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science

Conservative party manifesto: what it says and what it means – The Guardian


Health

  • Increase spending on the NHS by £34bn a year by the end of the parliament (as already announced).

  • Build and fund 40 new hospitals over the next 10 years.

  • Enshrine the long-term funding plan for the NHS in law.

  • Deliver 50,000 more nurses, providing them with a maintenance grant of £5,000-£8,000 a year (effectively bringing back the nursing bursary that was scrapped two years ago)

  • Create 50m more GP appointments each year, by recruiting and training 6,000 more general practitioners and 6,000 more primary care doctors.

  • Allocate £1bn extra for social care in every year of the next parliament; and “build a cross party consensus” on how it should be funded in the long term – while guaranteeing that no one should have to sell their home to pay for care.

  • Make finding a cure for dementia a priority, doubling funding for research.

  • Abolish hospital car park charges for blue badge holders and the gravely ill.

  • Clamp down on “health tourism” and increase the surcharge foreign users pay for the NHS.

Nursing vacancies graphic

The NHS has undoubtedly been the main domestic issue of the campaign so far with attempts at spending one-upmanship between the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats and claims that a post-Brexit US trade deal would allow the NHS to be put “up for sale” dominating coverage outside of the UK leaving the EU.

But some of Boris Johnson’s key NHS pledges have proven to be problematic. The prime minister’s claim that the government will build 40 new hospitals rapidly fell apart in late September, although he continues to push the misleading assertion. The Government has confirmed that six existing hospitals in England are being given £2.7bn by 2025 as part of the programme – an upgrade rather than a fresh build. Another 21 hospital trusts are being given £100m in seed funding to prepare a business case for their hospitals – but no money for any actual building work. The work would then start between 2025 and 2030.

And on manifesto launch day, the pledge to recruit 50,000 was immediately thrown into doubt when it emerged 19,000 would be “retained” staff and 12,000 would be from overseas. Jamie Grierson

Brexit

  • Start putting the withdrawal agreement signed with the EU27 in Brussels last month through parliament before Christmas and leave the EU in January.

  • Negotiate a trade agreement with the EU27 next year and refuse to extend the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020.

  • Legislate at the same to underpin workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer rights.

  • Replace the common agricultural policy with a system based on “public money for public goods”.

  • Set up a new office for environmental protection.

The central mantra of “get Brexit done” runs through the Tory manifesto like a stick of rock, but there are major questions about how oven-ready Johnson’s plan really is.

The document commits to negotiating a trade deal with the EU next year, and not to extend the implementation period beyond December 2020 – effectively leaving the prospect of a disruptive no-deal Brexit a firm possibility.

Johnson could argue this strengthens his hand with Brussels, but leading trade experts warn that international agreements are fiendishly complex and can take several years to conclude – an average of 48 months. Johnson will argue Britain and the EU are in close alignment, so precedents for lengthy trade talks do not apply. But there will also be concerns that the intention of negotiating with other countries “in parallel with our EU deal” may be problematic as a deal with one partner could affect what can be negotiated with another. Richard Partington

Immigration

  • Introduce a “firmer and fairer” Australian-style points based immigration system that will:
    1) Require most people to have a clear job offer before they can come.
    2) Reduce the number of lower-skilled immigrants and the number of people coming into the country overall.
    3) Treat EU and non-EU immigrants equally – including not allowing them to access unemployment and other benefits for the first five years.

  • Ensure immigrants contribute to the NHS, paying in before they can receive benefits.

  • Introduce an “NHS Visa” to fast track entry for qualified doctors, nurses and other health professionals from overseas, with a job offer from the NHS and who speak good English.

  • Actively recruit “leaders in the field” to come to the UK – including the best technology and science graduates and winners of top scientific prizes.

immigration graphic

Along with “the will of the people” and “take back control”, “Australian-style points-based system” has become well-established in the lexicon of Brexit bingo. Nigel Farage has been banging on about the fabled approach for many years. Now the offer has reached the political offer from one of the big parties, with the Tories’ pledging to adopt the framework in the UK.

