Boris Johnson plays 'safety first' with Conservative manifesto
The FT's UK political commentator Robert Shrimsley says the Tories have pushed the difficult policy decisions to one side as the party sits on a big lead before the December 12 poll
Filmed by Nicola Stansfield; produced by Veronica Kan-Dapaah; edited by Joe Sinclair
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It's just over two weeks now till Britain votes in its general election. And with the launch on Sunday of the Conservative party manifesto we've now seen all the main offerings from the major parties.
Thank you very much.
Anyone who's ever seen their football team defend a 1-0 lead with 15 minutes to go will understand how it felt watching the Conservative party launch. The Tories are playing very much a safety first campaign now. They've got their one radical policy, which is Brexit and pushing it through as fast as possible. And everything else now is about denying the opposition other reasons to attack them.
Boris Johnson is going to spend the rest of this election repeating his slogans, get Brexit done, invest in schools, hospitals, and the police. And the more he can avoid deviating from that, the happier he's going to be.
Here is the route map to take us forward. Because unlike any other parties standing at this election, we're going to get Brexit done.
There was surprisingly little in his manifesto which was in any way unexpected. All of the big policy decisions or all the difficult policy decisions have been pushed to one side. Social care reform, the issue which derailed Theresa May in 2017, they're not even going to offer you a proposal for that. They're just going to say they're going to look at it once again while putting a £5bn sticking plaster over the issue.
As far as Boris Johnson is concerned every day that nothing happens in this election is a day in which he has won because he's sitting on a 12-20 point lead. And he knows that Labour has to work to catch him. His only job now is not to gift them opportunities.
This is our manifesto: to give decency in our society, to give hope to people, to right the wrongs that have happened over 10 years of austerity.
The other thing that's really been exposed by all of the manifesto launches is just the scale of the difference between the Conservatives and Labour when it comes to public spending. One estimate says that for every pound the Conservatives are offering to spend and put into public services, Labour is offering to spend £28. That's an enormous gulf. No one can recall anything like that in recent memory.
Often when an opposition party is running for government, it tries to show how sensible and moderate its proposals are. Labour has gone quite the other way. It is proposing the most radical transformation of the British economy since 1945. And it believes in re-engineering that whole economy away from what we understand a market economy to be.
Many of the taxes it's proposing are huge hits to business, to the wealthy, and to investment. And the consequence of this will be to push off wealth creators from this country. So there is a major risk in what Labour's doing. And far from worrying about that risk, Labour's actually embracing it. Jeremy Corbyn singled out billionaires, landlords, employers. All of these people are potentially the enemy in his socialist vision for Britain.
I accept the opposition of the billionaires, because we will make those at the top pay their fair share of tax.
And he is happy to embrace that as he tries to assemble a coalition of other interest groups to sweep him into power. He's targeting the young with policies like scrapping tuition fees and his radical commitment to decarbonising the British economy within 10 years. He's targeting the lower paid and those who are struggling in work with promises to abolish zero-hours contracts and promises, to change the world of work in other key ways, and give employees more power over employers.
In other words, there is as sharp a divide as you can possibly imagine in this election. And for Labour, it's all or nothing. It's a long way back. It's got to start squeezing the Liberal Democrat vote if it's to have any chance of catching the Conservatives, denying Boris Johnson a victory. And to do that, it's throwing everything at this. There is no spending commitment Labour has not been prepared to make. It's throwing them out like confetti at a wedding.
By contrast, the Conservative policy now looks rather sober, rather restrained, possibly even rather complacent. And that's the risk for them if they start seeing Labour catching up on them in the last few days of the campaign. But as things stand, with two weeks to go, if we don't start seeing some major inroads of the Conservative lead in the next few days, there are going to be Labour party supporters who are starting to panic.