Casting our minds back to the 2017 General Election, all seemed to be going so well for the Conservatives until they launched their manifesto. Various commitments landed on an unsuspecting audience, a poorly explained social care policy, an inclusion of a free vote on fox hunting and replacing free school meals with free breakfasts. These manifesto commitments, and their subsequent handling, marked a turning point in the campaign where the Conservatives felt they lost ground.
These memories are still fresh in the Conservatives’ minds as they look to launch their latest manifesto this weekend, and this is partly why we should not be expecting any huge surprises. The manifesto will look to solidify many promises we have already seen trailed, capitalise on a couple of key areas where the Conservatives have popular appeal, and will utilise strong rhetoric to sell policy.
This means we can expect to see many of the recent commitments the Prime Minister has made since entering Downing Street to appear. This will undoubtedly mean a central pillar will focus on delivering Brexit, complemented with a focus on health, crime and education. These are areas where the Conservatives will look to solidify their base and attract new voters.
Crime in particular, is expected to feature heavily in the manifesto, with commitments to tougher sentencing rules for criminals, bringing back ‘stop and search’ and tackling gangs. Being tough on crime not only appeals to voters but is also an area where Johnson is proud of his track record as London Mayor.
Alongside this, Johnson is also proud of his One Nation Tory credentials, whilst this isn’t something that has shone through in the recent Brexit-dominated debate, this could reappear in the manifesto. This may take the form of messaging around ‘levelling-up’ the country, encouraging social unity and coming together. It is also likely to include a focus on family-friendly policies, like an extension of free childcare to all two-year-olds. And, commitments to tackle climate change and encourage more environmentally conscious policies. These are all ways the Conservatives can extend their reach to new groups, and will also be a chance for the Prime Minister to remind voters he’s not all about Brexit.
In an attempt to create a clear dividing line with Labour we can expect the Conservatives to look to present themselves as the fiscally responsible choice. We have already seen some of this played out earlier this week, with Johnson pausing plans to cut corporation tax whilst increasing the threshold on national insurance. With big spending commitments already announced for health, education and policing the Conservatives will be looking to make sure these all add up in their manifesto.
However, one of the most expensive, complex, emotive topics remains how the Conservatives will deal with social care. After 2017 this is an area where they will be naturally cautious but still need to address in their manifesto. Whilst Johnson has pledged to ‘fix the crisis in social care’ it remains to be seen just how specific he will be able to be in the manifesto.
Whatever the content of the Conservative manifesto, after the experience of the 2017 General Election they will be looking to land it smoothly, without u-turns and with a focus on the key areas where they have broad appeal. Whilst this may mean the manifesto is shorter, vaguer and not full of brand-new commitments, it is likely to be bolstered by a strong media trail, a hint of flamboyant language and strong rhetoric to bring them to life.
Measurement and evaluation