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Happy manifesto day

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Good Tuesday morning. This is Dan Bloom. There are 23 days until the general election.


I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT A BUDGET! Rishi Sunak will pledge billions in tax cuts this morning as he launches the election manifesto he hopes will win him the general election … or at least start to narrow a 21-point poll deficit. The prime minister channeled his heroes Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson ahead of a big show of party unity in Northamptonshire. Well, semi-unity — more on that in a sec.

Big smiles: It kicks off at 11.30 a.m. in an eye-catching venue and Playbook hears the whole Cabinet is invited — many of them taking a precious day off frantically campaigning to save their seats. That means the press pack will be treated to the sight of future leadership hopefuls like Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch clapping loyally alongside the PM before he faces a press Q&A and then a visit with students and apprentices. (As ever, you can follow it all on our ace live blog.)

The big reveal … appears to be another 2p cut in national insurance, which would take it down to 6 percent. (Yep, just like the 2p cut in January that didn’t move the polls, and the 2p cut in April that didn’t move the polls either.) It’s all part of the Tory ambition to eventually scrap NI completely. The Times had the story on Monday and it’s now written hard in all the papers — “Up the workers!” splashes the Express.

There’s no place like home: The policy-rich manifesto will also include a “new and improved Help to Buy scheme,” as Sunak announced in an overnight Telegraph op-ed. The Times splash says it’ll apply to new builds under £400,000 and reckons it’ll cost £1 billion — though the last version was budgeted at £4 billion a year. Hopefully, the costings document will clear that one up.

Now hold on a sec: Boffins at the IFS sent hacks a late-night email warning there are big questions about this, like what interest rate would kick in on the loan after five years — and how many of its recipients could’ve afforded a house anyway, which was an issue last time. It really is like budget day.

But anyway: The 76-page (h/t Kitty Donaldson) manifesto will also pledge to make the £425,000 stamp duty threshold permanent for first-time buyers (as was reported at the weekend) … and a two-year scheme to let landlords sell homes to tenants without paying Capital Gains Tax.  The Telegraph got the details … Though that one’s fairly small fry, at just £20 million a year. 

Plus other big pledges we heard in the build-up … National service for young people … “triple lock plus” … 100,000 more apprenticeships … not raising income tax, national insurance or VATdriving license points for fly-tippers … 100 new GP surgeriesamending the Equality Act to specify biological sex … a cap on new visas … giving more high-earners child benefit … forcing councils to hold a referendum on 20mph zones … and 8,000 more police officers. Details and more pledges in our daily-updated policy tracker.

All together now! Labour repeated its line that “the money’s not there” and it’s “the most expensive panic attack in history.” The Lib Dem line of attack is on “broken promises.” Tory aides are pointing to the wealth of policy they’ve announced over two weeks and saying: “Our manifesto will have tax cuts and no tax rises, Labour’s will have tax rises and no tax cuts.”

I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BETTER! The problem for Sunak is he has the rare (though not unheard of) experience of having his manifesto vocally slagged off inside his own party before it’s even published. Guido, the Spectator and Bloomberg all picked up the same Tory grumblings over a draft which went to the most senior Cabinet ministers last week. Balls was told “it could flop” while Bloomberg was told “there is talk among MPs of a rebellion.”

Yoikes: The Guardian splash goes a step further, reporting “one option under discussion” among Tory right-wingers is to hold a press conference next week to set out alternative pledges if it goes down badly.

Yes, you read that right: That’s Tories talking about publishing a “rebel manifesto” that protests against the Tories’ core offer in the election. Two people on the right damped down the Guardian’s report to Playbook last night, insisting we’re not at that point. (At least not yet.)

But their argument is … the manifesto simply won’t go far enough to move the polls. Right-wingers fear language hinting we could leave the European Convention on Human Rights won’t be hard enough … there are reports it won’t cut inheritance tax (per several hacks) or business rates (per Guido) … and income tax thresholds remain frozen stiff.

RABBIT STEW: Bloomberg reckons “some alterations have been made in recent days,” but two Tory aides who spoke to Playbook hosed down hope of a big last-minute shift. “This has been planned for ages,” one said. “It’s like Jenga — you press one bit, the other bits fall apart.”

