From its stark and sober cover, with the full name of the Conservative and Unionist Party, and the carefully correct comma in “Forward, together”, the Conservative manifesto is a very different document from its recent predecessors. The glossy pictures and gimmicks of old – including arbitrarily binding the Government’s hands – are mostly out, and in is a series of specific pledges which amount to a broader statement of May’s values.
We’ll cover the question of social care elsewhere, but in the meantime here are a few notable points which stand out on a first reading – including, pleasingly, several policies that this site has called for:
- Scrapping the Leveson attack on the free press: “We will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which, if enacted, would force media organisations to become members of a flawed regulatory system or risk having to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy cases, even if they win.” We at ConservativeHome called in December for the Conservative Party to “sink section 40 for good”, as the legislation was a stick used by opponents of media freedom, as well as an unjust measure.
- Abolishing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act: “We will repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.” As ConservativeHome has argued, the FTPA was a self-interested and poorly-judged change to the constitution, conducted with limited debate and founded on the flawed assumption that coalition government was here to stay.
- Requiring proof of identity to vote – and reforming postal voting: “We will legislate to ensure that a form of identification must be presented before voting, [and] to reform postal voting”. ConservativeHome has long been concerned about the insecurity of the democratic process, so we are pleased to see the requirement for identity that we proposed being adopted. Postal voting cannot be allowed to act as a loophole for electoral fraud, so we await the specifics on that front with interest.
- Reducing the size of Parliament: “We will continue with the current boundary review…while reducing the number of MPs to 600…and will continue to ensure the work of the House of Lords remains relevant and effective by addressing issues such as its size.” There had been some questions about whether the Boundary Review would still happen (pity the poor Reviewers). But it’s in there, and will be going ahead – which might lead a few candidates in target seats to revisit the list of seats set to be merged or abolished. As for the Lords, we’ve always argued it is too large and disproportionately favours the Liberal Democrats – the Prime Minister has left herself room to pursue a variety of approaches if she wishes.
- Brexit means Brexit: “As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the Single Market and the Customs Union”. We already knew this was – rightly – May’s position from her past speeches, but it’s significant that it is in the manifesto. As Christopher Howarth argued earlier this week, embedding the fundamentals of Brexit in the manifesto gives them the force of the Salisbury Convention – meaning that even if the Lords don’t like it, they ought to accept the Government’s right to implement its pledges.
- A major reallocation of resources to technical education: “…bold reform of the funding, institutional and qualifications frameworks for technical education”. As far back as the ConservativeHome manifesto we published before the 2015 General Election, and as recently as last week, this site argued for a major reallocation of funding towards vocational and technical education. May’s manifesto follows that advice – pledging new funding for FE colleges, new technology institutes in each major city, and, significantly, “a major review of funding across tertiary education as a whole”. As I argued a few months ago, this will be essential to underpinning the Prime Minister’s industrial strategy.
- The vexed question of childcare: “The next Conservative government will assess what more is needed, including looking at the best ways that childcare is provided elsewhere in Europe and the world.” Another issue we urged action to address last week was the difficult question of childcare. While the manifesto doesn’t pledge a specific solution, it does open the door to consideration of a wide and radical range of possible policies – the previous attempt under the Coalition to take up best practice elsewhere was both brief and abortive, so it’s rightly being revisited.