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by Nadine Batchelor-Hunt
11 June 2024
Rishi Sunak pledges tax cuts at Conservative manifesto launch

Rishi Sunak launched his party's manifesto on Tuesday | Alamy

Rishi Sunak pledges tax cuts at Conservative manifesto launch

Rishi Sunak launched the Conservative party manifesto on Tuesday with pledges to cut taxes at the core of the offering as he bids to breathe new life into his campaign.

Speaking at the Silverstone race course today, the Prime Minister sought to shift the focus to policy after a torrid few days for his campaign dominated by questions over his judgement.

These questions, which overshadowed the campaign over the weekend, were prompted by his decision last week to leave D-Day Commemorations in Normany early. The move triggered fierce criticism from Conservative party figures and forced Sunak to apologise. At the same time, opinion polls continue to suggest Keir Starmer's Labour is on the brink of securing a massive majority on 4 July.

Many policies in the manifesto published today, including the party's commitment to introduce a "modern national service" for 18-year-olds and to reduce the number of university courses offered to students, had already been announced prior to Sunak's speech.

The main new policy announced by Sunak was a promise to abolish the main rate of National Insurance for the self-employed, which he hopes will boost the party's tax-cutting credentials.

"We Conservatives always stand for our values. For aspiration, for freedom, the opportunity for security," the Prime Minister said in his speech.

"Your Conservative MP will deliver lower taxes, lower immigration, protected pensions, and a sensible approach to net zero. Our country wants a clear plan and bold action. Our country needs a secure future. And it is this Conservative manifesto that will deliver."

Here is what we learned from the Tory manifesto launch.

Tax is Sunak's dividing line

The biggest policy offering in the manifesto that was not announced prior to Tuesday was in the sphere of taxation, the policy area the Conservatives appear most confident on — despite tax reaching the highest level in the post war period under the current government. 

During his speech, Sunak repeatedly pledged to cut taxation while repeating the widely disputed claim that Labour would increase taxes by £2,000 if it wins the election. 

In their manifesto, the Conservatives say they will reduce employee national insurance by 2p, and abolish the minimum rate of self employed national insurance entirely by the end of the next parliament. 

The party also say they will cut tax for pensioners with a new "Triple Lock Plus" scheme, which they say would ensure "both the State Pension and the tax free allowance for pensioners always ride with the highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5 per cent". 

The manifesto also suggests changes to Child Benefit, pledging to move to a household system so families do not lose their entitlements until their combined income reaches £120,000. 

However, it is unlikely satisfy restless Conservative candidates who have expressed a desire to see Sunak be bolder on tax cuts, such as scrapping inheritance tax, in his bid to avert defeat in just over three weeks' time.

Talking tough on migration

The Conservatives have pledged a "relentless, continual process" of removing illegal migrants to Rwanda "starting this July" which the party say is a "deterrent" for people arriving by irregular, or "illegal", routes across the Channel.

The party's tough rhetoric on immigration comes amid pressure from Nigel Farage's Reform UK, which has been eating into the Conservative vote in recent polls. The right-wing party has put the issue of immigration — both legal and illegal — at the centre of its campaign, accusing successive Tory governments of losing control of the country's borders.

Despite tough rhetoric on the topic in the manifesto, the policies stopped short of committing explicitly to leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. An unambigious pledge to quit the convention is what Tories on the right of the party have been pushing for as a means of getting flights to Rwanda off the ground. Instead, the manifesto said "if we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court, including the ECHR, we will always choose our security".

Elsewhere, the party says it will also seek to hold an "international summit" in order to "reform international laws to make them fit for an age of mass migration" and look at expanding returns deals with countries like the current arrangement the UK has with Albania. 

The party also pledged to reduce legal migration, which has hit record highs in the years following the coronavirus pandemic, by introducing a "binding, legal cap on migration".

A clamp down on crime

The Conservatives have pledged to recruit 8,000 more police officers to "give every neighbourhood an additional police officer", as well promising to "empower judges to require offenders to attend hearings". 

The manifesto also pledges policies to tackle violence against women and girls including introducing a 25 year prison term for domestic murders, accompanied by a review of homicide sentencing. 

They also say they will introduce an "aggravating factor for murders that happen in the context of 'rough sex', so it is never used as an excuse to get a lighter sentence". 

Elsewhere, the party pledge mandatory "life imprisonment without parole" for the "most henious murderers" as well as requiring rapitsts and serious sexual offenders to spend "the whole of their sentences behind bars". 

More housing promises

The manifesto includes a commitment to deliver 1.6 million homes in England by the end of the next parliament.

The party say they will do this by a series of measures including: abolishing the European Union's "neutrient neutrality" rules; build on brownfield land in urban areas, raise density levels in inner London to match European cities like Paris and Barcelona; and "unlock" new urban regeneration schemes. 

The party also pledge to support first time buyers trying to get on the property ladder by making the current £425,000 threshold.

Pledges to help first time buyers also include launching a "new and improved Help to Buy scheme" by providing first-time buyers with an "equity loan" of up to 20 per cent towards a new build home. 

The focus on first time buyers comes amid growing discontent in the Conservative base at the party's lack of policy offering to younger voters and the ongoing crisis of unaffortable housing in the UK.

Recent polling shows young people have turned away from the Tories in their droves in recent years, with their struggles buying and renting property seen as a big reason why. The average age at which people are more likely to vote Conservative rising significantly since the last general election in 2019.

Diet net zero

The Conservative manifesto has pledged a "pragmatic and proportionate approach to net zero", and see this policy area as another dividing line with Labour - which seeks to go further and faster on than the Conesrvatives on net zero pledges. 

It is an attack that the Tories launched last year following their surprise victory in the Uxbridge by-election where local concern about London's Ultra Low Emission Zone was seen as an important factor.

The Conservatives in their manifesto have pledged annual licensing rounds for oil and gas production in the North Sea, as well as establishing new gas power stations "to maintain a safe and reliable energy soruce for days when the weather doesn't power up renewables". 

The party has also ruled out greating "further green levies", and pledges "democratic consent" for new onshore wind and supporting solar "in the right places" and not on the UK's "best agricultural land". 

They pledge to "treble offshore wind capacity" and to build "the first two carbon capture and storage clusters" while investing £1.1bn in "the Green Industries and Growth Accelerator. 

This article was originally published on Holyrood's sister website, Politics Home. Read more of their excellent content here.

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