May 19, 2017
Five things to know this week: May 19thContact
In the run-up to the UK General Election, our Public Policy team are taking a look at the week’s events through five interesting, significant and occasionally amusing highlights from the campaign. Our selection for this week…
1. As she launched the Tory manifesto in Halifax, Theresa May claimed there is no such thing as ‘Mayism’ – just solid Conservatism that puts the interests of the country and the interests of ordinary working people first. The Sun labelled her a ‘Red Tory’ with pledges to ‘put workers first, whack rogue firms and plough cash into NHS’ that could have come from Ed Miliband’s manifesto. But even Red Ed didn’t dare to take pensioners’ winter fuel allowance from them. In a clear signal of Tory confidence, the party ditched promises not raise taxes and the pensions triple lock, while unveiling a social care plan that would see elderly property owners pay more for their care. It remains to be seen whether the raid will do anything to dent the Tories’ huge 49 point lead among the over-65s.
2. Following last week’s leak, Labour’s manifesto was published on Tuesday, inviting unwelcome questions about how it was going to pay for it all. Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon argued that Labour was “being put on trial” in a testy Newsnight interview, while Emily Thornberry complained the party was being “put under the microscope in terms of our spending”, as she reached for a briefing paper on Channel 4 News. The Tories did away with the piece of paper altogether, admitting they had not costed their pledge to get net migration below 100,000. And by Friday morning Ken Clarke was on the airwaves suggesting we should do away with costings in election manifestos altogether.
3. Under an EU flag and rave lighting, the Lib Dems launched their manifesto in a hipster east end nightclub on Wednesday evening, with an eye-catching pledge to boost tax revenues by £1bn by legalising cannabis. It seems the only thing not flying high is the party’s poll ratings. As well as a commitment to a second EU referendum, the party recycled its policy of a penny on the income tax, this time for the NHS.
4. One of the joys of election season is seeing lobby journalists packed off to remote parts of the country to report on campaign events. Theresa May set the tone in April with an event in Crathes hall, Banchory, a tin-roofed single-storey building at the heart of a swathe of woodland in rural north-east Scotland, from where journalists were unable to tweet or broadcast. This week the lobby crammed on to the same train to Yorkshire to cover the Tory manifesto launch. Only ITV’s Robert Peston and the Guardian’s Steve Bell avoided the crush, travelling first class.
5. The leaders of the Lib Dems, SNP, Greens, Ukip and Plaid Cymru faced off in a debate on ITV last night that the Conservative and Labour leaders refused to attend. While ITV deserve credit for sticking to their guns, when they arranged the event last month they might have hoped the five parties in attendance were polling more than a mere 14% between them. It was fitting then that the only highlight appeared to be one of the party leaders forgetting the names of two of the others. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall is not alone, apparently – a poll by Bite the Ballot claims that Peppa Pig is better known by young voters than party leaders.
Gaffe-watch: It wouldn’t be gaffe-watch without an appearance from the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Britain’s most senior diplomat sparked outrage at a Sikh Gurdwara after promising a free trade deal to end tariffs on whisky between UK & India – only to be informed it was against the religion. Meanwhile, Diane Abbott suffered another embarrassment after struggling to find her way off a stage after addressing a police conference. And luckily for Tim Farron, a voter saw the funny side when the Lib Dem leader tried to shake his hand – only to realise the man was wearing a sling on his arm.
Next week: With the main manifesto launches out of the way, the party leaders will get the Brillo treatment next week, with May, Nuttall, Farron, Sturgeon and Corbyn being interviewed separately by Andrew Neil on successive evenings, Monday-Friday, at 7pm on BBC1. Viewers of the One Show will have to wait until the following week for their daily fix.
And finally…: A final reminder to join our star-studded panel of experts at 8am on Monday 22nd May, at 65 Gresham Street, for your latest election fix: what’s going on behind the scenes during the main parties’ campaigns and what does it mean for Brexit. RSVP here.