Theresa May’s day of “manifesto meltdown” got worse after she was skewered by the BBC’s Andrew Neil over everything from social care to how many pensioners would lose their £300 winter fuel allowance.
Hours after the Prime Minister was forced to “clarify” her policy on funding for elderly people, she was grilled on BBC1 by Neil over the changes – as well as her broken promises on immigration, cuts to benefits for the working poor and lack of costings on the NHS.
Several times, May simply refused to answer his questions about her 2017 election manifesto, preferring instead to try to attack Jeremy Corbyn for trying to “sneak into Number 10”.
He didn’t let her get away with it.
Here’s the 12 ways the BBC man made life very uncomfortable.
May faced fresh ridicule over her controversial plans for care for the elderly after she said that “nothing has changed” from the Tory manifesto policy. She refused to put an upper limit above which people would start losing their assets.
The PM tried to claim that she had not altered her party’s approach to the “principle” of changing social care funding. But in response to her remarks, an incredulous Neil pointed out that May had indeed changed her proposals since they were attacked as a “dementia tax”.
Neil: Four days ago your manifesto rejected a cap on social care costs, today you announced a cap. That sounds pretty half-baked.
May: No. Nothing has changed from the principles on social care policy that we set out in our manifesto.
Neil: You say nothing has changed. Jeremy Hunt, on the day you launched your manifesto, last Thursday, the Health Secretary, he said, ‘yes, we are dropping the cap and we’re being completely explicit in our manifesto, we’re dropping it. We don’t think it’s fair.’ Today you announced a cap.
May: Jeremy also went on to say that what we wanted to have was a system that was fair to taxpayers, that was fair to all generations, and that’s what we’re doing.
As May wriggled, Neil made the point that once you’ve been caught changing your mind, it’s best to admit it.
Neil: But it’s a cap, Prime Minister. Your manifesto rejects a cap. It gives a reason why you don’t want a cap. Now you’re going to have a cap. You need to be honest, I would suggest and tell the British people you’ve changed your mind.
May: What I’m doing – first of all, Andrew, I’m being absolutely honest with the British people about the big challenge that we face. And absolutely honest with them about the need for us to deal with this now, to start fixing it now.
He then had the zinger of the night.
Neil: I mean, this must be the first time in modern history that a party’s actually broken a manifesto policy before the election.
May: No. What we have done, Andrew, I set out in my manifesto the challenges that we need to address as a government.
The PM tried several times to turn the conversation onto Jeremy Corbyn, but Neil flipped her remarks back onto her.
May: I’ve seen the way that Jeremy Corbyn wants to sneak into Number 10 by playing on the fears of older and vulnerable people, and I’ve clarified what we will be putting in the Green Paper which I set out in the manifesto.
Neil: So Jeremy Corbyn is now rewriting your manifesto?
May: No, not at all.
Neil: Well, that’s what it sounds like. You’ve reacted to him.
May: No, we haven’t. Andrew, we have not rewritten the manifesto. The principles on which we have based our social care policy remain absolutely the same.
A string of polls conducted after May’s manifesto showed that the Tory lead has halved in many cases.
Neil: Prime Minister, you started this campaign with a huge double digit lead in the polls, it’s now down to single digits in some polls. What’s gone wrong?
May: Well, Andrew, there’s only one poll that counts in any election campaign, as I’m sure you know from your long experience, and that’s the one that takes place on the 8th June when people have actually cast their vote.
Neil : So why do you think your lead has narrowed?
May: Well, as I say, the only poll that counts is the one that actually takes place on the 8th June.
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Neil rammed home the way the Tory manifesto had a string of proposals for “consultations” rather than actual concrete policies.
Neil: But could you be in a little bit of trouble now, because you were so sure of winning that you thought you could get away with a lot of uncosted and half-baked policies?
May: No, I’ve never taken anything for granted about this election.
Neil: But your policies are uncosted and half-baked aren’t they?
At her manifesto launch in Halifax last week, May trumpeted £8bn for the NHS last week. But since then no one has been able to say if it is new money or where it comes from.
He also got her to confess how much more was due to be spent on buildings and IT – £10bn – but she wasn’t clear how that would be funded either.
Neil: How are you going to pay for the extra £8 billion for the NHS?
May: Andrew, when I go around the country and talk to people about what we’re going to do in government, what people want to know is are we actually going to have the strong economy
Neil: But how do you get the extra money for the NHS? Where will the extra 8 billion come from?
May: Andrew, what we have done, if you look at our record, is shown that we can put record sums of money into the National Health Service Our economic credibility is not in doubt.
Neil: Your ability to answer this question may be in doubt, Prime Minister. Let me try one more time. Where will the extra 8 billion for the NHS come from?
