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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 14:34 GMT
No alarms, no surprises

The Tory leader launched a well-trailed programme
Nyta Mann

It was not quite, as Tory leader William Hague claimed, "the most ambitious Conservative manifesto for a generation", but the programme for government he launched on Thursday is certainly one of the most well-trailed.

There were two new promises for a future Tory government: a cut in fuel tax by an extra 3p a litre in Chancellor Portillo's first Budget (over and above a 3p reduction already announced), and introducing mini-referendums if a local authority proposes a significantly above-inflation increase in council tax.

But the rest of the manifesto's contents were entirely familiar. Tax cuts worth 8bn funded mainly out of savings from social security and from cutting the running costs of Whitehall.


Michael Portillo: Spending plans have been around "for months"
At the same time health and education spending by a Conservative government will match Labour's plans, with Tory frugality helping to "ensure the money goes further".

And of course the pound will be saved, at least for the duration of the next parliament.

Danger of drama

So nothing to set the pulses of the political class racing anew. But crucially, nothing to startle the voters either - a positive virtue to the minds of Tory strategists.

One painful lesson drawn from 1997 is that the heat of an election campaign is not necessarily the best time suddenly to unleash a dramatic new policy. Far-reaching pension reform proposals proudly put forward by the party were immediately characterised by Labour as plans to abolish the state pension.

That was not quite true, and in reality the complex proposals were not far off what some of New Labour's own policy-makers had been considering.

But the issue hurt John Major badly on the doorsteps, with Tory campaigners reporting pensioners in tears at the thought - spread far and wide by Labour - of losing their pensions.

Hence no surprises in the 2001 Time for Common Sense Conservative manifesto.

Glitch-free?

This time round as much as possible has already been seen out on the road, with Mr Hague having had a bumpy policy ride before arriving at what he must now hope is a glitch-free document.

As Michael Portillo pointed out at the manifesto launch, the spending proposals he and his colleagues were proposing had been around "for months".

William Hague
William Hague's chief theme is "common sense"
Accepting the national minimum wage, Bank of England independence and "clarifying" the once-flagship Tory tax guarantee are just three of the changes of mind Mr Hague has had as Tory leader.

Another accommodation with political reality and the changed constitutional landscape is the acceptance of Scottish and Welsh devolution.

Rolling up free TV licences, winter fuel payments and the Christmas bonus for pensioners into a boost to the weekly pension has been downgraded to an option for the elderly following some disquiet from older voters.

And some things are just plain missing, the less said about them the better, according to senior Tories.

There is nothing in the manifesto even vaguely approaching the instant-fines-for-cannabis-users announced with much fanfare by shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe at last autumn's party conference - only to be dropped virtually overnight to enable "further consultation".

It has not been heard of since.

Since becoming leader of the opposition Mr Hague has overseen a string of policy modifications, clarifications and straightforward U-turns in his bid to haul his party back from the wilderness.

Entering the greatest test of his political career, the agenda for government he is asking voters to back follows traditional Conservative themes of lower taxes, smaller government and a sceptical approach towards Europe.

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10 May 01 |  Vote2001
Tory manifesto: At-a-glance
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