manifestos, how the content is being agreed, and the pitfalls each party will be desperate to avoid this time around.

Labour

Last time out

Labour’s 2017 manifesto marked a stark change in direction for the party from the ‘centre ground’ to the ‘left’. Despite the document being criticised for “taking Britain back to the 1970s”, the policies enjoyed widespread public support – with renationalising the railways, freezing the retirement age and banning zero hours contracts proving the most popular. The ‘leaked’ radical and giveaway-heavy offer helped boost Labour’s poll rating and the party will have their minds on achieving a similar if not better result this time around.

Who’s in charge

The Labour manifesto is being written by Andrew Fisher, Jeremy Corbyn’s Executive Director for Policy.

Fisher is supported by his deputies, including Lachlan Stuart (Domestic Policy Adviser), Mary Robertson (Head of Economic Policy), Mike Hatchett (Director of Policy & Briefing), Jennifer Larbie (Head of International Policy) and Mark Simpson (Head of Brexit & Devolved Nations Policy), as well as political advisors to shadow cabinet members.

There’s also input from the National Policy Forum, a body consisting of politicians, party members and trade union officials.

The process

When complete, the manifesto goes to a meeting of the National Policy Forum and shadow cabinet called the ‘Clause V Meeting’ where it will be discussed and approved, almost certainly without amendment.

Expect to see

A manifesto full of 2017 policies – spending on the NHS, benefits, homes and renationalisation – but with a few additions such as structural reform of the City.

Conservative

Last time out

Manifesto writers in CCHQ will be keen to learn from the mistakes of 2017; when the document contained policies that cabinet ministers hadn’t seen swiftly backfired. While radical from a Conservative perspective, the social care policy (‘dementia tax’) went down like a cup of cold sick among their core vote. This time around we’ll undoubtedly get a sense that a new leader is in town with Boris Johnson’s vision for greater public spending and big infrastructure projects enabled by Brexit shining through.

Who’s in charge

The Conservative manifesto is being written by two policy experts: Rachel Wolf (a former aide to Michael Gove) and Munira Mirza (Director of No. 10’s Policy Unit).

The process

Unlike the Labour Party, the Conservatives don’t have a formal manifesto-writing process – instead giving control to the party leader and CCHQ. Despite the recent news that Dominic Cummings won’t be running the party’s election campaign, any manifesto will undoubtedly need to pass the Cummings ‘sniff test’ before it’s put to the country.

Expect to see

A slimmed down version – with delivering Brexit by 31 January, 20,000 police officers, more money for hospitals and income tax cuts front and centre.

Liberal Democrats

Last time out

The 2017 manifesto was squarely aimed at Remainers and young voters who the party saw as their route to overturning Brexit. However, the party failed to successfully peel off Conservative and Labour Remainers – winning just 7.4% of the vote – because they were squeezed out by Labour’s ambiguous Brexit position. This time around we can expect a firm Remain position and a focus on Conservative Remainers in the south of England.

Who’s in charge

The Liberal Democrat manifesto is drawn up by the Federal Policy Committee in consultation with the party. Policies are then agreed, line-by-line, by the committee and collated by Dick Newby (the party’s leader in the House of Lords) and Jo Swinson.

The process

Newby and Swinson are being supported by Duncan Brack (a former environment aide during the coalition government) and Jeremy Hargreaves (a longstanding and experienced adviser).

Expect to see

A heavy focus on revoking Article 50 and cancelling Brexit.

Scottish Nationalist Party

Last time out

A solid focus on independence alienated a swathe of voters and allowed the Conservatives and Labour to gain a combined 17 seats in Scotland.

Who’s in charge

Colin McAllister, Nicola Sturgeon’s Head of Policy, is holding the pen on the SNP’s manifesto.

McAllister is supported by Derek Mackay (the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary) and Elizabeth Lloyd (Sturgeon’s Chief of Staff) who are responsible for involving ministers and special advisors in the manifesto-writing process.

There’s also input from Ian Blackford (the party’s leader in the House of Commons) – but it’s not clear how much of a role he will have given he’s not in the ‘inner circle’.

The process

While this is a Westminster election, it’s clear the SNP manifesto is being written by those at the centre of power in Holyrood.

Expect to see

A second referendum for Scottish independence at the heart of the manifesto.

What happens next

History shows us that election manifestos are usually published in quick succession of one another. In 2017 Labour were the first to ‘launch’ (although it was leaked initially), followed by the Liberal Democrats the next day and the Conservatives a day later. A similar pattern was true in 2015. With Labour’s Clause V meeting on 16 November, expect to see all parties’ pitches the week of 18 November. In the meantime, the scramble to agree final policy positions continues.

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