The early part of the Tory election campaign was characterised by Theresa May touring the country saying “strong and stable leadership” as many times as possible.
Pundits, and probably some voters, lamented the fact that May rarely ventured off script and answered almost all questions with the same point: that a vote for Corbyn was a vote for a chaos and vote for her was in support of strong and stable etc, etc.
Then came the Tory manifesto launch, and with it a pledge to reform the system of social care. Given the controversy that the proposals have generated, nobody can accuse May of clinging to boring platitudes anymore.
Indeed, thanks to the PM’s policy of requiring pensioners to contribute more to the costs of in-home care, the weekend was dominated by debate over one of the most pressing policy issues of our time. This is what election campaigns are supposed to be about.
The price that May appears to have paid for striking out and grabbing a thorny policy issue is a narrowing of the gap between her party and Labour. One weekend poll showed that the Tory lead over Corbyn’s party had halved to just nine points.
To be sure, a nine-point lead is nothing to sniff at and it remains highly likely that May will lead her party back into government with an increased majority, but such a shift in the polls will unsettle Tory operatives and embolden their Labour rivals.
Government ministers took to the airwaves on Sunday morning to defend the social care policy, with foreign secretary Boris Johnson telling ITV that while he understood people’s reservations, “the broad thrust [of the policy] is right”.
In addition to defending their own policies, you can expect the Tories to step up their attacks on Labour’s manifesto, and on the credibility of its leader. Corbyn is a hapless politician but even he couldn’t miss a soft target like the one presented by a Tory policy already being dubbed a “dementia tax”.
There will be plenty in her own party who wish that May avoided the self-inflicted harm that contentious manifesto commitments can generate, but she deserves credit for attempting to grapple with the tough decisions – especially as it comes at the expense of an easy ride in the election.