As far as election Manifesto launches go, I think 2015 will be the last time we see the traditional booklet launch. There are two reasons for this. First, technology moves so quickly that by 2020 it is bound to be an all online affair. Secondly, manifestos are becoming irrelevant – why? Politicians simply do not keep their promises anymore thus, why manifestos, which are after all, a collection of promises, are not worth the paper they are written on.
David Cameron strode onto the stage in Swindon today watched carefully by party managers and minders; the latter by the way kept hold of the microphone when journalists were asking questions to ensure no uncomfortable follow-ups.
As Cameron looked out to the adoring mass of assembled party workers and loyal supporters I wonder if the words and phrases such as ‘there will be no top down re-organisation of the NHS’ or ‘no ifs, no buts’ or ‘cast iron guarantees’ haunted his mind? Not a chance. Here was a Prime Minister fighting for his political life and prepared to say whatever he had to – to win the election.
Cameron’s performance was to be fair, impressive, passionate, confident and purposeful. He hammered home his mantra of the long term economic plan and told the country we can’t trust Labour with the economy. He gushed about his patriotic love for our country and the NHS and his admiration for our armed forces – but was there any substance? Some, but the launch left more questions than answers.
The main pledges were trotted out one by one
- Eliminate the deficit and be running a surplus by the end of the Parliament – hold on a minute, I am sure that was in the 2010 manifesto? Moving on.
- An extra £8billion above inflation for the NHS by 2020. However, there was no explanation of how this would be funded – vague reference was made to the proceeds of growth being the source of the funding but essentially it was the first financial black hole to appear.
- Extend the Right to Buy scheme to housing association tenants in England. Invoking the spirit of Margaret Thatcher and the property owning democracy the audience loved it, cheers, bravo and hear, hear could be heard even on the telly. However, 400,000 homes in five years is a very tall order – with no economically credible explanation on who will build them, how they will be financed and whether those purchasing will ever get the lending to buy in the first place. Many questions left unanswered but a possible vote winner – but we are not in 1979 anymore toto.
- Legislate to keep people working 30 hours on minimum wage out of tax. Straight out of the UKIP top drawer, the fruitcakes, loons and racists are at last influencing and shaping Tory policy – I bet Nigel had a pint or two last night to celebrate that little coup.
- 30 hours of free childcare per week for working parents of 3&4-year-olds. A master stroke, topping both Labour and Liberal Democrats on traditionally their own turf. Paid for by reducing tax relief on pensions for the highest earners – knocked the wind out of his opponents sails with that one. But a good policy, costed and a certain vote winner.
- Referendum on Britain’s EU membership. He wheeled out the old chestnut on the EU vote. No mention of the areas of competence he wants to renegotiate with the EU on, no clear timetable on when the negotiations will begin and no chief negotiator named to take the job on. Looking like one of those promises that will re-appear in the 2020 document.
Perhaps worryingly for Cameron two areas, Immigration and Defence expenditure that his core vote were looking for some definite promises on and one area where is opponents and those in receipt of welfare benefits were scrutinising but to no avail. Which areas of welfare spending would face the £12b cut? No answer and we are not going to get one before the election. On immigration, the ‘no ifs, no buts’ failure shredded any confidence or credibility the public had in the Conservatives to control immigration, so very little was said and it was noticed – it could cost the Conservatives the election.
On defence, despite pouring praise on our armed forces, Cameron was unwilling to commit to 2% GDP spending figure over the next Parliament on our armed forces. There were lots of platitudes on taking the fight at home and abroad to Islamic extremists but voters are still waiting to hear when ‘Jihadi John’ will be stripped of his passport and citizenship and if and when any meaningful action will be taken against hate preachers and dodgy organisations who fan the flames of extremism with impunity. He did commit to a renewal of Trident and to put Putin back in his box – hopefully he has an alternative to Trident for achieving that?
Overall, like Ed Miliband the day before, Cameron presented the Conservative Party manifesto well and with some vigour that seems to have been lacking from him in recent days – but in the final analysis, politicians making promises no longer really holds water with members of the public – we are all too cynical to think that they may actually stick to some of them and deliver. Although the Conservatives did promises to upgrade the A11 and someone pointed out to them that the upgrade was completed four months ago. So an embarrassing error but at least it was a promise they will definitely keep!
What is for certain, behind the slick presentation, the adoring audience and the glossy booklet lies a Prime Minister fighting for his political life and with just three weeks to go he has to hope the pledges within this manifesto will save him.