Don't worry about the Tory manifesto being uncosted for now – they'll have changed the policies again by next week

The Conservatives are the party we can trust with the economy. They’re the only ones prepared to ignore marginal issues such as staff and buying stuff when it comes to finances

Mark Steel
Thursday 25 May 2017 18:42 BST
The Tories’ free school breakfast plan covered all the basics, bar paying for the food and staff to operate it
The Tories’ free school breakfast plan covered all the basics, bar paying for the food and staff to operate it (Reuters)

One encouraging trend in this election is the new flexible manifesto used by the Conservatives. Under the old rigid method, manifesto promises were often broken after the election. But with the speeded-up Tory version, the manifesto is abandoned before the election even happens, which is much more suited to the world of Twitter and 24-hour news.

So the Conservatives told everyone their plans for dementia sufferers, a kindly scheme in which their care was paid for by the government taking their house when they died, which is so full of love and free-spirited generosity, it makes it obvious so many of the cabinet were brought up in the hippy Sixties.

But amazingly, that didn’t seem to be as popular as they imagined, so they’ve changed their mind and now they’re absolutely promising to not do that. Next week they’ll come up with a different plan, such as raising funds by charging dementia sufferers twice for their treatment, as it makes sense to take advantage of the fact they’ll have forgotten they’ve already paid the first time.

The Tories also announced in their manifesto they would cut school dinners in infant schools, and replace these with breakfasts, at a breakfast club. But according to a report from the schools, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the money they’d made available amounted to 7p for each breakfast.

This seems reasonable, as long as four times a week the children are fed a bowl of leaves, which they can lovingly pick the day before from nearby trees, giving them fresh air as well as nutrition. Or they could make use of those days when the kids bring in pets, and instead of upsetting the animals by leaving them all day in a cage, they can be skinned and put in the freezer for the next morning.

But an independent report states the cost of the breakfast clubs will be at least three times as much as claimed by the Conservatives. One reason for the error, it says, is “the estimate doesn’t include staff costs”.

That’s an easy mistake when you’re working out how much a project will cost, to forget about the staff. If the Conservatives were running a football club, they’d plan to win the Premier League on a budget of 77p a week, forgetting about the need to pay the players, and allowing for a breakfast each Saturday for everyone in the team (substitutes bring their own).

It also turns out the breakfast club budget was based on a charitable scheme called Magic Breakfast, which relies on donated food. So as well as not allowing for the cost of the staff, they didn’t allow for the cost of the food.

Conservative manifesto launch: In 90 seconds

This is why the Conservatives are the party we can trust with the economy. They’re the only ones prepared to ignore marginal issues such as staff and buying stuff when it comes to finances.

It’s a shame they didn’t try to get these breakfast clubs funded by going on Dragon’s Den. Because when Deborah Meaden asked “how much investment will you need for staff and outlay on food?” they’d have said “oooooh, do you know, those are the two things that slipped our mind”.

This is how the country will be better off after Brexit. We’ll no longer take into account the cost of staff or things, and every business will be booming.

Even then, the budget only worked if no more than 25 per cent of children eligible for the breakfasts bothered to take them. But the Tories insist this didn’t amount to a cut, even though the funds available would feed one quarter of the kids that used to be fed, and that’s if you don’t spoil the figures by including food and staff. It’s no wonder they want to call it a Magic Breakfast, as Harry Potter would struggle to make that work.

The savings, said the Tories, would go into school budgets, so removing the dinners would help the kids. We should all follow this example. Instead of wasting money on eating, we should invest it in educating ourselves.

Across the land people would announce “Once I stopped eating, I could divert precious funds into books and evening classes. I took up pottery and canoeing, and learned all the capitals of Europe, just before I was admitted into intensive care with malnutrition and all my teeth fell out.”

So the Conservatives are said to be “rethinking” this policy, but there’s plenty of time to change it several times before the election.

Similarly, Theresa May was asked where the money was coming from, to pay for the £8bn extra funding she’s promised for the NHS. And each time she replied: “We will build a strong economy.”

In a way, this does answer the question, in the same way a defendant in a court case who’s asked where he got the £20,000 found in his pocket, might say: “I once drove to Norwich – on a Tuesday.”

Whenever Labour produces a plan, the Tories yell “How are they going to pay for it?” But Theresa May is far more precise with her “strong economy”. I’m sure if pressed it would turn out she had some stuff in her loft, and a go-kart in the shed, and that could be sold for £8bn.

Or the NHS will be revived by only allowing operations at breakfast time, reducing the health budget to £14 a year, if you don’t include the cost of staff or objects.

And in any case it doesn’t matter, because the policy will change at twenty to six, so there’s no point in being fussy.

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