Rachel Wolf is a founding partner at public policy research agency Public First. She co-authored the Conservative Party’s election manifesto in 2019.
LONDON — Writing a manifesto is uniquely terrifying. You won’t win the election with it, but you might lose it with a catastrophic sentence or idea. You know that if your party wins, officials will pore over every sentence. Parliament will accept legislation based upon it. Campaigners occasionally dismiss manifestos, but they are critical to governments.
So a year ago, when the Conservatives were swept back into Downing Street with a huge majority, I mostly remember weak-kneed relief. Later I felt some pride that we had produced a series of promises that should both be delivered, and that were deliverable.
Now, a year on, we are in a worse state than we started. We have less money. Town centers are on their knees. Goodwill has diminished. The hill got steeper, and we’re still at the bottom.
The government also has three gargantuan tasks on its plate — managing the economic and health aftermath of the pandemic (and despite the wonderful vaccine news, it seems we still have a few months before we’re even in the aftermath); Brexit, which remains in groundhog day; and reaching greenhouse gas emissions of net zero. These three absorb the energy and attention of every department. Is expecting any other domestic policy achievements lunacy?
They’re going to have to try. Not because it was “in the manifesto” — the government would have a perfectly good justification, at this point, to change their commitments. But because the core thread of the last manifesto was change, and they need by the next general election to show people that things are different.