Chris Mason: Sunakian Conservatism in 76 pages

Chris Mason: Sunakian Conservatism in 76 pages

23 minutes ago

By Chris Mason, @ChrisMasonBBCPolitical editor

PA MediaRishi Sunak campaiging on Tuesday

Manifestos provide, in theory at least, the spine of an incoming government’s mission.

The promises within them, if not entirely sacrosanct, are at least meant to be possessed of a greater sanctity than other more disposable political pledges.

And they set a tone, a framework and dividing lines with political opponents too.

Whisper it, but I quite like to collect them.

I have old ones from years gone by on my bookshelves at home.

They are political history preserved in glossy paper, and a constant reference point, for at least five years, for victorious and losing parties alike.

The 2024 Conservative manifesto is a 76-page tome which has the desire and the instinct for tax cuts as its controlling thought.

But hang on: cuts in national insurance and stamp duty get the thumbs-up, but there is no equivalent on income tax or inheritance tax.

The argument goes that as sought after as these might be by many, they are less of a priority than the other two.

And there is a pattern here, as you can see when you look at the Tory promise on borders and security.

Rishi Sunak renews his commitment to the Conservative plan to send some of those arriving over the Channel on small boats to Rwanda.

But look what is not promised: the one thing some reckon would make it more likely this scheme and others like it would work — withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Instead, there is a rather fudgey formulation in the manifesto, on page 36.

It reads: “If we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court, including the ECHR, we will always choose our security.”

In short this is a manifesto in Rishi Sunak’s image.

Not surprising really, you might say, he is the Conservative leader and fair point — but let me flesh out what I mean.

It feels like a document that encapsulates what you might call Sunakian Conservatism.

His allies would say the fundamentals of that are deliverable, pragmatic, thought-through ideas, not flashy for their own sake but sensible.

His critics within the party are already saying they are insufficiently bold, grabby or game-changey – when a game-changer is so desperately needed, if even possible.

“Doubt any of this will make a blind bit of difference,” one senior Tory texts me.

Before adding, “Should have gone for a tax cut that would have some cut through. These won’t. ECHR language is completely pointless. It is unreformable and we should be leaving.”

A final thought: there is an undercurrent to public utterances and social media adverts from the Conservatives now, to match their private musings.

It is an undercurrent which acknowledges the possibility, even the likelihood of defeat.

That is not to say for a moment they are giving up – we are three weeks into this campaign with the three most important weeks still to come.

But a framing is emerging from the Tories which acknowledges maximising Conservative support may be about minimising a Labour victory, not preventing it.

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