As would be expected from any party ahead in the polls by a margin of double figures, the Conservative manifesto was long on vision but short of specific policy pledges.
The document is a remarkably restrained affair, with much of the substance either a reiteration of pledges made in the 2015 manifesto or in the various government consultations and statements that have been published over the past few months. Those who have read the Brexit White Paper, the Industrial Strategy consultation and the Housing White Paper will already be familiar with much of its contents.
The manifesto’s wordy nature and reiteration of existing government policy does, however, disguise a degree of radicalism which the Prime Minister has already denied amounts to a new creed of ‘Mayism’ – blending traditional Conservative values with greater state interventionism to address populist concerns and the challenges of broader economic changes.
For traditional Conservatives there is a lot to like – fiscal restraint, even if delivered with a reluctance to fund new tax cuts; honouring the increase in the income tax threshold; and reiterating the pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, as sceptical as many might be that such a target can ever be met. And of course, there is a firm pledge to see through the country’s departure from the EU, even if that means walking away from the negotiating table.
But alongside this there is an admirable attempt to address problems arising from changes in working patterns – such the need for greater protection for those working in the so-called ‘gig economy’. There is a surprisingly detailed section on the digital economy, recognising the importance of a high value skills sector in securing ongoing prosperity post-Brexit.
There are then some nakedly populist pledges. The need for a new plan for the funding of social care is long overdue, not least because several local authorities are starting to feel the squeeze of meeting their obligations in this area. Greater nursery provision and a pledge to source more government procurement from SMEs will meet with approval within specific social groups likely to opt for the Tories this time.
More surprising is a degree of interventionism that would have been unthinkable two years ago. Energy price caps, mandatory boardroom representation, greater restrictions on foreign ownership and a roll out of ‘right to requests’ for employees of larger companies are an audacious march into Labour territory. As much as he might be out of favour, it also represents a continuation of George Osborne’s big political project to use the 2015 election success as a once in a generation opportunity to fundamentally reshape perceptions of the Conservative Party.
Given current polling – and barring any late surprises, the Conservatives are on course for at minimum a comfortable parliamentary majority. This manifesto should therefore be seen as a guide for the likely course of government over the next five years, even if some of the details are still sketchy.
For a more detailed look at our analysis of some of the policies announced in the manifesto, click here