Theresa May has conducted such an anodyne campaign in this election that there is a suspicion that if the Prime Minister had felt she could get away with not presenting a manifesto, she would have done just that. Riding high in the polls, and with Labour in no fit state to present a proper challenge, she has been able to glide through on soundbites. Why risk inviting trouble?
The manifesto has now been delivered, and there is little within its pages to rock the boat. Nor is there much about Brexit, other than a few broad details we were aware of already. Considering this snap election was called purely because Mrs May wanted Brexit negotiations to be done her way, with no interference, the lack of clarity is disappointing if unsurprising.
It is not entirely a risk-free manifesto. The elderly have good reason to feel hard done by, with the triple lock on pensions no longer guaranteed, and worryingly for those in England and Wales, a greater proportion of the cost of care is being passed on to individuals. Many will fear the loss of their home.
Aside from that, Mrs May has promised a “mainstream government that would deliver for mainstream Britain”, a slogan which seems just about right for a set of proposals which aren’t too far off centre. And it is here where she is likely to have secured victory on 8 June, by moving into the area Labour had to occupy to get Tony Blair into Downing Street – just as Labour under Jeremy Corbyn vacate the middle ground to set up camp on the left.
This represents astute politics from Mrs May, and the same can be said of her handling of the Scottish Government’s request for a second independence referendum. Again, she plays the “now is not the time card” which kicks a ballot into the long grass. She will try to avoid the matter until after the next Holyrood elections – in the hope that by that time, the SNP will not be in a position to call a referendum.
So far, so good for Mrs May. If her advisers can keep her out of trouble, this manifesto should be enough to secure the majority she seeks next month, and by aiming for the middle ground, she will help counter the Tories’ “nasty party” image. But this manifesto tells us very little about what life will be like under Mrs May, because our future will be determined by Brexit. Until we know what that is, the jury’s out on whether the Conservatives really have changed.