I May courts Bri­tain’s Labour vot­ers

Financial Times USA - - FRONT PAGE - GE­ORGE PARKER — HAL­I­FAX J I M PICKARD AND ROBERT WRIGHT LONDON

Theresa May launched her elec­tion man­i­festo by dis­tanc­ing her­self from the Thatcher era by pledg­ing to “re­ject the cult of selfish in­di­vid­u­al­ism”. —

Theresa May has dis­tanced her­self from the Thatcher era by promis­ing to “re­ject the cult of selfish in­di­vid­u­al­ism” as she launched an elec­tion man­i­festo pledg­ing to move re­sources away from the UK’s mid­dle class and el­derly to­wards “or­di­nary work­ing fam­i­lies”. Launch­ing the rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive party’s man­i­festo in Hal­i­fax, north­ern Eng­land, ahead of the June 8 gen­eral elec­tion, the prime min­is­ter swept away Con­ser­va­tive elec­toral or­tho­doxy, pre­sent­ing vot­ers with the prospects of less gen­er­ous pen­sions, higher so­cial care costs and the means-test­ing of win­ter fuel pay­ments.

Mrs May also adopted de­fi­ant rhetoric to pre­pare the coun­try for Brexit negotiations to come, in­sist­ing that “no deal is bet­ter than a bad deal”. The man­i­festo con­firmed that Bri­tain would no longer be a mem­ber of the EU’s sin­gle mar­ket or its cus­toms union — starker lan­guage than a speech in Jan­uary, when the prime min­is­ter sug­gested the UK could be­come an as­so­ci­ate mem­ber of the cus­toms union.

How­ever, there was a hint of com­pro­mise over Bri­tain’s exit bill; the doc­u­ment says the UK would not only set­tle its debts ac­cord­ing to the law but “in the spirit of the UK’s con­tin­u­ing part­ner­ship with the EU”.

The launch came as a poll by Ip­sos Mori found the gap be­tween the Con­ser­va­tives and the Labour party nar- row­ing, although Mrs May’s party was still ahead by 15 points. Mori said the Tories were at 49 per cent, Labour at 34 per cent and the cen­trist Lib­eral Democrats at 7 per cent.

Mrs May is seek­ing to ex­tend her party’s ap­peal into the work­ing-class heart­lands of Labour, which has promised na­tion­al­i­sa­tions and a huge in­crease in public spend­ing. The Con­ser­va­tives are also set to poach votes from the anti-EU UK In­de­pen­dence party, which won 3.8m votes in the 2015 elec­tion but has seen its stand­ing in the polls slump after the coun­try’s de­ci­sion to leave the EU de­prived it of its main cam­paign­ing is­sue.

“The next five years are the most chal­leng­ing that Bri­tain has faced in my life­time,” Mrs May said. “I be­lieve we can and must take this op­por­tu­nity to build a great mer­i­toc­racy here in Bri­tain.”

The man­i­festo also set out the Con­ser­va­tives’ op­po­si­tion to a new Scot­tish ref­er­en­dum in the wake of the 2014 vote against in­de­pen­dence. Scot­land’s de­volved par­lia­ment voted in March for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, ar­gu­ing such a step is war­ranted be­cause of Brexit.

Mrs May has given her­self more fis­cal wrig­gle room by push­ing out the tar­get for bal­anc­ing the UK’s deficit. The man­i­festo says that this should oc­cur “by the mid­dle of the next decade”, some 10 years after orig­i­nally in­tended.

She also sig­nalled her will­ing­ness to take on big busi­ness, say­ing she in­tended to carry out a re­view into share buy­backs by FTSE com­pa­nies to stop them be­ing used ar­ti­fi­cially to hit per­for­mance tar­gets. There also be new rules gov­ern­ing takeovers of com­pa­nies in “crit­i­cal na­tional in­fra­struc­ture”, in­clud­ing tele­coms, en­ergy, de­fence and civil nuclear power. The in­clu­sion of tele­coms as fall­ing into the realm of crit­i­cal na­tional in­fra­struc­ture is new. Apart from BT and Voda­fone, Bri­tain’s main net­works are al­ready owned by for­eign com­pa­nies. Deutsche Telekom owns 12 per cent of BT and has been linked with a po­ten­tial takeover in the fu­ture. A Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment would take a “ro­bust” view of such a move.

Mrs May’s pol­icy to tackle Bri­tain’s grow­ing cri­sis in so­cial care — the most con­tro­ver­sial as­pect of yes­ter­day’s man­i­festo launch — would mean those who re­quire care in their homes will have to pay for it from the value of a house. This is an aban­don­ment of the Con­ser­va­tives’ pre­vi­ous plan to put a £72,000 cap on to­tal so­cial care costs for the over-65s as of 2020. This is be­ing re­placed by a guar­an­tee that each fam­ily will be allowed to keep £100,000 in as­sets.

Man­i­festo launch: Theresa May speaks in Hal­i­fax yes­ter­day

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