PLMR Insights: Conservative Manifesto

Conservative General Election Manifesto

The Prime Minister unveiled the Conservative Party manifesto at Silverstone attempting to breathe new life into the Tory campaign and give the electorate a reason to support them on July 4th.

The manifesto announcement was an opportunity for Sunak to inspire his party to get out on the campaign trail for the final three weeks, seeking to shift the pitifully low mood among party loyalists. However, having committed a historic electoral blunder over the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day landings and metaphorically handing over the statesmanship mantle to Sir Keir Starmer on an international stage, it seems the electoral pendulum has now well and truly swung away from the Conservatives.

The 107-page manifesto lays out the Conservatives ‘clear plan’ for ‘bold action’ and a ‘secure future’ echoing the PM’s recent focus on the future rather than the past. However, the fundamental question that this encourages voters to ask is why, having been in government for 14 years, haven’t they already delivered these plans?

For the Conservatives to have any chance on polling day, they need to secure a significant portion of the electorate. To do so, we have seen them attempt to appeal to pensioners with the ‘triple lock plus’ and those interested in defence with the commitment of spending 2.5% of GDP on defence.

However, it’s clear (for now) that the strategy is to secure traditional voters by wooing them with tax cuts and highlighting the impact on working families to emphasise the key difference between Sunak and the leader of the opposition.

The increasing popularity of Reform is tearing the Conservative Party apart and forcing them to appeal to voters on the right of the political spectrum by doubling down on commitments to get flights taking off to Rwanda by July, threatening to pull out of the ECHR and including gender ideology in their manifesto. However, by doing so, they are isolating themselves from the centre ground and leaving themselves vulnerable to an increasingly confident Liberal Democrat movement.

Some of the headline announcements in the Conservative manifesto are outlined here and a greater breakdown of the announcements is below.

  • Abolish the main rate of self-employed National Insurance by the end of the parliament
  • Take another 2p off employee National Insurance
  • Launch a new Help to Buy scheme to provide first-time buyers with an equity loan of up to 20% towards the cost of a new build home.
  • Abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers on homes up to £425,000
  • Deliver 1.6 million homes in England in the next Parliament.
  • National service for 18-year-olds
  • Invest £36bn in local roads, rail and buses
  • 2.5 million more NHS dental appointments
  • Increase NHS spending above inflation every year
  • End ‘rip off’ degrees to offer 100,000 apprenticeships
  • Defence spending 2.5% of GDP by 2030
  • 8,000 new police

The full manifesto document can be read here, and the accompanying spending plan here.

Insights on policy areas

Economy

Since taking office in 2010, the Conservatives claim they inherited a failing economy which has since faced significant global challenges, including the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent aftermath, a global pandemic, and an energy shock. Despite these challenges, the party highlights that the UK has achieved notable economic growth, job creation, and tax reductions. Their manifesto emphasises continued economic security through a robust plan focused on reducing debt, supporting businesses, reforming taxes and welfare, providing world-class education, and transitioning to sustainable domestic energy.

The party highlighted the importance of sustainable public finances for a strong economy. They credit difficult decisions made post-2010 for reducing the deficit and enabling significant support during the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy crisis. Their future fiscal strategy includes maintaining public sector net debt below 3% of GDP by 2029-30, ensuring the government’s ability to support the economy in future crises. The Conservatives also aim to speed up the delivery of major infrastructure projects, in particular the planning and sign-off phase, from four years to one.

The manifesto places the private sector as the key driver of economic growth, with a competitive tax system central to their strategy. The Conservatives have implemented substantial business tax cuts and introduced policies including ‘full expensing’ to incentivise investment. They also propose abolishing the main rate of National Insurance for the self-employed by the next Parliament’s end. To support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), they have introduced various measures, including a business rates support package and raising the VAT registration threshold.

Post-Brexit, Sunak said the party has focused on negotiating trade deals to boost UK exports, positioning the UK as a major global exporter. They emphasise the success of securing trade agreements with numerous countries and joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Future trade objectives include finalising deals with India, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and other key partners while maintaining high standards for domestic agriculture and public services such as the NHS. The Conservatives also plan to leverage ‘Brexit freedoms’ for regulatory reform, reducing business burdens, and maintaining a competitive economic environment.