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It is unusual that the party has included this pledge before hearing back from the Migration Advisory Committee (Mac), which has been asked by the home secretary, Priti Patel, to review the feasibility of introducing an Australian-style points-based system in the UK.

Beyond this, the detail remains light. The manifesto states: “Most people coming into the country will need a clear job offer.” This already deviates from the Australian system in that one of the key features of that approach is that a job offer is not required. What will points be issued for? The manifesto mentions English language and “good education”. The Australian system is far more complex. Jamie Grierson

Education and early years

  • Increase spending on schools to level up per pupil funding to £5,000, as already announced.

  • Back school heads and teachers on discipline – including by supporting the use of exclusions.

  • Expand “alternative provision” schools for children who have been excluded.

  • Offer an “arts premium” to secondary schools to “fund enriching activities”.

  • Raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000.

  • Review the care system to make sure children get the support they need.

  • Establish a £1bn fund to help create more high quality, affordable childcare, including before and after school and during the holidays.

The pledge for more money for schools was first made in the summer but no cash was forthcoming straight away. The schools budget was already poised to rise by £1bn a year by 2023 owing to an increase in the number of students. It is unlear whether that allocation is included in the £14bn.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has estimated that because student numbers are to rise, and once inflation is taken into account, the extra money for schools adds up to a 7.4% real-terms increase in spending per pupil between 2019-20 and 2022-23. This is less than the 8% it has worked out would be needed to reverse cuts in funding since 2009-10.

The Conservatives offer on childcare is smaller than Labour’s – it does not explicitly promise free childcare for younger children, and it is unclear how money from the £1bn fund would be allocated. Hilary Osborne

Economy and Skills

  • Fund day-to-day spending through taxation, while increasing borrowing to “invest thoughtfully and responsibly in infrastructure”.

  • Public debt to be lower than the last parliament.

  • Public sector net investment not to average more than 3% of GDP; and if debt interest reaches 6% of annual revenue, “we will reassess our plans to keep debt under control”.

  • Prioritise the environment in the next budget.

  • Create a new £3bn skills fund to provide funding for education and training.

  • Create a single enforcement body for labour standards.

  • Ensure workers have the right to request a more predictable contract.

spending promise by party graphic

The Conservatives are offering a fraction of what the other leading opposition parties are proposing. When it comes to day-to-day spending, the Tory plan would increase the amount spent by just £2.9bn a year by 2023-24, compared with £82.9bn for Labour and £62.9bn for the Lib Dems.

On that basis, Labour would spend almost £28 more for every extra pound the Conservatives promise, This is the clearest attempt by the Tories to put clear blue water between Johnson and Corbyn. The differences are stark.

According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, the plan would lift government spending as a share of national income a few places up the international league table for wealthy nations. Labour plan a German-sized state with government spending of about 45% of GDP, while the Tories aim to match the Netherlands at roughly 41%. Though modest in comparison with Labour, it would still mean the biggest increase in the size of the state under a Tory government since Harold Macmillan.

Johnson will hope the public believe Labour lack credibility with the public finances – but it could backfire. The Tories could be charged with failing to credibly turn the page on a decade of austerity, while committing insufficient funds to tackle the climate emergency. The Tory manifesto offers a relative status-quo, versus Labour’s fundamental reform. Richard Partington

Tax, pay and benefits

  • Raise the national insurance threshold to £9,500 next year, with an “ultimate ambition” of increasing it further, to £12,500.

  • A “triple lock” on personal taxation: no increase in the rates of income tax, national insurance or VAT.

  • Offer a “new deal for towns”, cutting taxes for high street shops and providing funding for regeneration projects through the Towns Fund.

  • Continue the rollout of universal credit, and “make sure it works for the most vulnerable”.

  • End the benefit freeze.

  • Extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers to a week.

  • Reduce the number of reassessments faced by disabled people, when their condition is unlikely to change.

national insurance graphic

One omission is an increase in the higher-rate income tax threshold, which could anger Tory voters. Johnson appears to have concluded that this tax cut for the wealthy would prove an electoral mistake.

