Theresa May will use her manifesto to obtain her own mandate from the British electorate and ditch a string of promises from David Cameron’s 2015 document.
It will come as no surprise that delivering Brexit will be at the heart of the offering, but spending commitments on health, education and overseas aid may yet be revised – as well as targets on immigration and pensions.
May’s Conservatives will promise to deliver an exit for the EU that takes back control over the immigration system, involves leaving the single market and withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European court of justice – commitments already made to the country in her Lancaster House speech last autumn.
She may be able to promise that this will be complete by the end of the next parliament, but is likely to have to fudge whether the terms of EU membership continue on a transitional basis for a couple of years after the UK formally leaves.
Undoubtedly, May will pledge to end free movement to and from Europe, sacrificing Britain’s membership of the single market to achieve this – and ditching a 2015 manifesto pledge to stay in the trading bloc in the process. But it is possible she will not repeat Cameron’s promise to keep net migration to the tens of thousands, preferring a vague promise of immigration at “sustainable” levels to avoid tying her hands.
May will be anxious not to suggest that the Conservatives will raise taxes, and she went so far as to clear the decks for an election by cancelling a national insurance hike for the self-employed just a week after it was announced in the budget. However, she is less fond of gimmicky promises than Cameron and George Osborne so may steer away from their old pledge not to raise NI, VAT or income tax during the parliament. Labour will want to raise taxes on big corporations so the Conservatives are likely to have some offer in the area of tax fairness, such as yet another promise to crack down on tax avoidance.
Reviving grammar schools is at the heart of May’s education policy. She would have difficulty passing it through the House of Commons with the current crop of MPs, but a majority elected on a manifesto of more selective education would have to vote it through. Her “plan for Britain” document promises to “provide access to a good school place for every child”, so there will be a pledge to improve non-selective schools as well.
May has so far only pledged to “continue to invest in the NHS to help people at every stage of their life and support a vital national institution”. Stewardship of the NHS is always a weak point for Conservative campaigns and this time around, Labour will be able to exploit the fact that the NHS is facing an unprecedented squeeze because of social care cuts and an ageing population.
However, it is possible that May could try to defuse the issue by going all or some of the way towards honouring the Brexit campaign’s pledge to send £350m a week to the NHS. She will also have to look at social care, with options including a cap on the total charges an individual can pay, insurance models or a “death tax” on estates, which would inflame the rightwing press.
May will promise to “deliver 1m new homes”, with a focus on affordable rents as well as home ownership. This is a shift away from Cameron’s relentless emphasis on allowing people to buy their own homes.
Defence and foreign aid
May will commit to spending at least 2% of national income on defence, but she has not given the same promise about Britain’s commitment to spending 0.7% on foreign aid. It is possible she could combine the two elements into a 3% security target, which it is likely would be hugely opposed by charities and opposition parties.
May has made clear she intends to cap energy prices in some way – a popular offering when it was first suggested by the then Labour leader Ed Miliband.
May has hinted the triple lock will be scrapped. This is the commitment to increase the state pension by a minimum of either inflation, average earnings or, if both figures are lower, 2.5%. The idea is to inject more intergenerational fairness into the system – working age benefits suffered while pensioners benefited under the coalition years. She has a huge lead among older voters in the polls, but Labour’s commitment to the triple lock could help attract some support back to the party.