Boris Johnson’s Extraordinary Manifesto

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the Conservative party’s manifesto launch in Telford, England, November 24, 2019. (Phil Noble/Reuters)
He has to assure voters that the Tories have more to offer than Jeremy Corbyn does.

Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain’s Potential. This is the Tory party’s election manifesto, a 59-page document promising a swift Brexit, big spending, tax freezes, an improved National Health Service, and more funding for law enforcement.

In ordinary times, the document would be a letdown to fiscal conservatives. But these are not ordinary times. On December 12, Britons will go to the ballot box and decide whether the occupant of No. 10 Downing Street should be Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, a Marxist and — some believe — a maniac.

With regards to Brexit, Johnson is promising a swift and moderate delivery to his Brexit deal and a short transition period. Corbyn is promising a renegotiation followed by a second referendum. Labour has not indicated whether it will be backing Brexit in the referendum.

With regards to the economy, Johnson is promising an end to austerity (without tax hikes). He is also pursuing free-trade agreements with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. His government intends to borrow £100 billion for infrastructure investment. Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, has called the infrastructure plan “the biggest increase in the size of the state under a Conservative Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan.”

Naturally, however, Corbyn is promising more. Much more. For every $1.30 of spending that the Tories are offering in their manifesto, Labour is offering $36.

For starters, Corbyn plans the biggest increase in newly constructed “council” (i.e., welfare) housing since World War II, which would cost $96 billion. Corbyn also wants to reduce the working week to 32 hours (with no decrease in pay); provide free TV licenses for people older than 75, at $961 million (all British residents must buy an annual license to watch TV); create a new social-security system costing $10.8 billion; provide free dental treatment and prescription drugs; free college tuition, for $9.3 billion a year; free “personal care” for people older than 65 and 30 hours of free child care a week for children under four — only $7.2 billion a year for the state to raise your children!

Corbyn would also like to raise corporation tax from 19 percent to 26 percent; make private schools virtually impossible for countless parents by increasing the VAT by 20 percent (don’t worry, he’s also suggesting a National Education Service); and nationalize the rail, water, and electrical industries. He also intends for Britain to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030 by erecting thousands of windmills across the countryside.

Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was in a similar situation in April 2017 when she announced a snap election for June 2018. She hoped to increase the Tory party’s majority in order to assist Brexit over the line. The Labour party was, at that point, a disorganized rabble. The same is true this time around. And yet 2017 did not bring the Tories a strong and stable government but an earthquake that shook them to their core. When May announced the forthcoming snap election, the Conservatives were well ahead of Labour in the polls, perhaps by as much as 20 percent. But as the election approached, the gap narrowed. The result was a “hung” parliament, meaning the government does not have a clear majority, three years of parliamentary chaos, and no Brexit.

This is precisely the outcome that Boris Johnson is hoping to avoid. A large part of Johnson’s electoral strategy, therefore, seems to be emphasizing that he is not Corbyn. He has a deal within reach. Corbyn does not. He is fiscally responsible. Corbyn is not. “What Labour would do, I’m afraid inevitably is take a sledgehammer to the economic success of this country,” he said on Monday.

The most recent poll suggest that the Tories are enjoying their biggest lead over Labour in the past two years. From The Telegraph:

It predicts an 80-seat majority for the Tories.

The monthly poll of polls shows November was the best month the Tories have had since the last election with the Tories on 43 per cent against Labour’s 29.9 per cent.

It would put the Tories on 365 seats and Labour on 202, while the Lib Dems on 15.1 per cent would get 20 seats, according to the analysis by Electoral Calculus.

However, if the last election taught us anything, it is to be very wary of polls. Other polls, for instance those taken in Wales, indicate a narrower gap between the parties. It is not enough simply to not be Corbyn — Johnson has to widen the Tory appeal by throwing a bone to those on the center left as well as the center right. And it seems that his manifesto was designed to achieve that.

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Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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