Technology

The Party plans to continue significant investments in digital, transport, and energy infrastructure to support business growth. They claim to have already expanded gigabit broadband coverage from 7% in 2019 to over 80% of properties in the UK today and aim for nationwide 5G coverage by 2030.

The Conservatives view artificial intelligence (AI) and other technological advancements as critical to future economic progress. The manifesto highlights the UK’s leadership in AI safety and innovation, supported by substantial public and private investment in research and development. Plans include increasing public R&D spending to £22 billion annually, maintaining R&D tax reliefs, and supporting strategic manufacturing sectors through the Advanced Manufacturing Plan.

The manifesto also outlines a comprehensive strategy to protect young people online, focusing on legislative action and parental controls. Set to take effect next year, the Online Safety Act will require social media companies to protect children from illegal or harmful content, with penalties for non-compliance, positioning the UK as a leader in online child protection. To curb excessive screen time and promote healthier lifestyles, the party will enforce a statutory ban on mobile phones during the school day, providing funding to help schools implement this policy effectively.

Health

Cutting NHS Waiting Lists has always been central to Rishi Sunak’s electoral campaign, remaining as one of the Conservative Party’s five key priorities since January 2023.

Framed under the Party’s plan to deliver better health and social care, how this is reflected in the manifesto is nothing short of expansive, with pledges ranging from the structural, such as support for the NHS workforce or commitment to continue building new hospitals, to the condition-specific, with commitments to prioritise women’s health and introduce a new licensing scheme for non-surgical cosmetic surgery.

In essence, many of the Party’s commitments can be seen as a simple extension of the existing policy from their time in Government. For example, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, released in June 2023, is central to their commitments to help shift care away from hospitals and into local communities.

There are a number of references to strategies released or proposed during the last Parliament, which the Conservatives pledge to continue, expand or, in the case of the Major Conditions Strategy, finally release. These include the Plans for NHS Productivity, Dental Recovery, Rare Disease Action, HIV Action and the Long-Term Workforce, the Strategies for NHS Vaccination and Women’s Health, and others such as the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the Cass Review.

Looking to capital commitments, the Conservative manifesto commits to 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors in the NHS than in 2023, 40 new hospitals by 2030, proportional investment into out-of-hospital services and a high-quality and sustainable social care system. In terms of funding, the only specific reference is the reduction of the number of managers by 5,500, releasing £550 million for frontline services and oversight and accountability. Accountability is also referenced in the pledge to new incentives for improved performance, rewarding the best performing NHS providers.

Technology and the Life Sciences make up a significant contribution to the Health and Social Care manifesto commitments, framed under the need to improve productivity by 1.9% a year from 2025-26, which the Conservatives pledge will unlock £35 billion of cumulative savings by the end of the decade.

For the wider Life Sciences, the Conservatives pledge to support “our world-leading life sciences sector”, embracing the opportunities provided by Brexit to pursue nimble and agile regulation, supported by a well-equipped MHRA. Pharmaceutical commitments include securing more commercial clinical trials, removing bureaucratic obstacles to the use of new medicines, and alignment of NHS England’s cost-effectiveness thresholds for new medicine indications with those used by NICE.

For Medical Technology, implementation of a new medtech pathway is promised, likely in line with that currently underway within the Medical Technologies Directorate and NICE, aligning with the 2023 MedTech Strategy.

For Digital Technology, the manifesto reiterates a number of existing Government commitments, pledging to make the NHS App the single front door for NHS services, using  AI to free up clinical time, replace tens of thousands of outdated computers and digitise NHS processes through the Federated Data Platform.

Social Care

The Conservatives have pledged to deliver a “high-quality and sustainable social care system” through building on investment of up to £8.6bn over the last two years.

Local authorities will be supported by a multi-year funding settlement for social care at the next Spending Review, and reforms will be outlined in a People at the Heart of Care white paper.

The party have also promised to attract and retain a “high-quality” workforce, reform the market for older people’s housing, and support unpaid carers. Exact details of how these plans will take shape are absent from the manifesto, with a greater focus being leant to NHS, dentistry, and mental health commitments.

The Conservatives have recommitted to plans first announced under then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and subsequently perennially delayed. These include a £86,000 cap to social care costs over a lifetime and raising the means-tested threshold for state support from £23,250 to £100,000, due to be introduced as planned in October 2025.

