We wrote yesterday of the Conservative Manifesto that “the commitments in it will have been scanned, swabbed and blood-tested to ensure that it is fit for human contact. It will become clear in the hours and days following its launch whether or not that scrutiny has been successful”.
It is early days. But so far, the media and its shambling attendants – think tanks, commentators, institutes and so on – haven’t gone down with a fit of the vapours. This matters. Anyone who doubts it should remember how the 2017 manifesto, and its untried social care policy, killed Theresa May’s chances of an increased majority.
We said that the Institute for Fiscal Studies would give the document a hard time – and should win no Mystic Mogg award for so doing. For the IFS was certain, having monstered the Labour manifesto, to put the boot in to the Tory one too. Balance, you see.
But the way in which it has done it is striking. The Institute’s Paul Johnson writes today in the Times that “the Conservatives are promising virtually nothing” and that “the new tax and day-to-day spending pledges announced yesterday would have been modest in the context of a single annual budget”.
That’s half of ConservativeHome’s own assessment yesterday – though, admittedly, we made it in rather more courtly terms, saying that it “presents no grand sweeping design for bracing national renewal”. Johnson is undoubtedly right to warn that some taxes will rise whoever wins this election.
If this morning’s reaction to the manifesto is also tomorrow’s and the day after’s, it will be Mission Accomplished for the Conservative team. We put Dominic Cummings name in lights yesterday when writing about it – and rightly, because his hidden hand moves everywhere.
Today, we return the spotlight to two other names before turning it on a fourth. The other half of our assessment is that the manifesto is fixed on the battling, striving, “little guy” (or girl), C2-type “just about managing voters” who just happen to be concentrated in Midlands and Northern marginals in large numbers.
The co-writers of the manifesto, with some late help from Rob Colvile of the Centre for Policy Studies, are Munira Mirza and Rachel Wolf. Mirza is an old Boris Johnson hand, who originally entered conservatism via the well-worn door of membership of the Revolutionary Communist Party (like Claire Fox and her Spiked associates).
Mirza worked at Policy Exchange before becoming Johnson’s culture adviser when he was Mayor of London. Trust matters to the Prime Minister, and Mirza was an obvious candidate to head up the Policy Unit, where she must be as ruthlessly political as her most effective predecessor: John Redwood, who did the job for Margaret Thatcher.
Wolf is – you guessed it – a former researcher for Johnson. She helped to create the New Schools Network, and then became an adviser to Michael Gove, this also working with Cummings, before joining the Number Ten Policy Unit. She is in the rare position of having entered it under David Cameron and been retained by Theresa May.
Wolf is one of our columnists. So is her husband, James Frayne. They share that focus on provincial voters. That’s why we sub-title James’s fortnightly column “Far from Notting Hill”. You can say that again. Read James on Brexit, yellow vests, the environment, swing voters, sex and Matt Hancock.
James is also a member of our weekly general election panel which publishes on Friday. Moral: the Tory focus on “just about managing” voters is ideological as well as practical. Wolf’s father is Martin Wolf, the dementedly anti-Brexit Financial Times columnist. Christmas lunch in the family home will be a ball.