Magazine article The Spectator

Red Theresa's Manifesto

Magazine article The Spectator

Red Theresa's Manifesto

Article excerpt

The Prime Minister's election strategy is to discard ideology

Never has the Conservative party been more confident about winning a general election. Theresa May's popularity ratings have broken all records; her aim in this campaign is not just to defeat the Labour party but to destroy it. The Tory MPs who talk about ten years in power are the more cautious ones; some talk about staying in government until the 2040s.

The party's name is seldom mentioned in this campaign. We instead hear only about 'Theresa May's team', and voters seem to approve. As to what the Conservatives stand for, they'd rather not say. At times it seems they're not even quite sure. The Tory messages revolve around Jeremy Corbyn and not much else.

Fraser Nelson and David Goodhart discuss 'Red Theresa' on the Spectator Podcast:

Just two years ago the Tories were denouncing ideas such as an energy price cap as 'Marxist'. Trying to fix prices, they said, was as naive as trying to legislate for the weather. Now price caps are Conservative party policy. In 2015, Ed Miliband's plan for an £8 minimum wage was a job-killer that would render unemployed anyone whose skills were worth less than this sum. Now Mrs May is going for £9 an hour. And her published plans involve the tax burden rising to a 35-year high.

The Ed Stone, the much-mocked slab of limestone on to which Ed Miliband inscribed his agenda, was smashed up soon after the election. He ought not to have been so bashful. Within months, several of his ideas -- a national infrastructure commission, grandparents sharing parental leave, that national living wage -- had been adopted by Conservatives. The idea of taxing employers to fund apprenticeships was discussed before the Labour manifesto but didn't make it in because Miliband thought it a step too far. It is now Tory policy.

May's embrace of the energy price cap was significant because it had been the flagship Miliband idea. And while Osborne could have been accused of raiding the old Labour manifesto, May has gone one better and seems to be actually running ahead of Jeremy Corbyn. The cap on executive pay, one of the ideas in the 2017 Labour manifesto, was a policy she ran past her own (horrified) cabinet colleagues last year. Corbyn's plan to make it harder for foreign companies to buy British firms was also floated by Mrs May, and blocked by Philip Hammond. The disagreements between Prime Minister and Chancellor have been frequent, but they were initially kept quiet -- not least because Hammond was worried about what the City would make of her interventionist instincts. But in recent weeks, the secret seems to be out and reports about Hammond's screaming matches with May's aides are surfacing. Strikingly, he doesn't deny them. 'I'm not going to say I've never occasionally sworn,' he admitted this week. She, for her part, has refused to say that his job will be safe after the general election.

Many of Hammond's colleagues admire his courage in defending free-market conservatism but wonder if it is politically wise - especially if the Prime Minister doesn't really believe in it. The tension between them has become a theme of the May government: she wants to move to the left, but has been unable to do so because her Chancellor has positioned himself as a Thatcherite roadblock. He suspects Nick Timothy, Mrs May's chief of staff, is behind this what might be crudely described as Trump-style, Britain-first economic policies.

Just as Nigel Lawson resented the influence of Alan Walters over Mrs Thatcher - and ultimately resigned in protest at being second-guessed - Mr Hammond has refused to yield to the Prime Minister's ideas. But there is no denying that her main interest has seemed to be in committing the Tories to dirigiste policies that her colleagues had thought defeated.

So what is going on? A snap election means there is little time to discuss much -- and anyway Mrs May's cabinet has learnt not to expect to be privy to her thinking on many issues. …

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