Theresa May is ambivalent about the Cameron Government in which she served. On the one hand, she was one of its most senior Ministers, breaking the post-war record for heading up the Home Office. On the other, her relationship with Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne, deteriorated as time went on into a state of cold war. She spectacularly sacked the latter after replacing the former.
As ConservativeHome pointed out in the wake of the Budget, that ambivalence extends to the last election manifesto. As it happens, the Brexit vote has already provoked the breaking of a major commitment by Philip Hammond without anyone complaining at all. He tore up Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable in his Autumn Statement last year.
But as James Cartlidge suggested yesterday in a tour de force on this site, some Conservative MPs don’t mind if manifesto commitments that seek to tackle problems are postponed. But they will rush into action if those that put off dealing with them are about to be broken. Whether you like or dislike Philip Hammond’s plans for National Insurance Contributions, this was undoubtedly what happened last week.
The danger for Theresa May now is that the media and others – we must presumably exclude the official opposition – will be energised into hunting down anything that might look like a broken manifesto pledge. The Independent on Sunday is early out of the blocks today, claiming that Cameron’s pledge to build 200,000 starter homes at 20 per cent below market price has been shelved.
These stories have a potential bonus for the hacks – that’s to say, inveigling supporters of the ancien regime into saying that the Prime Minister is letting down her predecessor. Andrew Gimson reported in his recent profile of Ben Gummer that the hard-toiling Cabinet Office Minister is charged with ensuring that no fewer than 544 manifesto commitments from 2015 are implemented. Until now, he has been able quietly to get on with the job. No longer.