Some general election manifestos are months in the making, with the date of the poll very clear many weeks in advance.
Since this one was only decided upon, at the very earliest, a fortnight or so before the announcement – and since the plan was kept well and truly under wraps – it follows that there is no fully-framed manifesto ready to spring out of a Downing Street drawer.
Furthermore, Cabinet Ministers are still holding their hankerchiefs up to the wind, sucking their thumbs, and scribbling notes on the back of envelopes about what the document should say about the policy areas for which they are responsible. Number Ten may take some of them and their ideas more seriously than others, but they must be have their say. So must other Ministers. So must the 1922 Committee. So must the Conservative Policy Forum…
But if the contents of the manifesto are a long way from being completed, some of the main players responsible for drafting it are already hard at work. They include:
- John Godfrey, head of the Downing Street Policy Unit. The former Home Office SpAd under Douglas Hurd has to keep his eyes on the ground, and be familiar with what the departments are doing, while also glancing upwards to do “blue sky thinking” about the future. Will Tanner, his deputy, was also a Home Office SpAd – under Theresa May.
- George Freeman, Chair of the Downing Street Policy Board and of the Conservative Policy Forum, too. He will do a lot of the Party work – as this ConHome interview with Andrew Gimson from late last year indicates. In it, he said that Brexit is “an ‘Arctic Convoy’ moment for HMS Britain. All officers on deck. Action stations…I think if we rise to the challenge, this can be a moment when we stop blaming others for our problems and as a nation we take responsibility. It might trigger a responsibility renaissance, at individual and at corporate and at governmental level.” Freeman will have his gaze fixed firmly on the future.
- Ben Gummer, “the most important Minister you’ve never heard of” – the title of Andrew’s recent profile of him. The Cabinet Office Minister was charged with implementing 544 manifesto commitments from 2015. Now he must play an Oliver Letwin-type role, and ensure that its successor makes sense and adds up. Gummer will need to smoothe out any wrinkles between the Treasury and the spending departments.
And over and above them all will be Fiona Hill and especially Nick Timothy, the co-chiefs of staff. A launch date? About a month before polling day itself might make sense. Sooner, and the process may become too hectic; later, and publication would be cutting it fine. Common sense suggests Monday May 8 or thereabouts.