Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

Rishi Sunak’s manifesto is thin gruel

Rishi Sunak delivers a speech to launch the Tory election manifesto (Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak today launched a manifesto that might suffice for a governing party polling at level pegging with the opposition in a country where things have been going well.

You will no doubt have spotted the problems with this: he’s more than 20 points behind in the polls largely thanks to losing most of his right flank to an insurgent rival, while the British public overwhelmingly believes their country is heading in the wrong direction. So a technocrat’s bloodless canter through what one of my social media followers aptly described as ‘magnolia gruel’ was never going to cut it.

Sunak is more than 20 points behind in the polls

Sunak’s presentation was heavy on the pecuniary aspects of the British living standards challenge (tax rates, state pension levels) but notably light on the non-pecuniary ones (cohesion-shredding immigration levels, criminal justice system collapse, public services capacity constraints, the elite onslaught against British heritage and cultural norms).

But even the tax-cutting plans depend for their appeal on a willing suspension of disbelief that the electorate will surely not be offering this time round. After all, the 2019 manifesto promised no increase in income tax, national insurance or VAT rates. Yet Sunak as Chancellor put up NI in April 2022, while freezing income tax allowances for the long-term in a period of high inflation – a measure with an almost identical impact to an enormous rise in rates.

Today’s manifesto embodies the ‘triple lock plus’ formula for state pensioners. And yet in 2019 the guarantee was to preserve the triple lock that raises the state pension by the highest out of average earnings growth, inflation or 2.5 per cent. Yet as chancellor, Sunak dumped the triple lock for a year in 2021. As the old aphorism puts it: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The Wykehamist desiccated calculating machine who resides for now in No. 10 did manage to emotionally connect just once during his performance: in answer to a question about whether his pledge to scrap the self-employed rate of NI altogether could cause ‘White Van Man’ to drive to his political rescue. Sunak paid tribute to people who set up their own businesses and forgo the guarantee of a monthly pay cheque in the process, praising them as ‘enormously brave’ and seeming to mean it. 

But fudge after fudge on immigration policy will surely be the death of him politically. On legal migration levels, the Sunak pledge is to halve it and then further reduce it by an unspecified number every year. But even if he delivers that – and remember his predecessors going back 14 years have all totally failed to fulfil their manifesto promises in this area – we will still have annual net migration well above 300,000, something no other party has ever engineered. 

On illegal immigration, the cynical timidity was even worse. No pledge to leave the European Convention on Human Rights or the jurisdiction of its supervisory court in Strasbourg, only the slippery declaration that: ‘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.’ Tell that to the families of those Britons murdered by asylum-seekers, such as Tom Roberts in Bournemouth or Terence Carney in Hartlepool.

Sunak claimed that were he and his party re-elected that removals flights to Rwanda would start in July. Almost nobody now believes that and if Sunak himself did then surely he would have delayed polling day until after at least the first had taken off.

The dragons this PM wishes to slay have all raised their ugly heads and been allowed to wreak havoc under Tory rule, including his own, so he cannot be the change candidate and this could never be the change manifesto. And yet who can look back over the past 14 years and truly want more of the same?

Watch more analysis from Katy Balls, Kate Andrews, and James Heale on Spectator TV:

Join Fraser Nelson, Katy Balls and Kate Andrews for a post-election live recording of Coffee House Shots in Westminster, Thu 11 July. Bar opens 6.30pm, recording starts 7pm