The battle lines over public spending for the election have been drawn afterBoris Johnsonset out a Conservative plan to spend just £ 2.9bn more a year against the £ 83 bn outlined by Jeremy Corbyn.
Launching his manifesto in Telford in the West Midlands, the prime minister said his aims were not just to “get Brexit done” but to “level up across the country ”by improving schools, hospitals and the police.
However, his extra spending was revealed as modest by a costings document published alongside the slim 60 – page manifesto. It said an additional £ 1.5bn would be spent on public services next year, £ 2.8bn the year after and £ 2.9bn in 2022 and 2023.
The scale of spending ambitions between the two parties is now stark: for every pound theConservativeshave pledged to spend by the end of the next parliament, Labor has promised £ 28 .
And shortly after the document was published – with key pledges on 50, 00 0 new nurses, a commitment to ending the Brexit transition by 2020, and a £ 2bn pothole fund – experts highlighted the paucity of big spending pledges. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the reality of the document contrasted with the prime minister’s rhetoric about wanting to improve public services.
“If the Labor and Liberal Democrat manifestos were notable for the scale of their ambitions the Conservative one is not,” he said. “If a single budget had contained all these tax and spending proposals we would have been calling it modest. As a blueprint for five years in government the lack of significant policy action is remarkable. ”
The £ 83 bn a year promised by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would cover Labor priority such as a huge increase in NHS funding, the scrapping of tuition fees, an expansion of free childcare and further school funding.
With two and a half weeks to go before polling day, Johnson released a restrained document that contained relatively little new policy and omitted several key pledges from his leadership campaign, including promised tax cuts for higher earners and any concrete solution to social care.
The slimmed-down document appeared intended to minimise controversy, a response from Tory strategists to the disastrous launch that led to the evaporation of Theresa May’s poll lead in 2017. But the lack of big-ticket items could prove a hard sell for activists on the doorstep.
Johnson’s most eye-catching new pledge in the manifesto – to deliver 50, 00 0 nurses in the NHS – also began to unravel shortly after the launch. Tory sources confirmed that it counted 18, 500 nurses already working whom the party say would be “Retained” and would otherwise have left the profession.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “First we had Johnson’s fake 40 new hospitals now we have his fake 50, 00 0 extra nurses. ”Conservative sources responded by saying Ashworth has previously complained about a retention crisis in nursing and should support measures to keep nurses in the profession.
Some of the major policies that were confirmed in the Tory manifesto include:
•A promise not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT
•A pledge to increase police officer numbers by 20, (0)
•A rise in the national insurance threshold to £ 9, 500 next year with an ultimate ambition of £ 12, 500
•An extra £ 2bn to fix potholes in roads
•A commitment to not extending the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020
•Ending car-parking charges for the terminally ill and NHS staff on night shifts
•An expansion of free childcare to parents of three- and four-year- olds in the school holidays, and:
•An end to theFixed-term Parliament Actthat means each government serves for five years.
The most notable absence was the lack of a plan solve the black hole in social care funding beyond an extra £ 1bn a year and an aim to seek cross-party consensus. A promise that no one should have to lose their house to pay for care in old age was designed to head off the difficulties Theresa May had with her social care policy in 2017, which was branded a “dementia tax”.
Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive at the Health Foundation, saidthe lack of any clear policy on social care was a “shameful omission for a party that’s been in power for nearly a decade”.
Paul Johnson said some big spending had been announced in September but “taken at face value today’s manifesto suggests that for most services, in terms of day-to-day spending, that’s it”.
He added: “Health and school spending will continue to rise. Give or take pennies, other public services, and working age benefits, will see the cuts to their day-to-day budgets of the last decade baked in. ”
Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, had a similar verdict, saying the gap between the party’s spending plans was huge.
“Austerity will end whoever wins this election, given previously announced increases to public service spending and Conservative manifesto plans for up to £ 20 bn of infrastructure spend. However, the country still faces a very big choice on the size of the state it wants in this election, ”he said.
“Conservative plans for a £ 3bn increase in current spending contrast withLabor’s proposed £ 83 bn increase– which has increased to £ 95 billion following today’s Waspi [Women Against State Pension Inequality] pledge. ”
Pressed about the contrast in the scale of Tory and Labor spending plans, Boris Johnson said he was ambitious about improving public services but it was “true that we are doing it in a sensible way”.
On capital spending, the Conservatives said they would loosen their fiscal rules to allow more borrowing for infrastructure projects, such as roads and flood defences, and research and development. The Tories plan capital spend of £ 3.2bn next year, rising to £ 8bn by the end of the next parliament.
Taking questions after the manifesto launch, Johnson floundered as he was pressed twice on whether he can be trusted, given that last week’s debate audience laughed at him over the issue and the Conservative party has been criticized for masquerading as a fact -checking service on Twitter.
Asked if the fake factcheck service had undermined trust in the Conservative party, Johnson rambled, and wrongly claimed that Labor had done a similar thing. “Well, I’m afraid that the Twittersphere is not really my province. But what I can say is that I’m informed that that Labor have some sort of operation, which is very similar to this but I haven’t followed this Twitter stuff with perhaps the attention that you would like. I will apprise myself of the detail of this. ”