General election 2019: Tories seek to avoid manifesto calamity

Boris Johnson Image copyright Getty Images

Compared to the Labour manifesto, Boris Johnson's plan for the country is a shopping list of promises, not an encyclopaedia of ambitions.

There are new vows - no tax rises, a target of 50,000 more nurses to be working in the NHS by the end of the Parliament, scrapping many hospital parking charges, more money to fix potholes, an end to the Fixed Term Parliament Act and a mysterious-sounding "Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission".

An historic document, however, this is not - for three political reasons.

First, the Conservatives are haunted by their manifesto calamity of 2017, when Theresa May presented the country with a list of hard choices in the expectation that a big majority would give her the political space to drive through controversial reforms.

No-one in the Tory campaign this time wanted to put forward ideas that could unravel into painful choices for the electorate.

Second, this is still a new government, and Boris Johnson has already made major commitments during his short time in Downing Street - big new spending on infrastructure, for example, under a new, more relaxed, set of spending rules; more cash for the health service and the beginnings of a plan to bring police numbers back up by 20,000.

Remember too, his tax cut from raising the National Insurance threshold was blurted out just last week.

Last and most importantly, the big contrasts in this election have been there since day one.

The manifestos have served to underline, rather than reveal that reality.

The Conservatives and the Labour Party have totally different approaches to the size of the state and their willingness to intervene in the market.

And Boris Johnson called this election because he wants to leave the EU at speed.

Whereas Jeremy Corbyn is, after months of Labour evolving its position, offering another referendum.

That is the clear difference between the two big parties this time.

Vote to leave the EU at speed, and enact the 2016 referendum, or choose Labour to push for another big national ballot, and plump for the chance to stay.

It's worth adding, of course, that often in the small print there are surprises, or sometimes mistakes, in these documents that trip up the parties in time.

It is too early to say with confidence, only a number of hours after the manifesto has emerged, that there is nothing that will cause problems in the days to come.

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