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The “triple tax lock” is similar to Labour’s promise not to raise income taxes ,VAT and national insurance, although Corbyn’s party will target the top 5% of earners.

Such constraints could be problematic if the government finds it needs to raise more money to fund public services. Any chancellor could also be hamstrung in an economic downturn.

The big promise to cut national insurance comes with a £2.5bn price tag, according to the manifesto costing document. However, Johnson has been warned that an ambition to tmove the threshold up to £12,500 a year would come with an even heftier price tag of arbout £6bn more – a figure missing from the five-year plan at present. Richard Partington

Crime and justice

  • Recruit 20,000 new police officers.

  • Empower police to target known knife carriers, making it easier for them to stop and search those convicted of knife crime.

  • Introduce tougher sentencing for the worst offenders and end automatic halfway release for serious crimes.

  • Prevent more foreign national offenders entering the country.

  • Establish a royal commission on the criminal justice process.

  • Expand electronic tagging and toughen up community sentences – for example, by making curfews tighter.

  • Create a new national cybercrime force and a new national crime laboratory.

  • Add 10,000 more prison places.

  • Review the parole system and allow victims to attend parole hearings.

  • Spend £500m on youth services in an effort to to reduce offending.

  • Expand the role of local police and crime commissioners and make them more accountable.

  • Pass a new victims law that guarantees their rights and the support they should receive.

  • Tackle unauthorised Traveller camps by giving the police new powers to arrest and seize property and vehicles of trespassers.

The Tories’ toughened stance on law and order is by now well-known, with Johnson making his pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers one of the first he made as prime minister. Increased use of stop and search, longer sentences for some violent and sex offenders, and creating 10,000 new prison places are all in there.

However, much of what is proposed goes against the evidence of what works when attempting to reduce crime and reoffending. Experts warn stop and search entrenches knife crime. The government’s own serious violent crime strategy states a clear link to “poor life outcomes” – low educational attainment, poor health, unemployment and more. Short prison sentences, which were close to being scrapped before Johnson took office, are proven to be ineffective.

The Tories are getting tough on crime without being so tough on – or interested in – its causes. Jamie Grierson

Foreign policy and defence

  • Continue to exceed the Nato target of 2% of GDP on defence and increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation throughout the parliament.

  • Maintain the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid.

  • Maintain the Trident nuclear deterrent.

  • Introduce new legislation to tackle vexatious legal claims against veterans.

As he presented the manifesto, Johnson moved fast to put to bed reports that troop numbers could be cut under a Conservative government. According to the Sunday Times, defence chiefs are discussing plans to slash the size of the army amid fears of further cuts. But asked by reporters whether troops would be cut, Johnson replied with a firm no.

It is correct, however, that the manifesto does not include a firm pledge to “maintain the overall size of the armed forces”, as it did under Theresa May in 2017. The 2015 Tory manifesto pledged to keep the army’s strength at minimum of 82,000 but that commitment was dropped – with the figure hovering around 73,000.

The manifesto maintains the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid but does little to assuage fears that Johnson plans to alter the way in which the aid budget is spent. Jamie Grierson

Housing

  • “Encourage” a market in long-term fixed rate mortgages, which could “slash the cost of deposits”.

  • Allow councils to use the money they raise from developers through the planning process to give low-paid local people a discount of up to a third on some of the new homes build.

  • Reform leasehold, including by banning the sale of new leasehold homes.

  • Bring in a “better deal for renters”, including abolishing no fault evictions and requiring one “lifetime” deposit that moves with the tenant.

  • Change planning rules so infrastructure such as schools and GP surgeries have to be built before housing.

  • Protect and enhance the green belt.

  • End rough sleeping by the end of the parliament: part paid for with proceeds of a 3% stamp duty surcharge on foreign buyers.

