14 Apr 2015

Conservative manifesto: sober, but with some cross-dressing

This was a much more subdued affair than Labour’s razzmatazz yesterday. No booming music, no swinging boom cameras. Even the re-mix of the 80s classic “right to buy policy” got only polite applause in the room.

The Tories didn’t want to look triumphalist and want to play what they see as their good management card – sober, responsible, all that. Their man, David Cameron (Lynton Crosby believes) doesn’t have to tell voters he is “ready”, something the Australian thinks was a mistake by Ed Miliband at his manifesto launch yesterday. But in case you didn’t get the point, Mr Cameron did talk about “strong leadership”.

There were retail offers in the Tory manifesto and some smoke and mirrors too. The iron-cast law ensuring that the personal allowance goes up with the minimum wage is a re-branding of a policy the Tories already had announced – a promise to put the personal allowance up to £12,500 by 2020.

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Tories insist it is more than just a re-announcement with a fanfare flourish. They say it will bind in future governments to do the right thing and raise the personal allowance to make sure workers on the minimum wage don’t pay tax.

But the Resolution Foundation estimates that 60 per cent of workers on the minimum wage now don’t pay income tax. Lots more pay national insurance but the Tories chose not to touch that. This could end up being the end of all talk of merging national insurance and income tax.

The Tories argue that the extra free childcare hours for parents of three- to four-year-olds will address a real “pinch point” in young families’ costs. Labour say it costs a fortune the Tories haven’t funded. The Tories say Labour forgot to offset the cost against the saved money from universal credit.

David Cameron repeatedly told activists, students, ministers and media gathered at a technical college in Swindon that Britain was “on the brink”, at a moment of  choice between the harvest of hard-hard and chaos and destruction with Labour.

Mr Cameron didn’t wear a cloth cap to proclaim himself the leader of the workers’ party, but there’s been a lot of political cross-dressing in the last 48 hours. Labour slipped on the Tories’ Sunday best fiscal rectitude suit for their launch yesterday. The Tories have been spraying money around in a way they say Labour always does.

The prime minister, I put it to him at the press conference, was redefining “funded spending” and “fully funded tax cuts” when he applied the terms to his NHS promise and his tax threshold rise promise. He demurred, but I’m not sure I followed his logic.

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