General Election 2019: Six things we learnt from the leaked Tory election notes

From NHS privatisation to trade deals the notes reveal Conservative HQ’s advice to candidates

(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Conservative candidates in the December general election have been warned not to sign up to specific pledges on protecting the NHS or tackling climate change, according to a leaked party briefing note.

The 11-page note “explains the party’s position on nine key areas,” including why “signing up to certain pledges are unnecessary and could backfire,” The Guardian says. The memo warns candidates that they “will be asked to sign pledges on various campaign issues” and provides “substantive responses that can be used as a basis for a reply”.

The newspaper reports that the note was drafted by the Conservative research department, and that the advice is likely to be “seized on by opposition leaders, who insist the party cannot be trusted to keep its promises on certain important issues”.

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Here are six things we learnt from the leak.


Candidates are told not to sign pledges to “protect our NHS from trade deals with new legislation which ends privatisation”, adding that “this kind of pledge would ‘give credence to factually inaccurate smears’”.

A stock reply for candidates to use when asked about the party’s policy on the NHS says that the Conservatives have “given the NHS the biggest funding boost in its history”, and that claims from the Labour Party that the Tories will not protect the NHS are “political point scoring... scaring the most vulnerable in society”.


In response to questions about the NHS, candidates are advised that they should switch focus to “Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to override the British people on Brexit”. The memo adds that candidates should tell voters that “a Conservative government with a functioning majority will immediately get Brexit done”.

On Saturday, Sky News reported that a separate leaked briefing note advised Tory candidates to tell voters that “we will leave the EU with the Prime Minister’s Great New Deal”, if questioned on when Britain would complete its withdrawal.

Climate change

The Guardian reports that the memo advises candidates to say that Labour does not have a “a credible approach to the problem” of climate change, while avoiding specific pledges.

It adds that many climate crisis campaigns “contain unrealistic targets that would be impossible to achieve”, and advises focussing on “practical, reasonable steps to protect our planet while keeping bills down”.

Women’s state pension

During the Conservative leadership election, Boris Johnson promised to review an increase in the age that women can claim their state pension. The retirement age for women rose from 60 to 65, in line with men, but campaigners say women born in the 1950s did not have a chance to adjust to the financial shift.

Women earn less on average during their working life due to a combination of childcare commitments and the gender pay gap, with the BBC reporting that the age increase hit around “3.8 million women... with some potentially losing out on more than £40,000”.

The memo advises Tory candidates “not to engage on the issue”, The Guardian notes, adding: “Changes to the state pension age are part of a long overdue move towards gender equality and will put the pensions system on a more sustainable footing for future generations.”

Voter ID

The Tory party has flirted with voter ID-related legislation in the past. The change to voting rules would mean that voters could be turned away from polling booths if they can not provide photographic identification. Campaigners say this would mean that many people would be disenfranchised from voting at all.

Channel 4 reports that the “police investigated 266 allegations in 2018, which led to one conviction and two suspects accepting police cautions”. It describes this as a “tiny fraction of the millions of votes cast in each ballot”.

Candidates are told to say that “a secure voting system is a vital component of a healthy democracy”, while flagging that voter ID has been necessary in Northern Ireland since 2003.


Promises related to shooting are endorsed by Conservative HQ, with the memo stating that candidate should say that “for many people shooting is an important part of rural life... worth around £2bn to the economy, much of it in some of our remotest communities”.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.