Leading article

Conservative manifesto underlines why we need a functioning executive

As the Stormont impasse continues and with little sign of a breakthrough, minds may well be turning towards the prospect of direct rule.

It is certainly an option if the main parties fail to reach agreement and voters will not thank anyone for sending them off to the polling booths for a third time this year,

However, those wearied by politics and elections in general and who may be tempted to take a benign view of direct rule, should take time to read the Conservative Party manifesto.

While Theresa May presented June's snap election as an opportunity to strengthen her hand in upcoming Brexit negotiations, in reality she is so confident of a resounding victory that she has sought to break the link with Tory policies of the past.

So gone is the triple lock on pensions, a move that was part of the reforms aimed at delivering more security and certainty for older people.

Also in England, the proposed £72,000 cap on social care costs has been abandoned with even a Tory candidate warning that the frail elderly will face spiralling bills and won't even be able to buy insurance to provide peace of mind.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the Tory plans amounted to a tax on those who suffer from dementia and require costly nursing care.

The Tories are also proposing to make the winter fuel allowance means tested which Labour claims will hit five out of six pensioners.

By targeting older people in this way, Mrs May is taking a calculated risk. She clearly believes pensioners will still turn out to vote Tory despite this manifesto onslaught which displays a certain arrogance on her part.

What this blueprint also shows is that if she succeeds despite unpopular policies, she will continue to chip away at pensions and other allowances.

There is no doubt that Labour is well behind in the polls with even supporters conceding the party has little chance of winning.

But in this election there are clear differences in terms of what is on offer, with Labour unashamedly pushing a traditional left-wing tax and spend agenda.

Nevertheless, all the indications at this stage of the campaign are that the Tories will emerge victorious.

Given Mrs May's position on a hard Brexit, her lack of interest in Northern Ireland and failure to grasp the significance of our position in terms of the European Union, a strengthened Conservative government should not be regarded as a positive development.

Certainly, as the Brexit negotiations gather pace, it makes sense for the devolved institutions to be up and running and ensuring Northern Ireland's interests are protected.

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