The care cap plan has already faced multiple delays, as councils struggled with insufficient funds to sustain the current system. A 1p increase to National Insurance to pay for the cap was introduced by Boris Johnson, then abandoned by Liz Truss, and pilot schemes to review how the cap would work in practice were also stopped. Clarity as to how reforms will be funded has not been offered in the manifesto or accompanying spending document.

It is notable that social care received a total of 100 words of coverage in the 76-page manifesto.

Education

As part of its education plan, the Conservative Party has announced a commitment to investing in a future that celebrates “aspiration and opportunity,” prioritises skills and supports families. The Party’s priorities encompass early years and childcare, schools, young people and mental health, as well as research and innovation, and further and higher education.

For early years, the Party plans to deliver what it calls the “largest ever expansion of childcare”, which would include increasing free childcare to 30 hours a week; extending the Family Hubs programme to every local authority in England; increasing funding to hire more early years practitioners and childminders; and boosting funding for wraparound childcare services.

For families, the manifesto includes commitments to reform the child benefit to apply to households with a combined income of £120,000, rather than individuals. It also outlines additional programmes to support care leavers and adoptive families.

In schools, the focus is on reforming the education system, STEM, physical education (PE), sex education guidance and parental rights and choice. The commitments include introducing the Advanced British Standard and teaching Maths and English to 18; expanding multi-academy trusts; consulting on parental controls for children’s social media; mandating two hours of PE in primary and secondary schools; providing guidance on sex education in schools; and legislating parental rights to review curriculum materials. Additionally, the manifesto promises to rebuild over 500 schools affected by RAAC, attract more teachers through the teacher recruitment premium, and provide tax-free bonuses to teachers in key STEM and technical subjects.

One key commitment in the manifesto is the plan to support young people is introducing a compulsory National Service for school leavers at age 18, with the choice between a competitive placement in the military or civic service roles.

The Party also aims to create 100,000 new apprenticeships by the end of next year, deliver the Lifelong Learning Entitlement and cut university courses with poor outcomes for students. They commit to protecting free speech on university campuses, implementing a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Muslim and antisemitic behaviour, and continuing to regulate the number of international students through a legal cap on migration.

The manifesto includes commitments to continue supporting Investment Zones; increase public spending on R&D to £22 billion; and invest in large-scale computer clusters to support AI development.

Built Environment

With housing a key topic in this election campaign, the Conservative manifesto outlines bold pledges for the future, with an aim to deliver 1.6m homes in England over the course of the next parliament. This, they say, will build on the over 2.5m homes delivered since 2010, including meeting their commitment to deliver 1m homes in the last parliament.

To help achieve this ambition the party would abolish current rules to unlock development, deliver homes on brownfield land in the 20 largest cities with a fast-track planning system, raise housing density levels in inner London akin to that of major European cities, and ensure infrastructure such as GP surgeries and roads are built alongside housing by using a new Infrastructure Levy.

Through these methods it would allow for a retained commitment to protecting the Green Belt from uncontrolled development.

The affordability of these homes is directly linked with ambitions. A renewal of the Affordable Homes Programme is one strand, whilst a launch of a new Help to Buy scheme and permanent increase to the Stamp Duty thresholds are among several policies targeting first-time buyers.

It was the big slogan for the Conservatives at the 2019 election and Levelling Up continues to remain a key piece of their approach this time around. The party will be looking to provide 105 towns in the UK with a £20m endowment fund for local people to change their town’s future. This includes extending their plan to 30 more towns that will benefit from funding that they can use on their priorities such as reviving high streets or bringing new housing to town centres.

One key commitment is to give high streets a new lease of life, with a change of planning laws to support “local market days and regenerate defunct shopping centres”.

Alongside the new proposals, there are also those areas that will be further strengthened, should the Conservatives remain in power. Freeports and Business Rates Retention zones, Investment Zones, and further devolution deals across England remain key pillars of the party’s policy focused on driving localised growth.

Energy and sustainability

While the announcement of national insurance cuts has dominated the headlines, the 80-page document includes a number of important pledges for those in the energy sector and the green economy to consider.

