Tory manifesto a 'steady as she goes' document

Faisal Islam
Economics editor
@faisalislamon Twitter

image copyrightPA Media

The Conservative Party manifesto contained no rabbits out of the hat, no huge tax cut - but a promise not to raise them - and no big new spending item.

It has been designed as a "steady as she goes" modest effort - the equivalent of a rather low key Budget, with some targeted help.

By design, the tax and spend numbers are just much smaller than Liberal Democrats' and especially Labour.

Extra nurse recruitment and appointments cost about £1.5bn a year, on top of existing NHS commitments.

In total there's £3bn in extra spending covered by a net tax rise of the same amount - the product of £6bn more in corporation tax revenue, and £2.5bn less from the National Insurance threshold rise.

The big picture here is several billion a year, not several tens of billions.

Tight ship

Indeed the difference in the Labour and Conservative manifesto costings document is laid bare by comparing total extra spending in 2023-24: Labour's manifesto offers (including day-to-day spending, investment spending and the annual cost of the promise to compensate women pensioners born in the 1950s) to increase spend more in one month (£12bn), than the Conservatives do in the whole year (£11bn).

media captionBoris Johnson says says "prevarication and procrastination" over Brexit has undermined trust in politics

And both are perfectly happy to be defined as such. The Conservative team do not want to take any risks at all after the debacle of 2017. The Labour team judge the country is ready for a post-austerity big infrastructure investment and big state to deliver a low carbon economy.

The Conservatives will accept £8bn of extra borrowing to fund investment spending on research, development and mending potholes. But the chancellor chose not to use greater space to do a lot more.

So, for example, there is no listing of the capital spend for 40 new hospitals, nor for a high speed rail "Northern Powerhouse" rail link.

The chancellor and prime minister want to keep a tight ship - a little bit more spending, yes, a bit more tax and borrowing too, but fractions of a percent of the economy.

The calculation is that the public will not mind a minimalist manifesto, because it wants just a bit more spending in targeted priorities, and that delivering Brexit will get the votes the PM needs.

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