The Conservative Party was the last of the major UK parties to publish their manifesto, setting out their stall on 24 November 

Their manifesto can be read online at: https://​vote​.con​ser​v​a​tives​.com/​o​u​r​-plan

As each person will have different priorities in this election, the aim here is not to summarise every policy. Instead, below are four areas of interest based on four good questions to ask when reading a manifesto: 

  • What are the headlines? 
  • What long-standing ideas are applied to new problems?
  • What new issues is the party discussing?
  • What unanswered questions remain?

Headline: Get Brexit Done!

The headline is Brexit, just in case you had missed it. The Conservative Party are determined to make this election about getting Brexit done’. This is the slogan they have emblazoned on their battle bus and it is the soundbite you hear from party leader Boris Johnson every time he gets in front of a microphone. 

The Conservative government failed to get the withdrawal agreement through Parliament following the revised deal negotiated with the EU. This was at least partly because of the attempt to force it through at an accelerated pace to achieve the 31 October deadline, which the Prime Minister had placed significant weight on achieving in the Conservative leadership election. 

But the party was rocked earlier in the autumn by the rebellion of key figures, who sided with opposition MPs to pass a law ensuring that an extension was requested. This saw more that 20 MPs kicked out of the Conservative Party, including two former chancellors, many ex-ministers, and the Father of the House (Kenneth Clarke). In this election some of these have stood down, while a few are competing against their former party and are now standing for election as independents. 

All candidates standing for the Conservative Party at this election have pledged to back the deal agreed by the Prime Minister with the EU. If the party is re-elected, Her Majesty will open parliament on 19 December with a slimmed-down Queen’s Speech and the new Government will seek parliamentary approval for the deal before Christmas. 

While the Conservative Party have clarity as to their immediate next steps to implement Brexit, there have been continued questions throughout the campaign about the plausibility of achieving a future trade deal with the EU before the end of the transition period in December 2020

Old news: cutting taxes

The Conservative Party has traditionally been the party of low taxes, and has gone into most elections pledging to reduce taxes and cut spending. But this time around, they have been keen to flash the cash and demonstrate that the years of austerity are over. 

There has, however, been one significant tax announcement: the pledge to raise the starting point of National Insurance contributions. The manifesto sets out a plan to increase the starting rate by just under £1000 in the government’s first year, with an ambition to raise it £3000 further to £12,500 but without a timescale for that increase. The party has also pledged not to increase the rates of income tax, National Insurance or VAT during the next parliamentary term. 

The Conservatives previously dismissed increasing the starting rate of income tax to more than £10,000 as unaffordable, but achieved this when it was agreed as part of the coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats for the 2010 – 2015 Parliament. This year’s manifesto now champions this policy as allowing everyone to earn a decent amount before being taxed’. 

Other policy reversals from long-held Conservative positions include a commitment to raise the minimum wage to £10.39 by 2024 (sometimes called the national living wage’ but not to be confused with the real living wage). Perhaps more significantly, they also plan to remove the exception for employees under 25. In comparison Labour have pledged to increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour in 2020.

New ideas: Constitutional Reform

The Conservative Party has usually wanted to conserve the constitutional arrangements in the UK, and has stood behind the uncodified and sometimes hard to decipher network of laws, conventions and institutions that make up the British constitution. While the Conservative manifesto pledges to maintain the current voting age of 18, as well as the first past the post voting system, there is an openness to reform that is usually the preserve of other parties. 

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act, passed by the coalition government, has been bypassed to spark the 2017 and 2019 elections, but it also frustrated the Prime Minister’s initial attempts to call an election. The party pledges to remove this law, but introduce a couple of other electoral changes, including the requirement of identification to vote, and removing the time limit on British expats voting in parliamentary elections. 

But the Conservatives also want to broach more fundamental areas of constitutional reform in this election. The conclusion of this section of the manifesto asks questions about the relationship between Government, Parliament and the courts, about how the Royal Prerogative operates, and about the role of the House of Lords. Many of these questions have arisen as the Government has sought push through their Brexit plan – including most notably the judgment of the Supreme Court that the proroguing of parliament by the government in September was unlawful. 

While no details for constitutional reform are set out in the manifesto the Conservatives have committed to establishing a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission during the first year of the next government to explore the issues in depth and make proposals for reform.

Unanswered questions: what kind of post-Brexit government would the Conservatives lead?

While Brexit has dominated this election and is clearly the focus of the Conservative manifesto, the question that lurks behind every page of the document, and which haunts each appearance of a Conservative spokesperson in the media is: what next?

Brexit will not be done and dusted as quickly as the party may hope. It is unlikely that all trade deals will be struck during the course of 2020 before the transition period ends, and there will be repercussions in many policy areas for years ahead. However, the Conservative Party have themselves said they want to get beyond Brexit and focus on issues affecting the UK.

The manifesto covers a range of different policy areas but there is no defining narrative that draws together the ideas, or provides clarity about what will define the latter years of the government’s policy if they are elected. This raises the prospect that issues not raised in the manifesto could come to the fore, or policies that have drifted away from the forefront of the policy agenda – such as those around extremism – could return with a vengeance. 

Aside from reiterating the government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Truro Review to protect those persecuted for their faith there is very little relating to religion and belief. 

While polls can change and the last two weeks of any campaign can be crucial, the current indications are that the Conservatives are most likely to form a government. That means it is especially important to consider what a Conservative government will look like, and build relationships with candidates that may well be part of our next government. That’s one way, beyond voting on 12 December, we can have an ongoing influence in the politics of our country,