What to expect from party manifestos this week

Good morning. This week will see the last of the election campaign’s known variables: the unveiling of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. Of course, unpredictable events might also erode or extend Labour’s lead, but this is the last planned stop — the final big set piece that might change the outcome of this election.

Some thoughts on what the Conservatives and Labour will be trying to do in their manifestos.

Inside Politics is edited by Harvey Nriapia today. Read the previous edition of the newsletter here. Please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to insidepolitics@ft.com

Boldly does it?

Labour’s manifesto will be defined by caution: both fiscally and politically. If Labour loses ground, it won’t be because it had too many eye-catching, bold new initiatives. Indeed, if there is a row about the Labour party’s manifesto, it will more likely be about what’s not in it. (George Parker and Josephine Cumbo have a scoop about one such omission: Labour will abandon plans to bring back the pensions lifetime allowance.)

On the Conservative side, Rishi Sunak has made great play of his “bold ideas”. Being seen as a moderate — or at least, more moderate than your opponent — tends to be a reliable way to win general elections in the UK, so I am not convinced that Sunak’s preferred contrast between his bold ideas and those of Keir Starmer is going to work out well for him. But we’ll see.

One thing Sunak has to do in his manifesto is not create further unwanted dividing lines on spending; he needs to be able to say that his sums add up. If he can’t explain how he’ll pay for his policies, it undermines the positions he wants to take around Labour and tax.

That’s the important thing to note, politically, about his vow to deliver £12bn in cuts to welfare. It’s a good rule of thumb that most of the “bold ideas” in Sunak’s manifesto will be funded out of that £12bn.

There are a number of policy problems here, and they are linked closely to the political problems with Sunak’s campaign. And here’s what will probably be the last ever appearance of my favourite chart in this newsletter.

Day-to-day spending and capital spending have both fallen in real terms per head since 2010

I know I’m a stuck record on this, but the big picture of the past 14 years is that David Cameron was able to reduce the scope of what the British state did quite a bit from 2010 to 2015 — and since then, both he and his four successors have been unable to do the same. Cameron promised £12bn of cuts to welfare in 2015, and his attempt to deliver a comparatively minor down payment on that pledge shortly after the election (the cuts to tax credits) badly damaged his standing and dealt his government a blow from which it never fully recovered. Theresa May then lost the majority Cameron had won; Boris Johnson only got it back by promising to spend more, not less.

It is, to put it generously, highly implausible that Sunak is going to succeed where his three predecessors have failed. Added to that, there is, I would say, an obvious alternative explanation as to why the number of people who are out of work owing to ill health has gone up by 0.7mn — more than six million people are on the waiting list for NHS treatment!

These are essentially the two biggest problems facing Sunak. The first is that, because his record of actually implementing and delivering things as prime minister — from his smoking ban, to his hopes of maths being taught to young people up to the age 18, to the Rwanda policy — is so poor, people don’t believe he can keep his promises. The second is that big issues such as the state of the NHS add to that feeling of implausibility and make it unlikely that anything he says will be believed.

Of course I could be wrong, and the various “bold ideas” that Sunak will roll out in the Conservative manifesto this week will get people to tune back into what he says. But I doubt it, frankly.

Now try this

I had a lovely weekend: I went to see London Tide at the National Theatre, a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend with songs by PJ Harvey, and I very much enjoyed it. The cast was great, the songs were great; it was enjoyably pulpy melodrama in a typically Dickensian way. (Sarah Hemming was less keen in her review.) My one complaint was the staging — while I loved the use of the orchestra pit as a river, it felt altogether too minimalistic for me.

Top stories today

Below is the Financial Times’ live-updating UK poll-of-polls, which combines voting intention surveys published by major British pollsters. Visit the FT poll-tracker page to discover our methodology and explore polling data by demographic including age, gender, region and more.

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