Ryan Shorthouse, director of the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue

The Conservative Party general election manifesto adopted the following Bright Blue policies:

  • Raising the primary threshold for the payment of Class 1 employees’ National Insurance
  • Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest
  • Introducing a new rural payments system based in part on the ecosystem services delivered by farmers, land managers and land owners
  • Guaranteeing the current level of subsidies for farmers, land managers and land owners provided through the Common Agricultural Policy until the mid-2020s

Commenting on the Conservative 2019 general election manifesto, Ryan Shorthouse, director of the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue, said:

“The Conservative Party is playing it safe, delivering a straightforward and focussed manifesto, rightly prioritising additional support for those on modest incomes. It is a down-to-earth manifesto, not promising an undeliverable brave new world, but a little extra help for those who often find themselves struggling.”

“This manifesto is driven overwhelmingly by political strategy, not deep-seated philosophical convictions. It lacks ideological consistency, using different policy approaches to reach out in particular to voters from working-class backgrounds in Northern England and Wales.”

“It is clear that Boris does not want to be defined as a particular kind of conservative. He wants to ensure that all factions within the centre-right have their priorities and policies reflected somewhat.  He is trying to unite the Right against a straightforward socialist threat.”

“Since the manifesto is overwhelmingly a political exercise, squarely focussed on winning votes, too many policies lack specific details and there are some unnecessary giveaways. The need for - and delivery of - fiscal discipline is central to the electoral success of the Conservative Party.”

Skills

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The introduction of a National Skills Fund and a Right to Retrain are welcome. Bright Blue’s research shows the biggest barrier to lifelong learning is the cost of tuition. The Conservatives should introduce lifelong learning loans, where all adults will be able to access tuition fee loans for all types of continuous professional development courses. They would repay their loans through the PAYE scheme under stricter repayment rules for every new qualification undertaken.”

Student loans

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The Government seems to be tempted to adopt the recommendation of the Augar Review and lower the interest rate on student loans. This would be foolish. This would help only the wealthiest graduates, by reducing the number of months they repay their student loans for over their working life. Cutting interest rates would make no difference to the total amount currently repaid by the overwhelming majority of graduates.”

Restoration of Nurses’ Bursaries

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“I thought that shifting the maintenance support that nurses receive during their training from a grant to a loan would make no difference to participation rates. I was wrong. It was a mistake for government to do this, and it is associated with a worrying decline in new nurses. The Conservatives should be applauded for bringing back Nurses’ Bursaries as part of its NHS People Plan.”

Childcare

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue, said:

“The Conservative Party has wasted an opportunity to improve the quality of early years childcare, instead focussing on improving the availability of school-age childcare.”

“Improving the affordability, availability and quality of childcare at pre-school level rather than school-level is much more of a priority.”

Schools

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“The Conservatives are right to commit to increases in per-pupil funding and to raise the starting salary for newly qualified teachers. There is a real recruitment and retention problem within the teaching profession, so raising starting salaries should help. But the government needs to offer more extensive and generous ‘social mobility’ salary supplements, to incentivise more teachers to work in less desirable areas of the country.”

Employment

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

The recent commitment by the Conservative Party to raise the minimum wage is welcome, as evidence suggests that there is room for it to grow. But it would be better if the major political parties stopped playing political football with the issue and let the Low Pay Commission take an evidence-led approach on raising the wage floor instead instead.”

“It is surprising to see the Conservatives wishing to launch yet another review into how we can better support the increasing number of self-employed considering the amount of evidence and policy work already available. It would have been better to see concrete action taken on support for low-income self-employed, particularly in regards to improving Universal Credit and securing certain rights.” 

Welfare

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“It is of great disappointment to see no attempt by the Conservatives to address the remaining issues with Universal Credit. As Bright Blue research has shown, a significant minority of claimants still struggle with the current system, particularly the initial five-week wait. Additional support for self-employed workers, elderly claimants and people with physical and mental disabilities is needed if the Universal Credit is to work for all.”   

“While it is good to see a confirmation that the benefit freeze is ending, it is wrong for the Conservatives to take no action in rectifying the major issues that it caused. Without additional funding, Local Housing Allowance rates will continue to be significantly below the actual cost of renting in majority of areas, putting a significant strain on families on the lowest incomes.”

Pensions

Commenting, Sam Robinson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Since 2010, pensioners have been relatively well-protected. Although it may be popular, guaranteeing the Triple lock on the value of the state pension is unnecessary and unwise

“Maintain universal benefits such as the Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes may be good politics, but is bad policy. The priority for welfare expenditure should be working-aged adults, who have experienced disportionate and deep cuts to the value of their benefits this decade.”

Immigration and integration

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“We do need a controlled immigration system. And there are progressive reasons for this. Free movement across the EU is not sustainable. It is welcome that the Conservatives have dropped the net migration target, but we should have targets on gross levels of some categories of migrants.”

“It is right to increase the value and applicability of the NHS surcharge. Migrants should pay catch-up contributions for essential public services, which people who have lived here much longer have paid for over many years for themselves and their families. This popular contributory principle could be further applied by asking new migrants to pay a new class of National Insurance for a short period of time.”

