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Tory general election manifesto: key points and analysis

Theresa May has grasped her opportunity to impose her “mainstream” brand of Conservatism on the 2017 Tory manifesto with both hands. Her approach is symbolised by the scrapping of key commitments made by David Cameron, among them the tax lock ruling out future increases, and the triple lock protecting the value of state pensions.

The manifesto confirms the expected key pledges to get immigration below 100,000, the Ed Miliband-style cap on energy prices and the commitment that “Brexit means Brexit”.

But among the untrailed items are an £8bn “real terms” boost over five years to the NHS and £4bn extra for schools – although free primary school lunches will be replaced by free breakfasts.

May identifies the “five great challenges” facing post-Brexit Britain as: maintaining economic growth; ensuring a smooth and orderly Brexit and staying a united nation; building a new “great meritocracy”; coping with an ageing society while being fair to the young; and harnessing the power of fast-changing technology while maintaining security and privacy.

Mayism

“There is no Mayism … there is only good solid Conservatism that puts the interests of working people at its heart,” said Theresa May, launching her manifesto that rejects the ideology of Thatcherism just as clearly as the socialism of Jeremy Corbyn.

Nick Timothy, her joint chief of staff, has made no secret that he believes the Tories’ most serious weakness is “the perception that we simply do not give a toss about ordinary people”. The manifesto is just as much about burying Cameron’s “posh-boy Toryism” with “the new meritocracy”.

This is what lies behind the 88-page manifesto’s branding as a detailed programme of government for “ordinary working families” in a post-Brexit Britain. It is at its starkest in the social care plan. May has ditched Cameron’s pledge to introduce a cap on social care costs.

Instead she has cut the middle classes – defined as anyone who earns a home worth more than £100,000 – adrift from state help and plans to means-test winter fuel payments in order to fund the social care costs of those ordinary working families.

It is a theme that runs through her manifesto, and marks a break from the kind of Conservatism that has dominated since the 1970s. The change seeks to capitalise on the collapse of Ukip and Labour’s retreat, which between them have left potentially millions of working-class votes up for grabs.

The manifesto says that May’s Tories will “govern from the mainstream” and “reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right”. She intends to reject Thatcherism as well as Corbynism, with an explicit rejection of the “cult of individualism”. Asked if she would call herself a Thatcherite, she simply said: “Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative, I’m a Conservative, this is a Conservative manifesto.”

PM: There is no Mayism, only good, solid Conservatism – video

The manifesto says “no deal is better than a bad deal” for the UK. The deal May seeks would take the UK out of the single market and out of the customs union but maintain “a deep and special relationship” through a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement. It would introduce controls on EU immigration while securing the rights of EU nationals in UK and Britons in EU. And it would maintain a common travel area with a “frictionless” border with Ireland.

The manifesto confirms a “great repeal bill” to convert EU law into UK law but excludes the EU fundamental charter of rights. It commits to assessing whether to continue with specific European programmes and says it “will be reasonable that we make a contribution” to the ones that continue.

Analysis: The language of the manifesto would allow May to claim that the voters had endorsed a “hard Brexit” with its clear rejection of the single market and the customs union. The prospect of no deal rather than a bad deal will be taken as an opening negotiating stance but will also sound potential alarm bells over the chaos that could ensue. The manifesto also shelves the repeal of the Human Rights Act until after Brexit and says the UK will remain signatories to the European convention on human rights for the next parliament.

Tax

The Tories have promised not to increase the level of VAT and say they will always be the party that keeps tax as low as possible. The manifesto says: “It is our firm intention to reduce taxes on Britain’s businesses and working families.’’

The manifesto commits to implementing a promise to increase the income tax personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 by 2020. May will also stick to a plan to reduce corporation tax to 17% by 2020 and to reform business rates system.

Analysis: The manifesto ditches David Cameron’s five year “tax lock” which was enshrined in law to run until 2020 and promised not to increase income tax, VAT or national insurance and is now regarded as unaffordable. This “tax lock” was the reason for the Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s humiliating U-turn after the Budget over his attempt to raise national insurance for the self-employed.

The manifesto clearly opens the way for future rises in both income tax rates and national insurance at a future budget. The pledge not to increase the level of VAT does not rule out extending its scope to other goods and services.

As for the timetable of paying down the deficit, the manifesto says: “we will continue to aim for a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade, in line with the fiscal rules announced by the chancellor in his autumn statement last year.”

Immigration

The manifesto confirms that the target of reducing net migration from its current 273,000 to below 100,000 will remain. Students will remain part of the target. The government will continue to bear down on non-EU migration by increasing earnings thresholds for family migration, tougher visa rules for students, double immigration skills charge to £2,000 per year per skilled worker recruited, and increasing the NHS charges they pay. A significant number of visas will be set aside for strategically important sectors, such as digital technology.

May also pledges to introduce an immigration policy for EU migrants that “allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs.”

Analysis: The continuation of the net migration pledge for a further five years despite never being met in the past 7 years is the most divisive for May’s cabinet. The Office of Budget Responsibility has estimated hitting the target could cost the economy £6bn a year net in lost skills and productivity. George Osborne has claimed that not a single senior cabinet minister privately supports the target.

The manifesto hints that future EU migration policy will close the door on low skilled migration from eastern Europe in particular. A new visa/work permit regime for skilled migrants from Europe is likely to provoke retaliatory visa regimes imposed on UK workers in Europe. There is also however a hint of widespread exemptions for skilled workers in “strategic industries” – which could open up a very large door for in any new immigration policy.

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