The problem: The manifesto, overseen by former No. 10 policy unit chief James Nation, has been in the works since February. Ditto the revenue raisers it is based on. Not for nothing did CCHQ claim at the weekend that it’d be able to save £12 billion a year on welfare by 2029 — it’s already been allocated to pay for things in the manifesto, as Sunak told the BBC’s Nick Robinson last night.

So no rabbit, then? “Manifestos aren’t about who can surprise journalists, they are about having a clear plan for the country,” protests another Tory official.

Not convinced: One Tory candidate told Playbook it so far sounded “meek and mild, which goes against the very nature of our campaign about bold action. I think when you’re this far behind you need to go for broke.” Another loyal candidate suggested the PM would need to “take a bit of risk. He’s got to excite the Tory voters out.” It’s still possible.

Praetorian Guard: Sunak mega-ally Mel Stride has been deployed to lay the ground in a 10-outlet broadcast round, including the Today program at 8.10 a.m.

UNSOLICITED ADVICE: The last manifesto author credited with turning a poll deficit around (well … a bit) was Jeremy Corbyn’s policy chief Andrew Fisher in 2017. But even they were only 14 points down. Fisher told Playbook that Sunak has to “grab attention and change the subject of the election” — but “God, it’s too late for him now.” Fisher should know. He tried and failed to do it over Brexit in 2019.

We’ve got a pod for that: The latest edition of POLITICO’s Westminster Insider podcast is about the art/science of writing a good manifesto. Let’s hope the writers and spinners inside CCHQ actually communicate with one another this time, unlike during the disastrous Tory offering of 2017.

LAST NIGHT’S TV: Sunak meanwhile had the first of the leaders’ sitdowns with the BBC’s Nick Robinson last night — and his admission that buying a home “has got harder” under the Conservatives led the BBC News at 10. Labour spinners will have been punching the air.

One to watch: The Mail seizes on Sunak’s remark that “the forecast now shows the levels of net migration are due to halve over the next 12 months or so.” The paper takes it as him pledging to bring net migration below 350,000. Expect questions on whether that’s a promise or just an expectation.

Context check: Sunak insisted: “The average tax rate faced by a typical person in work is the lowest it has been in over half a century.” The IFS has said this applies to a “single full-time median earner with no children” and is “despite the overall tax burden reaching historical highs.”

In other news: The PM also, er, denied being a “quinoa salad” compared to Reform UK leader Nigel Farage … said immigration is “too high” … defended his claim that Labour will hike taxes by £38.5 billion across four years … and insisted his billions in tax cuts weren’t “at all” like Liz Truss. Honest! Watch the full thing here.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: A matching interview with Labour Leader Keir Starmer will air on Friday, Robinson confirmed last night. His interview with Farage had been slated for 10.40 p.m. tonight … though Playbook was unable to find it in TV listings.

Grand tour: Farage is due in Barnsley in the morning, Ashfield at lunchtime and Great Yarmouth for a rally in the evening. And he has quite the photo on the front page of the Telegraph too. A fine way for him to celebrate a Tory manifesto loaded with policies aimed at voters who are considering Reform.

Grand detour: Ex-minister Suella Braverman sparked a mini-news cycle yesterday by saying she’d welcome Farage to the Conservatives. Home Secretary James Cleverly told LBC he disagreed. Cleverly’s Home Office colleague Tom Pursglove told Newsnight they “should consider any application” from Farage … but only if he backs the party, which he doesn’t. 

PLAYING DEFENSIVELY: The Times has trawled 49 election visits by various Cabinet ministers and reckons they have targeted seats with an average Tory majority of 10,600. There’s even a lovely map for Keir Starmer’s team to cackle over delightedly. No wonder CCHQ has begun running online ads warning of a “massive majority” for Labour, per the FT.

Yoikes: A YouGov poll found 45 percent of people think the Tories are running “the worst campaign so far.” Just 9 percent said Labour.

The good news: At least Sunak’s not alone. In a cracking read on our U.S. site, POLITICO founding editor (and my mega-boss) John Harris writes that the British PM, France’s Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden all have something in common — they’ve been forced to confront their own potential demise, and have decided: “Bring it on.” Something for the trio to bond over at the G7 in Italy this Thursday … Safe to assume Sunak won’t be popping home early this time.


