Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Sunak’s manifesto is not credible

(Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak’s manifesto launch was necessarily defensive: the Prime Minister is trying to stem the losses in this election campaign rather than present an exciting vision of a new Britain. It was striking how much Sunak talked about Labour in his speech at Silverstone. Almost every Tory policy he referred to was immediately contrasted with what Labour would or wouldn’t do. His best line was that ‘if you don’t know what Labour will do, don’t vote for them. If you’re concerned about what Starmer isn’t telling you, don’t vote for them’.

Even if the Tories did make bold promises, there is a credibility gap

The best Sunak can hope for is that voters walk into their polling stations angry with the Conservatives but with their heads full of so much doubt about what Labour would do that they can’t quite bring themselves to vote for Keir Starmer’s party. That’s not particularly inspiring, and neither is the Conservative manifesto itself, hence talk of a rebel manifesto from figures such as Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick. (Denied by sources close to the pair, who have pointed out that no one wants to get the blame for the party having a terrible result in this election).

The Braverman/Jenrick argument is that this manifesto is not bold enough and that it hasn’t taken a sufficiently tough line on immigration. It hasn’t pledged to leave the ECHR, but has come close, saying: ‘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.’ Sunak underlined this in the Q&A after his speech. 

The other problem, though, is that even if the Tories did make bold promises, there is a credibility gap where voters simply won’t believe them because of their current record. Sunak tried to make a nod to that today in his speech, saying he was ‘not blind to the fact’ that voters were ‘frustrated’ with the Tories ‘and with me’, as well as saying directly that on immigration, the numbers were too high. But what was missing from his speech and from this Tory campaign was an explanation of why the party will, from now on, be able to deliver the things it has failed to sort out over the past 14 years.

Sunak would, if pushed, say that events such as the pandemic and the energy crisis have got in the way of his party being able to achieve as much as it would like. But the story of the past 14 years is also one of a Conservative party that was never manageable enough to deliver on key reforms to the planning system, to social care and many other areas. This election campaign has not suggested that its key figures have worked out how to change that.

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