The Conservative Party manifesto for the upcoming general election at the start of June certainly doesn’t lack anything in the way of pathos. It presents Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision: “strong and stable leadership the country needs through Brexit and beyond”, in addition to overcoming “huge challenges”. The manifesto attempts to pave the way towards “future prosperity” and provide “opportunities for our children and grandchildren”. As portentous as the words accompanying the manifesto may be, in terms of its actual content, the manifesto itself is rather on the vague side – not least because the Tories are attempting to appeal to as broad a spectrum of the electorate as possible. This especially applies to home affairs. Among other measures, corporation tax is set to be lowered to 17% by 2020, with employee rights also strengthened. Approximately EUR 15bn will be invested in the NHS and education. At the same time, middle-class retirees – a core Conservative voting group – will have to dig deeper. The envisaged measures will, according to Tory plans, not affect expenditure, although they declined to provide more concrete figures. The Conservatives are planning to achieve a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade.
In contrast, Theresa May is striking a familiar high-profile note on the subjects of immigration and Brexit. In this regard, the target of limiting immigration to 100,000 per year, originally defined by May’s predecessor at No. 10, David Cameron, makes a return to the manifesto. Looking ahead to the start of negotiations with the European Union (provisionally scheduled for the middle of June), the Conservatives once again underline that they are not afraid to pursue a “hard Brexit”. Controlling immigration and taking back legislative control are the priorities here. Leaving the single market and customs union is considered to be a done deal already. A free-trade agreement is to be sought as a replacement – with Theresa May stressing that no deal is still better than a bad deal. These guidelines are being underlined by recent statements from Tory ministers. In this regard, David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, has made clear, that the Conservative Party would be quite prepared to let negotiations collapse should the EU exit bill be too high and no negotiations regarding a future trade deal take place from the beginning of the process.
The Prime Minister has seemingly been unable to score well with her “manifesto for everyone” among the electorate. Recent polling data reveals that the Conservative Party’s lead over the Labour Party, which in mid-May was a considerable 20 percentage points, has been significantly cut back, with this development having been observed even before May’s vague manifesto promises. However, the Tories are not panicking just yet. Polls at the end of last week show the Conservatives leading by around 10 percentage points.
It is questionable whether the actual election result will influence to the British delegation during Brexit negotiations to a significant extent, at least if the Conservative Party, as expected, wins a majority again. If the Prime Minister scores a decisive victory, she can head into the negotiations with renewed vigour; however, if the Tories only win by a slender margin, May et al are likely to perceive each item on the agenda as an opportunity to make clear their stance and furiously defend this. Talks between London and Brussels are expected to be exceptionally difficult, as has been unequivocally shown time and again by events in the previous days and weeks – election campaign or not.