The manifesto confirms that a Conservative Government would retain the UK’s 2050 net-zero target but reiterates Sunak’s desire for a “pragmatic” decarbonisation pathway which he believes does not place additional costs on households.

At the official launch of the manifesto this morning, Sunak boldly claimed that his party’s “approach to energy security will put security and family finances ahead of eco zealotry”. It is abundantly clear that if elected to power, the Conservatives will have a mandate to assume a much more ambiguous approach to climate policy than seen in recent years.

To enhance energy security and independence, the manifesto proposes annual licensing rounds for oil and gas production from the North Sea. This policy aims to ensure a stable energy supply, protect high-skilled jobs, and mitigate the risk of increased emissions from imported liquefied natural gas. The manifesto openly criticises Labour’s plan to shut down the North Sea oil and gas industry, arguing that it would jeopardise 200,000 jobs and increase the UK’s dependence on foreign energy sources.

Despite this announcement, the manifesto also emphasises the UK’s leadership in renewable energy, noting that the country is home to the world’s five largest offshore wind farms and that half of its electricity now comes from renewables. To further boost renewable energy, the party plans to triple the UK’s offshore wind capacity, which it believes will support the development of industrial clusters in regions like the North East of England, Scotland, and Wales.

The manifesto promises never to “force people to rip out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump” and to ensure green levies – which fund renewables – on household bills are lower, and rules out future green taxes such as a frequent flyer levy. It also says it will reform the Climate Change Committee, giving it an explicit mandate to consider costs to households and UK energy security in its future advice to Parliament – although the committee’s remit already requires it to consider energy supplies, the economy and social issues such as fuel poverty.

In the agricultural sector, the manifesto proposes measures to support sustainable farming practices and the development of green technologies to reduce emissions. It also emphasises the importance of protecting natural habitats and biodiversity, with commitments to increase funding for conservation projects and create new national parks. Additionally, the document highlights the need for international collaboration to tackle climate change, pledging to work with global partners to drive forward the green agenda on the world stage.

Overall, the Conservative manifesto presents an ambiguous stance on decarbonisation. It seeks to enhance energy security and promote green initiatives while mitigating financial burdens on households.

Devolution

Following the 25th anniversary of UK devolution last month, the Conservatives have outlined a renewed vision to ensure coherence across the union and move further away from centralisation by empowering communities with new powers and holding devolved governments to account.

“We believe governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now have the right balance of powers,” it states against a backdrop of what is widely regarded as patchy progress for the delivery of the devolution package over the past quarter of a century. However, they pledge that they will introduce legislation to improve the accountability of the devolved administrations, particularly around public services to ensure they can be accurately compared. As part of this plan for increased accountability, there is a clear instruction for devolved governments to focus on their people, rather than being distracted by “constitutional wrangling”.

In England, meanwhile, where 12 metro mayors collectively control around £25bn of public spending, the manifesto pledges that every area that wants a devolution deal will have one in place by 2030. The Conservatives will offer ‘Level 4’ devolution powers to areas in England with a devolution deal and a directly elected leader, starting with the Tees Valley, where notably Ben Houchen was the only Conservative candidate to win a mayoral position in May’s local elections.

On internal trade between the devolved nations, the Conservatives promise to “relentlessly protect the UK’s internal market”, and focus on securing Northern Ireland’s place in this by protecting consumers and businesses from “unnecessary trade barriers”. To achieve this, they plan to establish a new Intertrade UK body, and recommit their support to the UK Internal Market Act.

They committed to several additional funding promises, including extending the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to deliver a further £540 million a year, expanding the Long-Term Plan for Towns, and maintaining the Community Ownership Fund for another three years.

There are several tailored policies for each of the devolved nations, with the Conservatives not missing the chance to criticise the SNP Government and Labour Government in Scotland and Wales respectively. In Scotland, they pledge to focus on “what really matters”, opposing another independence vote whilst promising to cut taxes, prioritise energy security, support for the fishing and farming industries, and improve infrastructure connectivity. In Wales they have focused on connectivity, reversing the blanket 20pmh speed limit, and support for key sectors and industrial heritage with a £1 billion increase to the UK-wide farming budget. For Northern Ireland, they said they will “never be neutral” in expressing their support for it to be part of the UK and to the Good Friday Agreement, and committed to continued funding and economic relations through the Spending Review and the Windsor Framework.

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