PM: What we have done over the last six years, six-seven years, and what we will do in the future is ensure that we have the strong economy
Neil: Is the 8 billion all new money?
May: There will be 8 billion more money going into the National Health Service at the end of the parliament.
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Neil pointed to the crisis in the NHS in a range of areas from A&E admissions to cancelled operations.
Neil: Our hospitals have just endured their worst 12 months in ten years. A record number of urgent operations were cancelled, a string of targets, from emergency care to routine care, to cancer care, have been missed. What you’re promising is too little too late.
May: No. And I accept that the NHS has missed some of its targets, but let’s look at – and targets aren’t the be all and end all. What matters actually is the quality of patient care.
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His favourite subject, Neil pointed out that the Budget had already prompted a U-turn on rises in national insurance after a revolt by ‘White Van Man’. But her manifesto refused to rule out putting it up. Tonight, she seemed to suggest the hike could return if the self-employed were given new rights such as parental leave.
Neil: You’ve ruled out a rise in VAT, but not National Insurance or income tax. Why?
May: Because I want to be very clear that as a Conservative Party in government, as we always have been, we’re a party that believes in lower taxes. I have every intention of reducing taxes on businesses and working families. But I want to ensure that when we do that we’re able to do that in a sustainable way.
Neil: So National Insurance and income tax could go up?
May: No. I’m very clear that it is our intention to reduce taxes and when – and when people –
Neil: But you haven’t ruled out rises in these two taxes….You tried to raise National Insurance for the self employed in the Budget a couple of months ago, you were forced to retreat. Can you rule out that you’ll try that again?
May: We said we were taking those plans off the table. We have asked Matthew Taylor to do a report on the new forms of employment and we will look at the results of that report when it comes in…but we’ve removed the proposals that we put in the Budget, we’ve removed those from the table.
Neil: But you could bring them back.
May: We need to look at how the employment market is working at the moment.
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Neil pointed out that May says she’s on the side of those ‘just about managing’, but inflation is now rising faster than average pay so living standards are being squeezed. And she has frozen in-work benefits for almost 7 million people.
Neil: In what way are you on their side? You’ve taken away £280 a year from their in work benefits because of the freeze. How is that being on their side?
May : Being on their side is about a whole variety of actions that we’re taking.
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May’s manifesto talked of focusing winter fuel payments – worth up to £300 each year – to only the less well off. The rich will lose out, but Neil wanted to know just who in the middle would lose too.
Neil: How many pensioners will lose their winter fuel allowance?
May: We are – we will means test winter fuel allowance but once again we will consult, we will ask people, charities, organisations at what level that should be set.
Neil: So you don’t know. Pensioners watching tonight, they won’t know. The very rich they’re going to lose, that’s clear. The very poor will probably keep it, but the vast in between you cannot tell them tonight whether they’ll get up to £300 or not this coming winter.
May: What we are doing is going to ensure that the least well off pensioners will have their winter fuel payments protected, but yes we will consult.
Neil: But you can’t tell them tonight or not whether they’re going to get their winter fuel allowance or not. It’s a vague promise, uncosted, you don’t know.
May: I’ve also answered that what we’re doing, Andrew, is going to be talking to people about this. Asking their views on where this should be set, not just setting it here in the studio in the Andrew Neil Interview, but actually talking to charities and organisations and consulting on it.
The Tory manifesto in 2010 promised to cut net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ ie under 100,000 a year. It currently stands at 273,000 a year.
Neil: You’ve promised twice to reduce immigration to the 10s of thousands and twice you failed. Why should we believe you a third time?
May: What we have done is ensured that we are working to reduce immigration and crucially of course we will, when we leave the European Union, have the opportunity and the ability to deal with the figures to bring in rules for those who are coming from the European Union countries into the United Kingdom.
Neil: But you’ve always had that power. You’ve always had that power with non-EU migration and you’ve never managed to get that down to the 10s of thousands. Even the bit you’ve controlled you haven’t managed to control.
May: We’ve seen it come down and we have seen it go up.
Neil: It’s still away above 10s of thousands.
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Neil pointed out that George Osborne – the former Chancellor sacked by May and now editor of the London Evening Standard – had claimed that none of her senior team supported her migration target.
Neil: George Osborne says not a single senior member of your Cabinet supports the immigration target. Is that true?
May: No. (laughing) Look, this immigration target is one that we have had over the years, since 2010. In fact it was developed when the – under David Cameron’s leadership in Opposition. We’ve brought it through. What we do on the immigration…
Neil: He said nobody supports [it] in your Cabinet.
May: People do support the immigration target and what they’re supporting is the view of the British people. That’s what we’re supporting.”