“But it will be challenging for a Conservative Government to achieve two aims: a significant reduction in migration levels, and the signing of loads of free trade agreements.”

“The Conservatives have pledged to boost English language teaching and promote National Citizen Service. But there are no specific details on how they will do this. The Conservatives should commit to extending the Controlling Migration Fund beyond 2020 and allocating a certain proportion of it to fund new Eglish language teaching. Secondary schools should have a new duty to ensure all young teenagers benefit from at least one week of National Citizen Service during term time, either in Year 9 or Year 10.”

Support for businesses

Commenting, Sam Robinson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Conservatives have, on the whole, put forward a good offering for business.”

“Maintaining Corporation Tax at its current rate is a reasonable strategy, given the significant increase in tax receipts over the last few years and the need to remain competitive post-Brexit.”

“Raising the Employment Allowance for small businesses on employers’ Class 1 National Insurance is welcome. As is increasing the R&D tax credit rate. Both should marginally incentivise both employment and innovation.”

Spending

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, director at Bright Blue, said:

“There is a stark contrast between the spending plans of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. The Conservatives have rightly committed to not running a deficit on day-to-day spending. Future taxpayers have to shoulder the burden of budget deficits, so it is right both morally and economically to strive for sound finances.”

“The Conservatives, however, are right to use historic low interest rates to increase investment in infrastructure”.

Individual taxation

Commenting, Sam Robinson, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Tories’ pledge to raise the primary threshold of employee’s National Insurance is the best tax cut they could have made, since it benefits those on the lowest incomes.”

“Though their ‘Triple Tax Lock’ is restrictive, Conservatives are right to commit to not increasing taxation from work. But, to improve some key public services, especially in the current economic climate, more taxes will need to come from somewhere. The tax burden should be lowered on work, and increased instead on activities with negative externalities.” 

Housing

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“It is good to see the Conservatives continuing to take action to help private renters after their ban on excessive tenant fees. The abolition of ‘no fault’ evictions will make private renting more secure, while adopting a single ‘lifetime’ deposit will make it much easier for tenants on low income to move.”

“While it is good to see a promise to bring forward a Social Housing White Paper, it is disappointing to see the lack of a specific commitment on increasing the number of social homes. Housebuilding in Britain has tended to reach significant numbers only when governments committed to building a significant number of social homes, and the Conservatives will have to deliver them if they are serious about their 300,000 annual target.”

Homelessness

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The rise in rough sleeping in the past decade is a national scandal. The Conservatives are correct in pursuing full enforcement of the Homelessness Reduction Act, but it is unclear if they are prepared to provide the additional funding that cash-strapped local authorities need to accomplish this.”

“This country was once close to ending rough sleeping. Other countries are. There should be no excuses for one of the wealthiest countries on the planet,”

Waste

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Conservative Party’s plan to ban the export of waste to non-OECD countries is very welcome, as non-OECD countries are largely responsible for plastic waste ending up in the ocean.” 

“However, the Conservative Party could have been more ambitious in tackling the scourge of plastic waste, by supporting a ban on non-recyclable plastics.”

Air pollution

Commenting, William Nicolle, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Government is right to commit to a new Office for Environmental Protection and new legal targets for air pollution.”

“Air pollution is a dire cost to our health, the economy, and our environment. Government needs to urgently reduce air pollution levels, particularly for nitrogen dioxide from transport.”

“The Conservatives need to be bolder. They should pledge to introduce the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits for all major air pollutants.”

Energy

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The Conservative’s plan to increase offshore wind energy generation to account for 40 gigawatts by 2030 is positive. However, the Conservatives should have pledged to remove current restrictions around the development of new onshore wind.”

“The Conservative’s proposed £800 million investment into carbon capture and storage is welcome in the bid to achieve net zero by 2050. However, it is one of the most expensive methods of decarbonisation and should not be touted as a silver bullet to achieving net zero.”

Electric Vehicles

Commenting, Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“Increasing the prevalence of EV chargers will help to address range anxiety that inhibits people purchasing EVs, but if the Conservative’s wanted to increase EV uptake they should remove VAT on EVs.”

Energy efficiency

Commenting, William Nicolle, researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“The drafty housing stock in this country is in dire need of retrofitting, and investing now will start to reduce the hard to abate emissions from the heating sector.”

“Yet, beyond those on the lowest incomes, there are no incentives for those in the able-to-pay sector to improve the thermal efficiency of their houses, especially in rural areas where houses are typically older. There is a real opportunity missed in not putting forward policies that will encourage private investment in retrofitting, such as new ‘Help to Improve’ loans, which could save the Government billions while reducing consumer energy bills and emissions.”

Legal Aid

Commenting, Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield, research assistant at Bright Blue, said:

“Whilst both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos have pledged to undo the damage done to the legal aid system by the introduction of the coalition-era LASPO 2012, legal aid is not even mentioned in the Conservative manifesto. Cuts to legal aid have seriously eroded access to justice in the UK and it is disappointing to see the manifesto fail to address this legally and morally untenable state of affairs.”

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