Judging Labour’s Manifesto

HARRY BARNES casts his scrutinising eye over the details of Labour’s election manifesto, and concludes that it contains the seeds for a progressive government.

At the Labour Party conference in 2014 a document entitled National Policy Forum Report 2014 was adopted. My own summary of its contents appeared earlier on my blog and covered 16 separate items.

Miliband manifesto launchThe report was endorsed in the expectation that it would shape Labour’s general election manifesto, which was finally published on Monday this week (13 April). The manifesto can be read here.

How close is the manifesto to the conference report? I feel the two publications are as close to each other as we could reasonably expect. This is especially the case as we have had to wait for more than six months between the two documents and, as everyone knows, even “a week is a long time in politics”.

I have persistently argued that the manifesto should have been issued and used much earlier than it has been, especially as a version of it could have made an impact during the Scottish referendum campaign. If this had been done, we may have stemmed the rise of the SNP.

The Labour Party did, however, publish a version of its programme in December, entitled Changing Britain Together. Unfortunately, this document was never effectively pushed among Labour Party members, nor in the media.

The big difference between the original National Policy Forum report and the election manifesto is that the latter is placed in a new key framework which is missing from the former. The framework appears at the start of the manifesto and (as was intended) has grabbed the immediate attention of the media.

It states that Labour’s plans are to be pursued in ways that, in budgetary terms, will be highly responsible, so that none of a wide range of Labour commitments will require any additional borrowing. Yet the manifesto also says that Labour will “cut the deficit each year”. This commitment then shapes each of the proposals, which list where the funding for all the programme’s positive aspects will come from.

Progressive taxation?

Unfortunately, a fall-back proposal for financing services seems to have disappeared. The original NPF report said that “Labour will continue to support a progressive taxation system and ensure that the wealthiest individuals and businesses contribute to the economy”. Perhaps this is regarded as a hidden codicil that can always be turned to, an idea that does not need to be fed to a hungry media at this point.

There is, however, at least one clear and unfortunate adjustment in the manifesto compared to the NPF report which will concern those worried about TTIP. It now states that “We support the principles behind the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty (TTIP)”, although the former proposal that TTIP should not apply to the NHS and other public services does still apply.

About co-operative principles it states: “Our charities, mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises are pioneering new models of production that enhance social value, promote financial inclusion, and give individuals and communities power and control. We will continue to support and help develop the social economy by improving access for co-operative and mutual organisations to growth finance through the new British Investment Bank. And we will consider how to support employee buy-outs when businesses are being sold.”

Although this paragraph is very small compared to the Co-op Party’s own manifesto, which expands such proposals, much depends on whether Labour’s words are just a highly condensed version of the same agenda.

Unfortunately, references to providing a quality professional youth service, lifelong learning options, re-carbonising the power sector by 2030, and calls for a financial transaction tax have disappeared.

Nevertheless, a great deal of progressive material remains. If Labour forms the next government it will be for activists to push it to overcome the shortcomings I have indicated.

For me, the manifesto shows that Labour has moved on from the days of New Labour, and that the door may be opening slightly for carefully crafted initiatives from democratic socialists.

We now seek the proof of the pudding.


Harry Barnes is a former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire and author of the blog ‘Three score years and ten’.

‘Reasons for Hope?’, Harry’s article on Labour’s emerging policy agenda, can be read here.


  1. Harry Barnes
    8 May 2015

    Matters would have been problematic enough even if Ed Miliband had made it to 10 Downing Street.

    But now we face really huge issues in a much more difficult climate. (a) Do we need a written constitution with a federal structure to hold onto Scotland, (b) how do we respect the rights of not only the SNP but of others such as the Northern Ireland Parties and Plaid Cymru who are also local to their own territories, (c) how fair is an electoral system which has resulted in the two main parties taking 87% of the seats with only 67% of the vote – whilst UKIP gets only one seat with an overall vote of 12.6% and the SNP get 56 seats with a vote of just 4.7%: which seems unfair even if we don’t like UKIP, (d) what is the future of the Labour Party, including who should be its new leader and deputy leader (and how will this help shape its ideological direction on key issues such as climate change and economic and a social justice) (d) how do we relate to the EU, (e) what will we do about the people who are drowning in the Mediterranean due to serious instability in their countries of origin (e) what avenues do we use to feed such concerns into the political process – is it via Labour, other or new parties, or (instead or as well?) via pressure groups such as (say) 38 Degrees? These and other issues need to be pursued with vigour; but what fruitful avenues can we use for this or what collectively can we help build?

  2. Harry Barnes
    29 April 2015

    Thank you for your valuable links. After the General Election I am for opening the debate on how what is left of the Labour Left should best direct its attention. Part of that debate is how we can get Labour to advance and extend the best bits of its policy commitments. But as widespread political changes may be confronting us, we are unlikely to be able to limit our attention only to Labour’s future. Whilst it might be worthwhile if the ILP aimed to became a mover of such a discussion, this will all need to be a long term matter. A matter that is very open ended. And one to be pressed in whatever labour movement avenues any of us have access to. We can all benefit from the dialectics of a debate which will probably need pressing as widely as we can as soon as we digest the election result. As there are two sides to this coin. What I say below to Ken might sound more like a continued commitment to the Labour Party ! Which (depending on future progress) could still be the conclusion to draw from such a debate.

