Theresa May’s Conservative manifesto offers a new brand of provincial Toryism that remains the best available plan for Britain’s future, writes Alec Marsh
By pledging to reduce corporation tax to just 17 per cent – what it claims to be the lowest in the developed world – and by committing to raise the tax thresholds for personal taxes, the Conservative manifesto unveiled by Theresa May certainly appeals to traditional Tory voters.
In seeking to establish the most competitive, pro-free market business landscape in the developed world, the Conservatives will surely help to deliver on their promise to make Brexit work out as well as it can.
By aiming to balance the governmental books by 2025, they can also just about continue to claim to be the party of fiscal rectitude – but without raising taxes it’s hard to see how they could meet their spending commitments otherwise, without shamelessly attempting to pull the wool over voters’ eyes.
The promise to invest £8 billion more in real terms over the next five years in the NHS is an acknowledgement of the extra resources that the service certainly needs in the face of our ageing society. Likewise, the commitment to ‘Homes for all’, the extension of free childcare for working families, and the promise to raise the National Living Wage are part and parcel of a programme that appeals to a broader spectrum of voters beyond the core Tory support. Similarly, business as well as commuters will be cheered by the commitment to invest in HS2, the Northern Powerhouse rail plans and Heathrow expansion. One important omission here is Crossrail 2, which London desperately needs and the City is calling for.
Much of this blue heartland will be horrified by the denting of pensioner benefits – by the replacement of David Cameron’s ‘triple lock’ with a lesser ‘double lock’ and by the ending of the universal winter fuel payments, which quite rightly will become means-tested in the likely event of a Tory victory on 8 June.
Likewise, the more ideological wing of the Prime Minister’s own party will be horrified by ‘mainstream’ May’s talking-up of government intervention in markets, by the extension of workers’ representation on company boards, by the cap on energy bills, and by other distinctly ‘red’ Tory innovations. They may well play rather better at the ballot box.
Which all points towards a new chapter in Conservative party history: from Peel’s pragmatic, Protestant, industrial conservatism to Disraeli’s romantic One Nation Toryism; from the high notes of Imperial Preference to Joseph Chamberlain’s utilitarian municipal Conservatism, from Thatcherism to the neo-liberal metropolitan, elitist Conservatism of Cameron and George Osborne by way of John Major’s soapbox, Mayism, whatever the lady herself might say on the subject, has arrived.
It is the Rocky Horror Picture Show of Conservatism: it’s a jump to the left, and then a step to the right… but the heels are better than ever. In this ‘Forward Together’ manifesto, Theresa May has left her footprint on the future of the party and, in all likelihood, the country.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear's