2024 manifestos: an analysis

It’s the highlight of election season: the manifestos are out! 

After a bumper couple of weeks of policy propagation, the Lib Dem, Conservative, Green, Plaid Cymru and Labour manifestos have all been released for the 2024 general election. There have been some surprises, but mostly, the manifestos play it safe. 

Here, we offer an overarching analysis of the manifestos - from the good, to the bad, to the just not that interesting (but probably important anyway). Keep reading for a policy snapshot of some of the things you need to know.

Ideologies are….murky?

Labour’s ‘ming vase’ approach comes across clearly in its manifesto. While the narrative on asylum and immigration is evidently shaped by the Tory campaign’s relentless hardline focus on this subject, other areas of Labour’s manifesto suggest a real departure from the ideological discourse of the last Parliament. 

Labour’s promise to not simply ‘serve’ the markets is an example of this shift in ideological thinking, as is the promise to create a National Wealth Fund - which hints at a recognition of the fact that public investment creates the foundations for private investment. 

On the other hand, while the Conservative manifesto is hardline on ‘culture war’ topics, in a fiscal sense, it isn’t exactly true blue. While they promise £17bn a year in tax cuts (in line with traditional Tory thinking), where the money for this is coming from isn’t fully clear. 

There is a surprising nod to the need for improved transport and infrastructure investment - which seems slightly at odds with the heavily pro-car rhetoric the Tories have issued in recent weeks. There is also a shock reference to ‘safe and legal’ asylum routes - which is sadly absent from Labour’s manifesto.

A wide range of positions on Europe

From the Euroskeptic to the Europhile, the party manifestos have it all. The Greens commit to rejoining the EU, while the Lib Dems make clear that they see rejoining the single market as an ultimate goal. Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) inevitably adopts a very hard line on Europe and seems keen to overturn all forms of regulatory alignment that exist, and plans to scrap the Windsor Framework and pull the UK out of the ECHR, without any mention of the repercussions of doing so. 

As expected, the Conservative manifesto also takes a hard line on Europe, with a clear refusal to engage in realistic negotiations to improve the UK’s trading relationship with the EU. Their manifesto states:

‘We will not agree to anything in the forthcoming review of the TCA that would infringe our legal sovereignty or involve submission to the CJEU or dynamic alignment’

The language around dynamic alignment particularly - framing it as a form of submission - suggests a deliberate attempt to paint some of the benefits (or beneficial arrangements) that a closer UK-EU relationship might include as a blow to UK sovereignty. This narrative suggests the Conservatives would have very far to go to embrace the prospect of a constructive UK-EU relationship. 

On Europe, Labour plays it safe. Their manifesto sets out a selection of deals that Labour aims to seek with the EU - including a veterinary agreement, a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications, and an agreement to support touring artists. However, they also draw clear red lines and state that they will not be seeking to rejoin the single market, a customs union, or restore freedom of movement. 

Nevertheless, plenty of aspects of the UK-EU relationship are untouched in Labour’s manifesto - leaving a lot of room for constructive deal making in future. However, a Labour Government would of course be just one side of future UK-EU negotiations, and making sure that they bring an attractive negotiating offer to the table with the EU will be crucial to avoid accusations of ‘cherry-picking’ from the EU side. 

Immigration and asylum are key issues

All the manifestos address  immigration - with the Conservative manifesto the most hardline of the mainstream parties. Reform UK naturally sits at the extreme end of policies on immigration, with a clear unwillingness to accept the need for immigrants unless they bring ‘essential skills ‘ - although what these would constitute is not defined. 

Labour’s manifesto splits asylum and immigration into separate sections - which could be seen as a first step towards improving the discourse around asylum seekers. However, the section primarily discusses  border security - and instead of considering the action a Labour government might take domestically to reform the asylum system, the focus is on dealing with humanitarian crises abroad. 

On the section regarding immigration, the manifesto is clear on the need to link immigration and skills policy - although whether this would in practice lead to a tightening or loosening of the immigration system in the short term is unclear. The long term aim from Labour is to invest in skills development programmes, which will allow for long-term workforce planning in shortage sectors. While this is certainly a positive long-term strategy, it is uncertain whether Labour policy acknowledges that short term interventions (which may involve increased levels of immigration) will be needed to plug gaps in shortage sectors while domestic skills development programmes get off the ground. 

The Conservative manifesto stands by its immigration interventions of recent years, including raising salary thresholds for skilled workers and for those looking to bring dependents to the UK - detail on which is notably absent from Labour’s manifesto. The Conservatives are clearly planning a punitive approach towards immigrants, particularly in requiring a medical assessment for new immigrants, who may then be required to take out health insurance prior to moving to the UK. This rhetoric is undeniably part of a broader narrative which seeks to frame immigrants as a drain on UK society - without any acknowledgement of the positive net contribution they make both to the UK economy and British society. 

The Lib Dem manifesto takes a more open approach to immigration, with an endorsement of a UK-EU youth mobility scheme one of their key policy pledges. They also make a firm commitment to reverse the salary threshold raise for bringing dependents to the UK. With a commitment to rejoin the single market, the Lib Dems are implying they could eventually be open to a return to freedom of movement. The Green manifesto also makes a clear commitment to ‘safe and legal’ routes for asylum seekers - and is open in its outlook on immigration more generally. 

It’s a good election for industrial strategists

One of the central pledges of Labour’s manifesto is to create an Industrial Strategy Council - with a view to unlocking long-term thinking around the UK’s growth and industrial development. The commitment to long-termism is echoed by their promises around workforce programmes and commitment to creating a ten year infrastructure strategy. The manifesto also promises to align procurement and trade policy with industrial strategy. The pledge to create a National Wealth Fund, which would use public investment to spark private investment in key sectors also suggests strategic and long-term thinking when it comes to growth. 

Even the Conservatives seem to recognise the need for longer-term strategic thinking, with a commitment to improved transport connectivity, including reopening shuttered Beeching lines. Good public transport is widely viewed as a potential driver of long-term regional growth and equity across the UK, so an acceptance of this is central to a strategic industrial policy. The Conservatives’ policy offering towards SMEs, while less long term in focus, does show some carefully considered appreciation of what growth throughout the economy could look like. However, this long term thinking is nevertheless undermined somewhat by the direction of travel away from Net Zero - and hard lines on migration that suggest that both pragmatism and sustainability have more generally been sacrificed on the altar of ideology. 


While there are no real shocks in any of the manifestos, there are some interesting things to be gleaned from each one. Behind the posturing, there are some subtle ideological lines drawn, many of which need unpacking and don’t entirely fit into a neat narrative. This is particularly the case with the Labour and Conservative manifestos - which each in part hint at strategic concessions that cross ideological boundaries. Of course, in each manifesto, this is balanced out by clearly politicised content, especially when it comes to immigration. 

No manifesto can offer the level of detail that is truly needed to establish a robust policy platform for the next Government - but doing so would be besides the point. The flavours offered by each of the manifestos should be enough to offer a  guide for voters- and they do just that - although not in a way that is as clear cut as some may have hoped. 

The real test will be what happens after July 4th.