Jeremy Corbyn launched the Labour manifesto in Bradford today pitched as a policy platform “For the many and not the few”.
In the foreword to the manifesto Corbyn writes, “Every election is a choice. What makes this election different is that the choice is starker than ever before”.
It is hard to argue with this assessment.
Labour has outlined a clear choice for the electorate, which offers a very different vision for the country to that proposed by Theresa May and the Conservative Party.
Headline proposals include taking the railways back into the public ownership, taking back control of the country’s utilities through regional public ownership, and taking a public stake in the energy sector to control consumer prices and push through a green policy agenda.
There are also ‘traditional’ Labour measures targeted at wealth redistribution, with a headline grabbing new 45p higher income tax rate starting at £80k, increases in corporation tax from 19 to 26 per cent by 2020, a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions (as previously trailed), and an excessive pay-levy for firms.
In addition, there is a series of populist measures, with an extra £30bn promised for the NHS and £8bn for social care over the lifetime of the next Parliament, a guarantee on the state pension Triple Lock until 20205, and the scrapping of tuition fees.
Many of the policies outlined by Jeremy Corbyn are central to his view of how the Labour party should build a “farer Britain”. They also seek to address many of the genuine struggles people face in their everyday lives. Given the dire state of Labour’s General Election polling, the party will be hoping they resonate with voters in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
The reaction from the right has been quick and damning. Today’s Evening Standard front page (edited by a certain George Osborne) reads, “Comrade Corbyn Flies the Red Flag”. This is sure to be echoed by the Conservative party who once labelled Ed Miliband’s energy price cap as “Marxist”, though now intend to include the policy as a central offer to the electorate in this election.
However, the real and serious criticism of Labour’s manifesto is one of economic competence. This is something the Labour party has struggled to retain in the public’s perception since the financial crisis. Although today’s manifesto is accompanied by a costings document, there appear to be big holes in the sums. A few obvious examples include the failure to factor in the cost of renationalising railways, buses, water, energy and the Royal Mail, which could cost up to £100bn in compensation; and no accounting for the cost of scrapping further deferral of the state pension age beyond 66 (estimated to potentially be £300bn) or increases in local government funding beyond 2018/2019. Mix in a lowering of the threshold for the higher rate of income tax to £80k and you have a potent combination of attack lines for Labour’s opponents that simply, ‘the sums don’t add up’ and that Labour continues to be the party to ‘tax aspiration’.
These criticisms go to the heart of the problem with Labour’s manifesto. Nobody would argue with a country that works for the many and a more fair society, but the Labour manifesto seems to be trying to offer everything to everybody, underpinned by questionable economics. It raises further questions over the Labour party’s credibility and Labour’s leadership (portrayed fairly or unfairly by the media depending on your point of view).
The reality is that the manifesto reflects the position in which Labour finds itself right now. It is a defensive play to try and retain the Labour core vote (the definition of this core vote is an argument for another day). Hence why no real pitch to Conservative voters is included, when Theresa May has already parked her tanks on Labour’s lawn with a promise to focus on worker rights. The more cynical would argue the manifesto is Corbyn’s attempt to cement his position for the inevitable internal fight for the future of the Labour party post-election.
While there is much to be commended in today’s announcements, you get the feeling it is too little, too late. The electorate have definitively made their minds up.