The Tory manifesto: can Rishi Sunak turn around the party’s fortunes?

Rishi Suank has launched the Tories’ General Election manifesto at Silverstone motor racing circuit, setting out his programme for government if he is returned to Downing Street after July 4.

– How big a moment is this in the campaign?

After nearly three weeks of campaigning, the Conservatives remain stubbornly behind in the polls with Labour continuing to enjoy a healthy double-digit percentage point lead in all the surveys to date.

The return of Nigel Farage at the helm of Reform UK, and the row over his early departure from the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations in Normandy, have only added to the Prime Minister’s woes.

He desperately needs something to move the dial if he is to avoid a Tory electoral catastrophe – let alone maintain any hope of a return to No 10.

This could be one of his last big set-piece events in which to achieve a turnaround.

– What does the manifesto say?

The Tories’ big offer to voters is a 2p cut in employees national insurance contributions – at an estimated annual cost to the Exchequer of £10 billion by the end of the parliament.

It is presented as part of a drive to abolish the levy altogether “when financial conditions allow” – with the main self-employed rate to be scrapped in the course of the next parliament.

The party is also promising to half migration, with a cap on legal migration and a “regular rhythm” of deportation flights to Rwanda for those who come illegally.

There is a boost for home ownership with a commitment to build 1.6 million new homes through speeding up consents on brownfield sites, while stamp duty will be abolished for first-time buyers on properties up to £425,000.

The manifesto confirms previously announced commitments to raise defence spending, bring in national service for 18-year-olds, give a “triple lock plus” tax break for pensioners, and amend the Equality Act to make clear “sex means biological sex”.

There will be no increase in the rates of income tax or VAT.

POLITICS Election Polls
(PA Graphics)

– What are they hoping to achieve?

In his speech, Mr Sunak presented himself as a tax-cutter firmly in the mould of Margaret Thatcher and her chancellor Nigel Lawson while underlining his party’s commitment to a property-owning democracy.

In an appeal aimed squarely at voters’ wallets, he said: “We will enable working people to keep more money that you earn because you have earned it and have the right to choose what you spend it on.”

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty surrounded by Tory activists
Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty at the launch of the manifesto (James Manning/PA)

The manifesto said that taken together on top of the already implemented cuts, it would amount to a total tax reduction of £1,350 for the average worker on £35,000.

The measures on migration sought to address a key concern in many of the so-called “red wall” seats, which the Tories took from Labour at the 2019 general election and are now struggling to defend.

– What are the other parties saying?

Labour has described the manifesto as “the most expensive panic attack in history” from a party which feared it was heading for defeat at the polls.

It said the Tory planning was “stuffed full” of unfunded spending commitments of the kind which led Liz Truss to crash the economy when she was prime minister.

The Liberal Democrats said the Tory campaign was packed with “desperation and lies” and that the manifesto “isn’t worth the paper its written on”.