The launch of the Conservative manifesto was the most highly anticipated of the General Election. It provided the opportunity for Prime Minister Theresa May to set out her vision for Britain, a vision that was never expressed in her short run bid for the premiership following David Cameron’s shock resignation. However, despite the fact that the Conservative manifesto looked like a manifesto and sounded like a manifesto, it has seemingly become a conversation starter from which the Conservatives are constantly revising their plans to avoid the wrath of the electorate.
The manifesto focused on Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision for Britain, with a staggering 16 references to May compared to just four mentions of then leader and Prime Minister David Cameron in the 2015 Manifesto, and the single reference to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, the requisite beneath his signature in Labour’s 2017 manifesto.
The significant lead in the polls gave rise for the type of commitments that would normally make a party unelectable, and offered a real chance to make significant and likely unpopular changes which would provide a framework for future generations. Foxhunting, which has been an issue which the Conservatives have felt pressure on from the pro-hunting lobby re-emerged, despite 84% of the population viewing the ban right, and seemed to have little impact on May’s lead. By contrast, the cost of elderly care, which is recognised by all parties as a ticking time-bomb with no obvious solution, has proved derailing.
The text was short on detail but stated the intention for means-testing for domiciliary care and residential care with introduction of a single capital floor, set at £100,000. This would mean that no matter how high the cost of care is, individuals will always retain at least £100,000 of their savings and assets, crucially including the value in the family home. These costs could be deferred payments, meaning no-one will have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care, but after their death their estate may have to be sold to offset the debt owed.
What the Manifesto addressed in concept, however, it lacked in detail. The most controversial point was the absence of specification about how high costs could rise, with the previous Conservative commitment to cap overall care costs of £72,000 being dropped. Minsters, including the Secretary of State for Health were adamant that the cost cap would be dropped when speaking last week. While the reception during the launch was relatively warm, and the rising criticism across the weekend press has resulted in yesterday’s if not quite u-turn then zig-zag on the policy. The volte face performed on Monday was uncomfortable viewing when a visibly uncomfortable Prime Minister announced that the proposals would include a government green paper and consultation paper to include an absolute limit on care costs.
In a one horse race, the Conservatives have seemingly tripped over their own feet, with support for Labour boosted by five points over the weekend as the nation reacted to the manifestos. May’s interview with Andrew Neil, in lieu of the leaders debates, was excoriating as he lambasted her manifesto as ‘uncosted and half-baked’ and asked her what has gone wrong.
While the Conservatives’ lead may have halved from the highs seen last month, the party’s support is still touching double figures as we head towards the final fortnight of campaigning. What would almost certainly have sunk the party in another election seems to have damaged but by no means sunk the chance for May to return to Number 10 on 9 June.