Conservative Research Department

Political Brief: General Election 2019

November 14, 2019

The political brief produced by the Conservative Research Department for the 2019 election campaign was sent to all candidates of the Conservative party, so they could use it as a guide to policy and key attack lines. It was published on 14 November. 

The Conservative Research Department (CRD) was established in 1929 by the future Conservative prime minister, Neville Chamberlain as an aid to policy development and  research. It established a reputation for high grade and scrupulous work, which reached remarkable heights under the chairmanship of Rab Butler after World War Two. The CRD was famous for campaign guides for Tory candidates, which recorded the achievements of Conservative governments while exposing the weaknesses of the Labour and Lib Dem opposition. 

For many years, the campaign guides were edited by Alistair Cooke, who today sits in the House of Lords as Lord Lexden. During the Thatcher and Major years, and beyond, these campaign guides were a model of scrupulous and responsible research. Cooke was a stickler for accuracy. According to those who worked with him, he did not allow misreading or fabricated claims either about Labour Party policy or about Conservative achievements. 

Key contributors to the guides during this period were special advisers. They included rising stars such as David Cameron, George Osborne and Oliver Letwin. Other figures who rose through the ranks were Keith Simpson (who specialised in defence), David Lidington (foreign policy), Edward Bickham (foreign policy) and Guy Black, who was responsible for the drafting of much of the guide.  

In sharp contrast, the political brief published by the Conservative Research Department contains false statements, lies and misrepresentations. In the case studies that follow I provide detailed analysis of some of these misleading claims made by the CRD. 

This document is especially troubling because the CRD political brief was sent to candidates to be used in public meeting and in door-to-door canvassing. It therefore shows one of the ways Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has deliberately set out to mislead voters. Readers will note that many of these false and misleading assertions are exposed elsewhere on this website. This should come as no surprise because the Conservative party lies and distortions in the 2019 election have been carefully planned and  systematic. 

The CRD document shows a disastrous decline in standards of scrupulousness and accuracy inside the Conservative party. 


I list below several misleading statements in the CRD document:

1.

Claim

Page five, point three of the political brief states: “We are delivering £33.9 billion more for the NHS by 2023-24, upgrading 20 hospitals around the country — providing new intensive care wards, children’s units, and new mental health facilities as well as building 40 new hospitals.” Similar claims have been made multiple times throughout the campaign

Facts 

Although £33.9 billion has been announced for NHS by 2023-24, it does not account for inflation between 2018/19 and 2023/24.  

Verdict

As the number claimed is not in “real” terms (i.e. does not account for inflation), is a misrepresentation of the amount of spending pledged. 


2.

Claim

Page five, point three of the political brief states: “We are … upgrading 20 hospitals around the country — providing new intensive care wards, children’s units, and new mental health facilities as well as building 40 new hospitals.”

Facts 

According to the BBC, “There will be a £2.7 billion investment over five years for the first six hospitals of the 40 pledged. All are existing NHS hospitals and they all have one thing in common — there is no building work happening as yet. For the remainder of the pledge 21 trusts will initially share just £100m to develop the business cases necessary to secure funding for 34 projects”. FullFact report up to 38 other hospitals will receive money to develop plans for upgrades between 2025 and 2030, but not to undertake any building work. 

Verdict

There is investment pledged for six hospitals and for more to develop plans, but this is not the same as building. Beyond the six, the rest of the hospitals are aspirational and to continue to promote the number 40 misrepresents the reality.


3.  

Claim

The political brief, at page five, point four states: “Cracking down on crime with 20,000 more police officers and ensuring criminals receive the punishment they deserve. For the purpose of this the government is recruiting 20,000 new police officers and making sure that the most serious violent and sexual offenders are properly punished.” 

Facts

According to The Independent, this goal will fail “unless half a million apply to join a police.” This is in the context of many national forces failing to meet their current recruitment targets. According to Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, 50,000 new officers may have to be hired in total because “of the number of officers who retire or leave every year.”

