What Boris Johnson might be up to with his policy-lite manifesto


Tory supporters in Telford might have happily chanted "Boris, Boris!" but the party leader was giving little back to them in terms of fresh policies.

The Prime Minister has effectively been announcing snippets from Sunday's manifesto since he won the Tory leadership contest in July, meaning most of what was in it was not all that new.

Pledges such as 20,000 extra police officers, more money for schools and extra cash for the NHS have all been part of a greatest hits set that has been well rehearsed in recent weeks.

Only the promise of 50,000 nurses and the return of their training bursary – cut by former Tory chancellor George Osborne – was fresh out of the box.

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But yet, judging by the latest polling, the steady flow of announcements has been well received by its audience, with some data-crunchers giving the Tories a double-digit lead over Labour in the run up to December 12.

Here is a look at why Mr Johnson went for a low-key manifesto parade and the election strategy it reveals.

– Why is this manifesto so different from Theresa May's in 2017?

This is a risk-averse Prime Minister who wants to ensure, at the very least, that he is returned to Downing Street by the electorate.

We saw his lie-low tactic in its extreme form during the Conservative leadership contest.

Mr Johnson turned down interview requests and refused to turn up to hustings with other contestants until the final stages of the race – a submarine approach to campaigning that avoided scrutiny but also happened to work.

If you don't say much, you can't say much wrong, goes the mantra.

PM manifesto
PM manifesto

Two years ago, the polls were all predicting a decent majority for Theresa May's blue team and she drew up a manifesto wish-list to boot, with ambitious plans for reforming social care – soon dubbed the "dementia tax" – and abandoning universal winter fuel benefits for older people.

The Tory Party's core audience was less than impressed and many flocked to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's more enticing and spend-heavy vision for the country instead.

Mr Johnson saw what happened then, with Mrs May losing her majority rather than increasing it, and has played it as safe as possible in a bid to avoid such pitfalls.

– Just how safe has Mr Johnson decided to play it?

To illustrate how much Mr Johnson is not wanting to rock the boat with the electorate, even the pledge of reversing the hunting ban, a feature of every Tory manifesto since 2005, has been ditched.

"We will make no changes to the Hunting Act," the manifesto states firmly, ruling out a controversy that has reared its head over and over again for the Tories.

The former London mayor also went nowhere near the politically dangerous issue of social care, simply re-iterating a promise to look at a cross-party solution. His £1 billion extra per year over the course of the next parliament had already been announced before Sunday.

– How has it been received?

The opinion political commentators look out for after a manifesto drops is the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), an independent think tank that crunches the numbers.

It was their take on Labour's figures on Thursday, judging them to be "not credible", that hit the headlines.

And once again, the IFS was deeply unimpressed at what it deemed a "lack of significant policy action" in the Tory manifesto.

Economic researchers calculated that the National Insurance threshold rise to £9,500 will save most in paid work "less than £2 a week" and highlighted the "notable omission" for any plan to deal with the crisis in social care funding.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive at the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, said he was "bitterly disappointed" to see "unnecessary delay" in tackling the issue of social care.

IFS director Paul Johnson said: "If a single Budget had contained all these tax and spending proposals, we would have been calling it modest.

"As a blueprint for five years in government, the lack of significant policy action is remarkable."

– Will this lack of action cost the PM?

The latest polling released on Sunday, created by Datapraxis using YouGov polling and voter interviews, suggested the Tories were on course to secure their largest Commons majority since 1987 – a majority of almost 50 MPs.

Given Mr Johnson has been airing most of his policies on the campaign trail long before they appeared in published form – he even broke the news about the cut to National Insurance contributions to a group of factory workers in Teesside last week – it appears "don't rock the boat" is bearing fruit.

The former foreign secretary's key aim is, as the title of the manifesto indicates, to "get Brexit done" – something he thinks must happen before the country can move on from the 2016 referendum.

If that means promising little else to secure the majority he needs to make the divorce from the European Union a reality, then it seems the PM is perfectly content with that state of affairs.