DON’T GET TOO HYPER: Labour is counting down to its safety-first manifesto launch on Thursday with a rare election pledge that didn’t previously crunch through its policy grinder. The party would ban under-16s from buying high-caffeine energy drinks, with ID checks and fines of up to £2,500. The Mirror was given the skinny and gives it a splash. More techy details in our daily-updated policy tracker.

It’s been bolted on to … Labour’s previously announced (and now re-stated) “child health action plan” which includes a ban on TV junk food ads before the watershed. Tory aides pointed out the boss of Channel 4 warned against it six years ago, when the, er, Tories proposed it.

Also pledged: An “extra 100,000 urgent and emergency dental appointments for children” a year, taken from Labour’s existing pledge to raise the number of NHS appointments by 2 million a year in the first year. (CCHQ pointed to the record in Wales, natch.)

And after the election: Bloomberg’s Ailbhe Rea bags the scoop that Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner is looking at setting up a civil service “ending homelessness unit” — which could sit in the powerful new “Office for the Deputy Prime Minister” she hopes to establish. It won’t be in the manifesto, however, and the plans are not yet finalized.

EXPIRED SMOKED SALMON OFFENSIVE: Starmer’s refusal to rule out a future capital gains tax rise meanwhile makes the FT splash, which quotes City types fretting that it’d be a “populist trap” and a “disincentive to growth.” If that doesn’t send the bat signal up in Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ office, who knows what will.

A question (again) for … Labour Leader Keir Starmer, who is visiting a school in the Northeast where he’ll record a 9.50 a.m. pool clip and a huddle with Lobby journalists. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting is on the morning round and heading to the school with him.

Sue’s sh*t list: A Blair-scale NHS turnaround won’t be possible without billions in extra funding, NHS Confederation chief (and Blair’s former policy adviser) Matthew Taylor has told the Times’ Shaun Lintern (not yet online). Which seems relevant to the tax question.

Look over here! Will we get another “emergency” press conference to slate the Tory manifesto after a pre-emptive one on Monday? Time will tell.

SEE ME: The ASCL heads’ union has told the i putting VAT on private school fees “could well” lead to bigger class sizes in the state sector … despite Labour insisting it won’t in the wake of comments by frontbencher Emily Thornberry. This one could run a little further.

Also still running: As the Guardian’s Kiran Stacey points out, Labour’s Monday announcement on childcare totted up the cost of turning classrooms into nurseries — but not finding the staff for them. Workforce issues are being looked at in a review for Labour by ex-Ofsted chief David Bell but we don’t know yet what it’ll say.

Digital whiz-kids of the day: Labour’s attack team had a good night after watching the latest Tory election broadcast, which told viewers to Google “Labour tax rises document.” Within minutes, Labour aides bought up ads to knock the Tory dossier off the top spot on the search engine. Pic via Jim Waterson.

L.O.L.: Labour ran a wraparound ad campaign on The Sun website yesterday. Can’t be too long until the paper decides who to endorse now.


MEANWHILE IN SCOTLAND: First Minister John Swinney will face a five-way debate tonight with the Scottish leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens … and Douglas Ross, a day after he announced he’ll quit as Scottish Tory leader when the election’s done. (More in Playbook PM). That could make for a pretty weird dynamic when it airs on BBC One Scotland from 8 p.m.

What to expect: The SNP has stepped up its attacks on Labour in recent days — particularly on the question of where the money would come from to improve public services. He branded the party “evasive” in overnight words. Expect Labour to try its best to rise above it, and Ross to try his best to get through it without the whole thing turning into a story about him personally.

WHAT LIB DEM CORKS ARE POPPING OVER: The Guardian’s leader column, which says voters in Blue Wall seats should “seriously consider casting their ballot for the Lib Dems.” Leader Ed Davey is in Devon and Somerset post-manifesto to promote a “Strategic Small Surgeries Fund” for rural GPs.

GREEN MACHINE: Outgoing MP Caroline Lucas will deliver a sold-out farewell speech at 5.30 p.m. at the Southbank Centre (details here). 

