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21 June 2017

7 Tory manifesto pledges quietly dropped in the Queen’s Speech

Where have those grammar schools gone?

By Julia Rampen

It all looked so different a month ago. The Tories had just released a manifesto which seemed to be inspired by former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Ukip in equal parts. The idea, it seemed, was to win over supporters of both these parties, while making some necessary savings before the economic piñata called Brexit burst all over the Treasury. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, would undo some of her predecessors’ neoliberal legacy. 

But one disastrous election night and a Tory minority government later, the Queen’s Speech struck a very different tone. And some things seemed to be missing altogether. Like these policies…

1.    Grammar schools

Even in the depths of the post-Brexit Labour civil war, there was one thing all MPs could unite upon – their opposition to Theresa May’s plan to bring back grammar schools. Her decision to embrace a policy derided by most educational experts was said to have precipitated former prime minister David Cameron’s decision to quit as an MP. 

May pushed ahead, and her education secretary Justine Greening revealed plans to expand selective schools and faith schools. In the Queen’s Speech, though, the government’s aim was only to ensure that “every child has the opportunity to attend a good school”.

2. Scrapping universal free school meals

The Tory manifesto pledged to replace universal free school meals for the youngest primary pupils with free school breakfasts. It was a money-saving measure, but one that could have given the government room to tweak the controversial schools funding formula

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Unsurprisingly, taking food away from kids did not go down well with the electorate (of the key manifesto pledges YouGov surveyed people about, it was the least popular). A government source admitted: “It’s just not doable with the parliamentary arithmetic.”

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3.    Scrapping the winter fuel allowance

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell (65) took up the case of pensioners during the election campaign, and in particular the threat to the winter fuel payments all of them receive. He argued that a means-tested benefit would discourage needy oldies from applying. 

A lot of older voters still plumped for the Tories, but perhaps May feels their support is fickle enough not to tamper with their cosy nights by the fire. There was no mention of it in the speech read out by Elizabeth II (91). 

4.    Immigration targets

Former home secretary May has sometimes appeared to be the only Tory who fully backs the idea of a net migration target, against economic logic and demographic need. 

At the Tory party conference in 2016, talk was of asking companies to list foreign workers, and a “crackdown” on international students – despite the contribution both make to the economy. 

Meanwhile, one Tory minister after another was forced to admit that, actually, the sector they represented might need immigrants.  

So the fact the Queen’s Speech only made a passing reference to a “new national policy on immigration” suggests the dissidents in the party have finally pounced.

5. The energy price cap

Suspicions that May was moving her party to the left economically were confirmed when she swiped Ed Miliband’s idea of an energy price cap. 

It seems the lights have gone out on this policy, though. The Queen’s Speech only pledged to “tackle unfair practices in the energy market to help reduce energy bills”. 

6.    The dementia tax

May’s planned social care reforms were in jeopardy from the moment the term “dementia tax” was coined. The plan was to make the most of the housing wealth which is concentrated in the hands of older Britons.

With a few tweaks, it could have become an inheritance tax which took some of the burden off the generation of property-less workers. But tying it to an individual’s social care turned it into a lottery. You’ve got dementia! By the way, you’ll have to sell your house!

The Queen’s Speech kicked something this radical into the long grass. Instead, the government “will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation”.

7.    Triple-lock

Promising pensioners (AKA those most likely to vote Tory) the bung of pensions increasing by at least 2.5 per cent a year had worked well for May’s predecessors. It was also one of the policies most railed against by economists and wonks who saw no reason why the young, on stagnant wages, should have to subsidise baby boomers.

May proposed a double-lock instead. But in the Queen’s Speech, neither of these got a mention. So what’s coming? Well, there was one party that made its opposition to scrapping the triple-lock adamantly clear – May’s potential allies, the Democratic Unionist Party. 

Oh, and by the way, the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto appeared to go missing online as well