Looking at the manifesto, if Labour's was the best manifesto I've seen then, arguably, the Tory document is probably their least worst. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that is deeply discomfiting here. Yet at the same time it's a patrician (matrician?) work invoking the spirit of manor-house-knows-best Toryism of Harold Macmillan and Enoch Powell. All the one nation lines are in there about tackling insecurity, sorting out mental health, and even a pledge promising to eradicate homelessness by 2027. And no, it doesn't mean dragging them off to the workhouse. There's some interesting wonkish stuff about investment banks, working with 'old' industries, introducing the variously floated 'T'-levels to replace the plethora of vocationally-based qualifications, redistributing government bureaucracies to outside of London (hurrah!) and a few other things. It's all there for the regen geeks.
This togetherness, of repositioning Britain as a giant community in which everyone knows their place and everyone is treated fairly is the running theme of the manifesto. Check this out, for example:
If you are at a state school you are less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately. If you are a white, working-class boy, you are less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you are black, you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. If you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you are a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help at hand. These are burning injustices that damage the unity of our country, and we will address them. (p.51)Can you imagine such lines even appearing in the 2015 Tory manifesto? Incredible.
Or not. Theresa May thinks the Tories have the election in the bag. That's why the chapter on Brexit is short on detail but long on optimistic rhetoric. A few trade treaties and technical terms are thrown into the mix to convey the impression the government know what they're doing. Though their persistence with the "no deal is better than a bad deal" idiocy shows they really don't. It's also why costings are entirely absent from the manifesto. Labour always get a hard time about such things. If they so much as want to repaint a school bus up pops talking heads demanding to know where the money's coming from. Not so with the Tories. There might be a day of froth before it subsides. After all, Dave got away with it last time. The size of her predicted victory is why May feels comfortable going out of the way with her bastardised Milibandism. The petit bourgeois-types usually suspicious of big statism have nowhere else to go, and May sniffs a big opportunity to inflict major damage on Labour that could take years to recover from.
And it's also why she may have made a big misstep. As the Tories are in the business of constructing a cult of the personality around a woman completely lacking in personal qualities, the leadership fetish commands an expression of toughness. And here it is:
First, we will align the future basis for means-testing for domiciliary care with that for residential care, so that people are looked after in the place that is best for them. This will mean that the value of the family home will be taken into account along with other assets and income, whether care is provided at home, or in a residential or nursing care home.In 2010, David Cameron attacked Gordon Brown's proposals about using a person's estate to posthumously pay for care costs as a "death tax". And here it is, again. Rather than releasing monies to deal with the growing adult social care crisis they are shifting the costs onto individuals and their families. Well, not all. In the name of obligationism, this would not effect the very poorest elderly, but it would hit millions of better off pensioners. Some are bound to pass ownership of their assets to the children in the manner of the rich dodging inheritance taxes to get round it, but most won't. To be sure there's going to be a lot of people in Daily Mail land deeply upset about this.
Second, to ensure this is fair, we will introduce a single capital floor, set at £100,000, more than four times the current means test threshold. This will ensure that, no matter how large the cost of care turns out to be, people will always retain at least £100,000 of their savings and assets, including value in the family home.
Third, we will extend the current freedom to defer payments for residential
care to those receiving care at home, so no-one will have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care. (p.67)
May thinks she can get away with it because this is the core vote and the Tories reason they have nowhere else to go. Are leave-voting pensioners going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and his plans to nationalise window cleaning? This is why this manifesto is a Blairite manifesto. With the core vote in the bag, the party is free to reach out well beyond its base to gain the thumping majority May craves. Clobbering pensioners' estates with care costs and rowing back on the triple lock might be enough to persuade younger voters that the Tories aren't just about the oldies and that they're trying to address age-related injustices in social policy.
Here, the Tories may have miscalculated. Looking at the polls, politics appears to have undergone a realignment again with the total collapse of UKIP (remember, we did this). Yet the vote the Tories have drawn in from UKIP is highly volatile, which is why the purples were always a declining force, even when, paradoxically, they were on the rise. That vote, which is mostly old, are going to have to weigh up how much a vote for Theresa May is going to cost their families. It will certainly put some off and, even though a switch to Labour might not be on the cards, them staying at home, or voting for another party threatens the prospects of a Tory landslide. If you're going in for voter suppression, then going after the new supporters you've just won over should do it.
This Blairite manifesto is ultimately another episode in keeping the balance of Britain's class forces tilted toward capital. It's conservatism doing what conservatism does: adapting, shifting, changing, responding to new situations and protecting what's theirs. The adoption of a Blairite approach to politics is from a position of perceived strength, but one that is not as certain as that enjoyed by The Master 20 years ago. It is our job in Labour to seize this and drive home what could be the Tories' most serious mistake.