TANKS, LAWN: SNP Westminster Leader Stephen Flynn is visiting an electrical supply firm in … nuclear minister Andrew Bowie’s marginal constituency.

MEANWHILE IN WALES: Plaid Cymru has pledged a “Welsh Broadband Infrastructure Company” ahead of its manifesto launch on Wednesday.

FREE MOVEMENT NEWS: Pimlico Plumbers founder (and ex-Lib Dem and Tory donor) Charlie Mullins told PoliticsHome he’ll now fund Reform UK — and “apply for residency in Spain and Dubai” if Labour wins.

OFF SCRIPT: Nigel Farage dumped on Reform’s alliance with Northern Ireland’s TUV party in a PA clip, saying he’d endorse his DUP Brexit buddies Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson instead. After some scrabbling at Reform HQ, Deputy Leader Ben Habib tweeted the deal was intact and Farage’s comments were his “personal view.”

ANGE-R: “Misogyny and classism have been very much a theme” of the story about her living arrangements, Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner told the News Agents podcast

VOT(H)ER: Campaigner Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, is launching a campaign to encourage women to vote at 10 a.m. in east London.

Speaking of which: The Electoral Reform Society says “only” 1.1 million people have registered to vote so far this campaign. Watch out — the deadline is a week today.

THE REAL WINNERS: It’s the first election since 2005 where politicians are schmoozing the City — and insiders have told my financial services colleague Hannah Brenton they can’t believe their luck.

THERE’S HOPE FOR RISHI YET! The Heywood Quarterly has released its “Election Special” for civil servants,  with reflections on previous elections by former mandarins Gus O’Donnell, Edward Young and Ciaran Martin. One of O’Donnell’s key tips is to not “presume that the polls are right.”


STAT DROP: The ONS monthly job figures dropped in the last few moments. Watch out for key figures in the unemployment rate and how many people are “economically inactive.”

UKRAINE CONFERENCE IN GERMANY: Foreign Secretary David Cameron is at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin, where he will make a speech just after 10 a.m. — watch live here. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to attend and deliver his own speech this morning, my Berlin Playbook colleagues report this morning.

IN STRASBOURG: Two men who were wrongly jailed for rape and murder in miscarriages of justice — but refused compensation by the U.K. — get a European Court of Human Rights ruling at 10 a.m. Details here.

GRIM IN-TRAY: Some 1.2 million legacy benefit claimants still need to be “migrated” to Universal Credit — so risk falling through the cracks, despite most of them unable to work due to a disability, says the IFS. Tricky one for whoever wins on July 4.

SW1 EVENTS: UK in a Changing Europe hosts a whole-day conference to launch its migration report from 9 a.m. (details here).  

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SNAP HAPPY: France’s election turmoil continues after President Emmanuel Macron called a snap election. Leading far-right forces — Marion Maréchal of the Reconquest party and National Rally’s Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella — have discussed forming a coalition to secure a majority, my colleague Victor Goury-Laffont writes

Is this normal? This close cooperation is pretty novel for France, Professor in European Politics Theofanis Exadaktylos tells Playbook, since “far-right parties in Europe can be dramatically different to each other.”

Work politics: Meanwhile in Brussels — which is still digesting Sunday’s European Parliament election results — European Council President Charles Michel has suggested banning Commission head Ursula von der Leyen from conversations about her own job and future prospects in the latest move in the pair’s bitter rivalry, my colleagues Barbara Moens and Jacopo Barigazzi report

CEASE-FIRE HOPES: The U.N. Security Council approved U.S. President Joe Biden’s resolution for a Gaza cease-fire and hostage release, with only Russia abstaining. Read more from my Stateside colleagues. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in the Middle East urging Hamas to accept the deal. More on that from Reuters

REST IN PEACE: The Reverend James Lawson Jr., an apostle of nonviolent protest who schooled activists to withstand brutal reactions from white authorities as the American Civil Rights Movement gained traction, has died, his family said Monday. He was 95. 


Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride broadcast round: Times Radio (7.05 a.m.) … Sky News (7.15 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Today (8.10 a.m.) … GMB (8.20 a.m.) … GB News (8.40 a.m.) … 5 Live (8.50 a.m.). 

Shadow Health Secretary…

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