A programme for opposition
The Labour Party has today formally unveiled an election manifesto that all the evidence suggests will never be implemented. The finished article, presented in the form of a simple red book, was described by Jeremy Corbyn as a “radical and responsible … programme of hope”.
It includes proposals for major investment in education and health to be funded through additional borrowing and significantly increased taxation of corporations and wealthy individuals. It earmarks a number of industrial sectors that will be taken back into national ownership, adding the water utilities to the list of energy, railways and the Royal Mail leaked last week.
Manifesto commitments at a glance
A pledge to raise an extra £6.4bn per year from the top five per cent of earners by setting the threshold for the for the 45p rate of income tax at £80,000 instead of £150,000
A new 50p rate on earnings over £123,000
A vast programme of renationalisation for a range of industries, including water, energy, railways and the Royal Mail
An extra £5bn per year for day-to-day spending on NHS, £2.1bn for social care
Tuition fees scrapped, at a cost of £11bn per year
£5.3bn for early years/childcare support and £6.3bn for schools
The Labour programme is undoubtedly the most left-wing manifesto put to the electorate since 1983. However, despite the presence of former card carrying members of the Communist Party in Jeremy Corbyn’s office, it is not a revolutionary document. It is rather a traditional left-wing vision of tax and spend socialism.
In an effort to defend the programme from attacks on its fiscal credibility, Labour’s shadow chancellor published a pamphlet alongside the manifesto that provides “the costs and funding sources, and reference[s] the research and calculations for each policy proposal. Every spending commitment is fully costed.”
It is likely to be heavily tested by the media and the Conservative Party. Early indications suggest it is coming apart already, on matters such as lifting the benefits freeze and possibly reversing proposed changes to the state pension age. But even if the figures stand up to scrutiny, the overriding headline is that Labour favours a move towards a higher tax economy.
The Conservatives will no doubt pounce upon that in the coming days. But one effect of the Labour manifesto, in combination with Theresa May’s deliberate play to win over traditional Labour voters, is that the political wind is blowing leftwards, which may become more obvious when the Tory manifesto is published later in the week.
That document will warrant more detailed examination than Labour’s offering because it is actually intended to form the basis for a future government programme. It is therefore likely to be significantly shorter than Labour’s document. Brexit is the key issue for the next parliament and will squeeze the space available for wider policies. Certainly there is absolutely no way that a new government could undertake the sort of transformational agenda that Corbyn purports to be attempting.
Which underlines the impression that Labour’s manifesto is more of a wishlist than an actual programme for government. It makes more sense when seen through the prism of the party’s internal struggle. Few in the party genuinely believe that Jeremy Corbyn will be walking through the door of No10 on June 9th.
The polls continue to point to a crushing defeat. The Conservatives under Theresa May enjoy consistent leads of 18-20 points. A recent regional survey by YouGov suggests that they have now overtaken Labour in every region of England and in Wales, with the exceptions of London and the North East, where they still trail, and the North West, where they have drawn level.
Labour’s leadership contends that such polls will once again be proved wrong. They argue that Labour’s policies are popular and that as they gain more exposure the party will win support. But they know that defeat looms and their activity and campaigning is now directed beyond the general election to inevitable Labour civil war which will follow.