Verdict

Given current recruitment issues, which are not mentioned in the political briefing, this number is unlikely to be achieved without significant investment and systematic change. Even if the force is increased by 20,000 it wouldn’t make up for the 21,000 cut by the Conservative Government in the last decade.


4.

Claim

Page five, point five states: “We are increasing funding in primary and secondary schools by £14 billion which will lift per pupil funding in every school…” 

Facts 

The £14 billion figure includes an additional £2.6 billion in 2019, £4.8 billion in 2020 and £7.1 billion in 2022-23. But according to BBC Reality Check, “that’s not normally how we talk about spending increases. We talk about budgets for each individual year, so usual practice is to pick a year (normally the last, with the biggest increase) and use that to measure the generosity of pledges.” The claim has been repeated in a Conservative Facebook advert where they use the incorrect figure on school spending used alongside BBC logo and web address. 

Verdict

Describing this as a £14 billion increase misrepresents the generosity of the government.


5. 

Claim

On page five, at point six, of the political briefing it is claimed: “Ending the UK’s contribution to global warming by legislating to go Net Zero by 2050. We are the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050.”

Facts 

A few weeks prior to her resignation, May announced that the UK will legislate to eliminate net greenhouse emissions by 2050. This involves an amendment to Climate Change Act 2008 and would lead to an 80 percent decrease of greenhouse emissions. The net zero legislation would make Britain the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to legally implement net-zero policy. Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said it was “a big moment for everyone in the climate movement.”  

However, Parr warned of loopholes allowing international carbon credits to undermine the target and stated that the UK will miss the target unless urgent action is taken to change consumer behaviour.  

The Committee on Climate Change, warned that little had been done to tackle household consumption.

Verdict

Without action on household consumption, it is highly unlikely that the stated target can be reached. To continue to promote the target in the face of the facts is a misrepresentation.


6.  

Claim

At page seven, at the fourth point, the political brief states: “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour would spend an extra £1.2 trillion — enough to keep our NHS running for nine years. When taken over a five-year period, Labour’s 2017 Manifesto commitment added up to more than £600 billion. Since then, they’ve made over £590 billion of extra spending pledges.”

Facts

As reported in Full Fact, the Conservative Party has been looking at policies put forward by the Labour Party in their 2017 election manifesto

Verdict

There is no evidence to support the claim and it must be seen as designed to mislead and scare.


 

7.

Claim

At page seven, at the fifth point, the political brief states: “Their plans would cost the average taxpayer £2,400 — the same as an average worker’s monthly pay.”

Facts 

The claim “implies that all taxpayers would pay an equal amount towards Labour’s programme, which is not the case.”

According to FullFact: “This figure is largely meaningless as the calculations and assumptions behind it have a number of flaws.”

Verdict

The claim was made before the Labour manifesto was released and therefore can only have been conjecture. Its continued use without robust analysis of Labour policy misrepresents the reality.


8.

Claim

At page eight, on the final bullet point of the political briefing, it states that “Labour’s uncontrolled and unrestricted immigration is the biggest risk to our NHS. Fresh analysis has shown a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could increase immigration to 840,000 per year over the next ten years.” 

Facts 

At the Labour Party conference, delegates voted in support of a motion to “maintain and extend free movement rights.” Based on this, the Conservative Party published analysis concluding that “extending free movement to the rest of the world would result in average net immigration to the UK of 840,000 per year over the next 10 years”. Labour responded by calling the claim “fake news.” 

The Conservatives’ figure refers to “net migration” — how many more people immigrate to the UK in a year than emigrate out — rather than immigration. The “extension” mentioned in the Labour conference motion never made it to the manifesto. 

Verdict

The Conservative Party analysis uses a mixed methodology to misrepresent a Labour motion. This analysis has been repeated despite the motion not becoming part of the Labour manifesto and so misrepresents Labour policy even further.

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