  • Support the residents of highrises with the removal of unsafe cladding

Mortgage lending rules that came in after the crash are designed to stop people taking on loans they could struggle to repay in future, but the Conservatives appear to be saying they would make changes to free up lending. Fixing interest rates offsets some of the risk, but if prices fall there will be more people at risk of negative equity. Previous attempts by lenders to offer long-term fixed-rate mortgages have failed, so this would need a big change in the market and homebuyers’ attitudes.

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A big problem with cutting deposits for first-time buyers is it is likely to fuel demand for homes without tackling the supply-side problems. Renters will be pleased with the pledges on no-fault evictions, and lifetime deposits, but social housing will be lost with the maintenance of right-to buy. Hilary Osborne

Business and employment

  • Cancel planned corporation tax cuts, leaving the 19% rate in place and saving £6.3bn a year by 2023-24.

  • Carry out a fundamental review of the rates system to cut the burden on businesses.

  • Increase the employment allowance for small firms – a discount on national insurance payments.

  • Increase the research and development tax credit rate to 13%.

  • Crack down on tax evasion and avoidance, including by passing a new law doubling the prison term to 14 years for individuals convicted of the worst forms of tax fraud.

  • Implement the digital services tax, which is aimed at forcing multinationals to pay more tax in the UK.

  • Create a new arms length agency for “high-risk, high-payoff research” that will receive some of the planned increase in science spending.

Johnson has not always had the smoothest relationship with business, given his infamous remarks about company bosses’ Brexit concerns, though CEOs are likely to broadly welcome this manifesto.

The Confederation of British Industry said firms would be “heartened by a pro-enterprise vision” and praised the £3bn national skills fund for training workers. But there are questions about the impact of Brexit for firms that are yet to be answered.

Johnson’s decision to scrap the planned corporation tax cut has gone down badly with some Tory supporters, but the prime minister has been advised that such a change would simply damage public finances without boosting growth.

Meanwhile, a review of business rates could be a double-edged sword. Companies could save millions of pounds from reforms to a system widely regarded to be broken. Retailers in particular have lobbied hard for cuts, saying the tax is among reasons for shop closures and job losses on the high street. But councils have grown more reliant on business rates revenue amid cuts to their funding from central government. Further cuts present additional challenges. Richard Partington

Transport and Energy

  • End rail franchising and create a simpler, more effective system.

  • Invest £29bn in strategic roads.

  • Build a “northern powerhouse” rail line between Leeds and Manchester.

  • Invest in the Midlands rail hub, strengthening links including between Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham.

  • Extend contactless ticketing to 200,000 more stations in the south-east.

  • Consult on whether to go ahead with HS2 rail project, which as the manifesto points out will now cost “at least £81bn”.

  • Restore many of the rail lines closed down during the Beeching cuts, reconnecting small towns.

  • Launch “the biggest ever pothole filling programme”.

  • Create a new £350m cyling infrastructure fund to support commuter cycling routes.

  • Require the owners of Heathrow to show it can meet air quality and noise requirements for the third runway to go ahead, and that the project will get no new public funding.

  • Bring full-fibre broadband to every home and business by 2025, including setting aside £5bn to connect premises where it wouldn’t be commercially viable.

The manifesto promises a “transport revolution” but not much of it is new and it was pot holes that made the headlines before the launch, with £2bn pledged to filling them over the next four years. This is considerably more than the £500m allocated to a “reversing Beeching fund” for railways, but to meet that promise experts say they will need more funds. It also dwarfs the money being pledged for infrastructure to support electric vehicles – £600m over six years – and an investment of £350m in cycling.

The £29bn investment in strategic roads sounds very like money pledged back in 2018 by the then chancellor, Philip Hammond, rather than new money, and does not appearing in the costings document.

The manifesto pledge on broadband confirms that the Conservatives have rowed back on a previous promise made by Boris Johnson to install full-fibre broadband to every home and business by 2025.

That’s been replaced by the promise of “full-fibre and gigabit-capable” broadband, which is still ambitious but will be easier to achieve than the original plan and still provide faster speeds for consumers. Hilary Osborne



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