Tory party launches its manifesto at Silverstone as wheels threaten to come off campaign

Not even the proximity of Brad Pitt could add excitement to flaccid Tory event

While Brad Pitt was outside on the Silverstone racetrack filming a new Formula One movie on Tuesday, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak was in the hospitality section launching the Conservative party’s manifesto for the July 4th general election.

Pitt’s movie had the working title Apex; Sunak’s flaccid gathering could have been called Nadir, such was the paucity of enthusiasm in the room among the Tory faithful, or whatever remains of them. The party is stuck at least 20 points behind Labour in most polls with time running out along with, it appears, any vestiges of Tory self-belief.

Sunak wanted to reset the dial on a week of political torment during which the prime minister endured a cyclone of criticism for leaving a D-Day commemoration early. The glossy 76-page manifesto included sweeteners such as a surprise pledge to abolish national insurance for most self-employed workers, as well as shaving a further 2p off the rate for all, a cap on legal migration and the abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers on properties up to £425,000 (€503,000).

It also included promises of more nurses, doctors and teachers; a target of building 1.6 million new homes; and a ban on mobile phones for children during the school day. Sunak promised to fund all this fresh expenditure while at the same time cutting taxes and the UK’s national debt.


The new measures could be paid for at least in part, the Tories suggested, through £12 billion in welfare savings. The Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank calculated immediately afterwards there would be a black hole in public service funding of up to £20 billion if the manifesto was implemented.

“We are the only party in this election with the big ideas to make our country a better place to live,” said Sunak. Labour leader Keir Starmer, meanwhile, derided the manifesto from afar as a “Jeremy Corbyn-style” unfunded giveaway.

The choice of Silverstone, an awkward 70-minute train and bus ride from London, as the venue to launch the manifesto prompted a game among the travelling media pack to guess the first racing metaphor deployed by the prime minister.

Would it be “revving up” for growth? Getting Britain “back on track”? Sunak plumped instead in his speech for how the economy had “turned a corner”, to groans from the estimated 250 Tory members and journalists who had made the trip.

The crowd had been warmed up by education secretary Gillian Keith, who was an automotive apprentice at Silverstone in her youth, and Ben Houchen, the Tory mayor of Tees Valley around Middlesbrough. He declared somewhat unconvincingly that Sunak still had the “same energy, verve and passion” that he had always known.

Home secretary James Cleverly and Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, were among the front benchers sent out to face the media huddle afterwards, where they insisted the game wasn’t yet up for the Tories in the election. Privately, Tory activists at the launch were saying the opposite.

A couple of hours later in London, Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves hosted yet another media gathering to insist to British people that “the Conservatives are gaslighting you”.

Reeves, who seems well on course to be the first woman appointed as chancellor after the election next month, claimed the proposed £12 billion in Tory welfare savings was “pure fiction”. Repeating a favourite Labour attack line of recent days, she insisted the “money is not there” because it has already been spent elsewhere.

Reeves promised “iron discipline” with Britain’s finances if she becomes chancellor. Labour will get its chance to spell out what this might mean when it launches its manifesto on Thursday.