Politicians have for years grappled with the dilemma of choosing between good politics but bad policy and good policy but bad politics. The Conservative manifesto contains a mixture of both.
Their immigration policies certainly come into the category of good politics but bad policy as they try to absorb the collapsed UKIP vote. Theresa May knows that reducing immigration to the tens of thousands is bad for the country – were this not the case then immigration from outside the EU would have been significantly lower while she was Home Secretary. The other immigration pledge she made was to increase the charge on businesses for hiring foreign workers. The purpose of this policy is, presumably, to reduce unemployment by giving firms an incentive to employ British workers. Therefore this could be a good idea in times of high unemployment, however the announcement came in the week that unemployment hit a 42 year low and so the effect of this policy will be to restrict business growth.
For a long time policy towards older people has been very much good politics but bad policy. Turnout increases with age, meaning pensioners have largely been immune from the cuts which other demographics have faced as parties target the grey vote. The triple-lock on pensions is an absurd policy, with the arbitrary 2.5% minimum increase bearing no relation to anything and is nothing short of a bribe to older voters. Given that in 2015 the government promised to keep the triple-lock until 2020, it would be unfair to withdraw it immediately as it will interfere with pensioners’ financial planning. By reverting to a double-lock, pensioners will never lose out in real terms, while funds can be diverted to more worthwhile causes.
Including the values of people’s houses in determining how much they must contribute towards their social care is reasonable if they are receiving care in their own homes as the current system effectively penalises those who go into care homes. It is also not right that it can be possible to hand a house worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to your children while expecting somebody else to pay for your care.
The move to means-test some universal benefits, namely the Winter Fuel Allowance and Free School Meals, is another sensible policy. There are far more urgent priorities than giving wealthy pensioners £300 per year and wealthy parents free food for their children.
David Cameron’s triple tax lock was the ultimate short term policy mistake. Circumstances in five years’ time, after Britain has left the European Union, will be significantly different to how they are now. Therefore it is not possible to make good budgetary decisions now for then, which is exactly what the triple tax lock would do. Opponents will brand this as plans to raise taxes which is simply not the case – they are merely not ruling it out.
With the exception of the immigration policies, this manifesto largely prioritises good policy over good politics. Theresa May will be hoping that, in the words of Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby, this is a brave manifesto, meaning it will cost her votes, rather than a courageous one, meaning it will cost her the election.