UK election: Tory manifesto marks major shift in direction

Theresa May pitches message to Labour and Ukip voters with tax and pensions policies

British prime minister Theresa May at the  launch of the Conservative manifesto in Halifax. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

British prime minister Theresa May at the launch of the Conservative manifesto in Halifax. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

 

Theresa May’s election manifesto, which was launched on Thursday morning in London, marks a dramatic shift in direction for the Conservative Party and a sharp break with its policies under David Cameron. Emboldened by an apparently unassailable poll lead, the prime minister has risked upsetting her party’s traditional supporters as she seeks to reshape the political map of Britain.

Launching the manifesto in Halifax, a Labour-held marginal seat, May pitched her message beyond core Conservatives and towards disgruntled Labour and Ukip voters. She promised to make Britain a country that works, not for the privileged few, but for everyone.

“A country where it doesn’t matter where you were born, who your parents are, where you went to school, what your accent sounds like, what god you worship, whether you’re a man or a woman, gay or straight, or black or white. A country in which all that matters is the talent you have and how hard you’re prepared to work,” she said.

May has scrapped Cameron’s pledges on tax and pensions and promised to introduce means tests for pensioners’ winter fuel allowance. In the manifesto’s most controversial initiative, elderly property owners will have to use the value of their homes to pay for social care, although their house would not have to be sold until after their death.

The manifesto redefines Conservatism, rejecting what it calls the socialist left and the libertarian right in favour of a free but regulated market operating within an activist state.

“We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality,” it says.

“We know that our responsibility to one another is greater than the rights we hold as individuals. We know that we all have obligations to one another, because that is what community and nation demands. We know that nobody, however powerful, has succeeded alone and that we all therefore have a debt to others.”

On Brexit, the manifesto promises to enter negotiations in a constructive spirit but repeats the assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal. And it states explicitly that Britain will leave the customs union as well as the single market after Brexit.

Brexit has loosened party loyalties in Britain, destroying Ukip and weakening Labour in its traditional industrial heartlands. May has seized the opportunity to expand the Conservatives’ reach, both geographically and socially. In the process, she has repositioned her party ideologically, although she claimed on Thursday that “there is no Mayism” and that she was not rejecting Thatcherism.“Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative, I’m a Conservative, this is a Conservative Party manifesto,” she said.

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