So who is thinking what they're thinking?

Mr Howard's strategy is unlikely to take him to Downing Street, but it may yield 50 Labour seats

Share

For once The Conservative manifesto is devoid of a vacuous title. Down the ages we have had variations on "Making Life Better"; "Firm Action for a Fair Britain"; "The Right Approach" and, in 2001, "Time for Common Sense". The authors and designers of the party's 2005 offering deserve top marks for a simple approach.

For once The Conservative manifesto is devoid of a vacuous title. Down the ages we have had variations on "Making Life Better"; "Firm Action for a Fair Britain"; "The Right Approach" and, in 2001, "Time for Common Sense". The authors and designers of the party's 2005 offering deserve top marks for a simple approach.

In marker pen manuscript the front cover is plastered with Michael Howard's repetitive refrain: more police; cleaner hospitals; lower taxes; school discipline; controlled immigration and accountability. Underneath are the words "Are you thinking what we're thinking? It's time for action." Notwithstanding Boris Johnson's fear of getting the mantra wrong, by coming out with "More immigration and cleaner policemen", most other candidates can probably be relied on to repeat the message correctly to the point of saying it in their sleep. When tested on the BBC1 Breakfast programme yesterday even I managed to get the script right. On that basis there is a fair chance that Tory voters will drink in the message.

As a piece of artwork it is brilliantly succinct and well presented. It is the first manifesto that I have found readable. As a candidate I never found a manifesto much use during a campaign. Only one or two copies were sent to the local party office where they gathered dust until their broken promises came back to haunt me at a subsequent election. At just 28 pages long, this one, like the perfect lady's cocktail dress, is long enough to cover everything but still short enough to be enticing. It is the shortest Tory manifesto since 1966 (a disastrous election for the Tories) and half the length of the 2001 offering. In the past such documents, from all parties, have suffered from trying to cover every aspect of public policy beyond the point of being turgid. Under the section "Accountability", all the remaining policy pronouncements not contained in the specific sections relating to crime, health, taxation, education and immigration, are bundled together within three pages.

There are no new proposals or surprises and all the promises have previously been trailed in the welter of press conferences and speeches since Mr Howard launched his 10-word summary during last autumn's party conference. The promise to lower taxes has no specific proposals, apart from the promise to reduce pensioners' council taxes. The expectation is that later this week Mr Howard will showcase the details of how he will spend his remaining £2.7bn of tax cuts, in the first Tory post-election budget. Speculation centres on easing the pain for middle income earners - many of whom now find themselves paying the 40 per cent higher rate because of Labour's repeated failure to index tax thresholds.

If there is a weakness it is that there is no overarching political or philosophical link between each commitment. Mr Howard defends the approach on the basis that each promise is as a result of listening to the varied concerns of the British people. He maintains that the general theme is based on what people want and that the manifesto is a "made to measure document dealing with their real concerns". He believes that his 10 words on the cover of the document are the simple longings of the British people - "people who feel forgotten and ignored". Such people are probably already instinctively Conservative. This looks like a carefully targeted attempt to maximise every single Tory vote. If Mr Howard can persuade 100 per cent of the one-third of the voters who are Tory, he can make disproportionate gains at Labour's expense should Labour voters maintain their current apathy.

Party strategists are concentrating the bulk of their efforts on a mere 838,000 voters in 160 or so target constituencies. This is a quite different approach to my early elections. In 1979 I never bothered very much with the Tory vote. The presumption was that they were so angry with the Callaghan government anyway that they needed no prompting. The aim then was to identify Labour voters and persuade them to break a lifetime habit. Most of my effort was concentrated in the worst sink council estates in Scunthorpe and the Tory promise of discounted council house sales meant that the central message was aimed at the heart of the enemy.

Mr Howard's strategy is different and unlikely to take him to Downing Street but it may still yield a valuable haul of 50 or so Labour seats. Eventually the Tories will have to convert Labour voters but that is for another day, another election. Within the limits of the Tories current (unspoken) ambition - to deny Mr Blair his majority - this manifesto could well do the business.

mrbrown@pimlico.freeserve.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher, full time supply role, Medway Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Our client school in Chatham, a ...

Geography Teacher, Dover School, full time role

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is urgently s...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Why Facebook won't be feeling threatened by Ello...yet

Ed Rex
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Cameron's unexpected tax pledges give the Tories home advantage

Andrew Grice
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?