Johnson Unveils ‘Sensible’ Manifesto to Keep Tories in Power
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is aiming to consolidate his lead in the polls in the final weeks of the general election campaign.
On Sunday, he announced a safety-first policy package based on “sensible” promises, which included hiring 50,000 nurses for the country’s cherished National Health Service and cutting taxes for working people.
Johnson carefully avoided the radical language and out-of-the-blue policy announcements that derailed his predecessor Theresa May’s campaign in 2017.
There was one big condition Johnson said must be met first -- to deliver Brexit and end years of deadlock and division over the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union. The only way of ending the trauma, Johnson claimed, was to pass his exit deal by electing a majority Conservative government on Dec. 12.
“For the last three and a half years, this country has felt trapped, like a lion in a cage,” Johnson wrote in the introduction to the 59-page manifesto published Sunday. “With a new Parliament and a sensible majority government, we can get that deal through in days.”
Johnson won the leadership of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party in July with a pledge to deliver Brexit by Oct. 31. But despite negotiating a new agreement with the EU, he failed to persuade lawmakers in London to rush the divorce contract into law to meet his deadline. The prime minister eventually persuaded parliament to trigger a snap election instead.
The campaign has turned into a clash between Johnson, who is promising to “get Brexit done” and move on, and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is vowing to tax the rich and spend on nationalizing swaths of industry and boosting public services.
While Johnson’s manifesto outlined a relatively modest investment plan and promised tax cuts, Corbyn proposed an 83 billion-pound ($107 billion) spending program to be paid for by tax increases. The prime minister described the agenda put forward by the Labour leader and his finance spokesman John McDonnell as “madness” and “a recipe for chaos.”
“All Labour governments end with an economic crisis,” Johnson told an enthusiastic audience of activists who’d traveled through the fog to the manifesto launch in Telford, central England. “The only difference I can see with Corbyn and McDonnell is they want to start with an economic crisis.”
The headline pledges in the Tory manifesto included:
- To deliver 50,000 more nurses, reinstating maintenance grants during training. This includes 12,500 nurses hired from other countries and measures to stop existing staff from quitting their jobs
- Bringing Johnson’s Brexit deal back to Parliament before Christmas, leaving the EU by Jan. 31, and guaranteeing there will be no extension of the transitional period beyond the current cutoff of Dec. 31 2020
- Cutting taxes and guaranteeing there will be no hikes to income tax, value added tax or national insurance
- Spending 100 billion pounds on infrastructure over the next five years, financed through government borrowing
- 14 billion pounds of extra funding for schools and a boost for child care
But Johnson ditched several policy options the Tories had previously proposed, including allowing the party’s MPs to choose how to vote on ending the ban on fox hunting; tax cuts for relatively wealthy earners; and radically overhauling the way care for elderly people is funded.
Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said he was “disappointed” in the Conservatives’ commitment not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance.
“It’s tying the hands of the chancellor for the next five years in terms of the most obvious increases you could put into place if you wanted to transparently raise more money,” he said, before adding he expects there will be tax increases in other areas outside of the locked three.
He also said the 33.9 billion pounds of investment in the NHS should not be considered the biggest boost ever made to the health service, as claimed by the prime minister.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.