    On tacking climate change it is, of course, the Greens who win. But whilst the SNP gain from the nature of the British electoral system, the Greens can hardly get off the ground. Whether Labour are in the next Government or Opposition, there are areas of its current policy than can be pressed upon them and even be pushed beyond. These include manifesto commitments to “tacking climate change”, “make Britain a world leader in low carbon technologies over the next decade, creating a million additional green jobs. This aim will be supported by ambitious domestic carbon targets, including a legal target to remove carbon from our electricty supply by 2030 and a major drive for energy efficiency.” There are commitments to a Green Investment Bank and “an Energy Security Board to plan and deliver the energy mix we need”. A call for a robust environmental regulatory regime for onshore oil and gas.There is a “Protecting our environment” section on pages 56 and 57. Then a section on page 79 entitled “Climate Change” which starts “We will put climate change at the heart of our foreign policy. On page 80 on “International Development there is working with others on Sustainable Development Goals and establishing a Centre for Universal Health Coverage”. I grant that it is a pity that these matters have been on the back burner in Labour’s Election Campaign. But I just wish that many of Labour’s Manifesto commitments had been around in the Blair and Brown eras for the Labour Left to use – instead of us being cut away from any influence as “the usual suspects” in the Commons, voting regularly against the leadership, but getting nowhere.

  3. Kenneth curran
    26 April 2015


    I agree with your general analysis. The one factor which is not dealt with is climate change. The next decade could see the levels of the seas around Britain rise by seven metres (21feet). The economic implications of this would be catastrophic.

    I know there are no votes in bad news, that should not prevent party members at all levels beginning to take the warnings of the government’s own scientists more seriously. If we don’t, the consequences could spell the end of Britain, and much of its population.

  4. Ben Saltonstall
    26 April 2015

    I agree with Harry that we should vote Labour this time and then review how the ILP relates to the Labour party afterwards. If it is only one, albeit the largest, significant left-leaning reformist party, then we might want to communicate with the Green Party in England and the SNP in Scotland, particularly if Miliband is replaced after the election with someone who accommodates the party to the rightwards drift of English politics.

    Whilst I will be voting Labour, I struggle to find the far-reaching commitments identified in the link Barry sent in Labour’s published manifesto. Radical commitments from the policy review, such as creating a state rail franchise, seem to have been removed. There’s nothing I could see either about banks except creating a national investment bank. All the Green policies are very high level and seem to be about signing international agreements, but do not commit an incoming Labour government to any specific policies to address climate change.

    The radical stuff is the cap on energy price rises and rent increases, the non dom tax and measures to tackle avoidance and promote the living wage. The rest is worthy, but not particularly radical stuff, about parental leave and better vocational education, all of which I support, but could equally be in the Lib Dem manifesto (which is better, for what it’s worth, on defence and the environment, justice and immigration).

    There’s nothing much in it to reorganise the foundations of British capitalism. But perhaps the policy review, which did go further, may still be in the minds of the leadership? That would be welcome news. Policy experts near to the leadership, like Patrick Diamond, are saying some very interesting things about this. http://www.policy-network.net/publications/4857/Progressive-Capitalism-in-Britain

    In any event, we’re in for some big problems, as British capitalism is very brittle and international finance may be heading towards another crash. Even moderate reformist measures will hit difficulties as our asset and debt lead economy reacts badly to attempts to create social justice (which is why I take the practicality of anti-austerity politics with a pinch of salt). Furthermore, the bond markets may be on the verge of crashing and shares in hydro carbons, which corporate finance has invested in heavily since 2008, are about to plummet.

    You can read some interesting analysis of domestic issues here: https://theconversation.com/four-undiscussed-dangers-that-could-shackle-the-uk-recovery-40132

    For a no-holds-barred international perspective from a right-wing financial magazine, making no excuses for capitalism, read this: http://moneyweek.com/bill-bonner-the-next-credit-crisis-will-make-08-look-like-a-picnic/

    A feeble Labour administration will be swept away by another crisis. Miliband may count himself lucky if he is unable to form a government after 7 May.

  5. Harry Barnes
    18 April 2015

    Barry and Ernie: Michael Meacher is well worth a read. Whilst I feel that he links with some of Ed Miliband’s presentations, it is a pity that such an approach isn’t also pursued by Labour’s Central Campaign team rather than the inept material they circulate to party members.They should be seeking to mobilise and galvanise would-be activists. Even if a Labour Government (perhaps a minority one) is returned and has elements in it which wish to put on the brakes,then the type of items Michael stresses (and which I have been trying to indicate) can also be pushed and may have reasonable possibilities of making serious progress. I am hopeful that dispite problems with the approach of some in central Labour positiions, Ed himself may be responsive to the types of pressures I suggest will be needed. And within our current (but perhaps changing) political system, Prime Ministers can have a big say via patronage and other devices.

    Nicola Sturgeon is out to destroy Labour’s position in Scotland to advance the SNP’s main purpose of taking Scotland out of the UK. Her seemingly progressive appeals to the Scottish working class are only an end to a means. Even if we accept the strength of her commitment to get rid of Trident.

    Up to the election I am, therefore, all for stressing the need in Britain to vote Labour. But I do recognise that this is one of the most significant elections in my lifetime. In 1945 we achieved the first majority Labour Government ever, which led over time to a form of concensus politics around the welfare state and the mixed economy. The next big change was in 1979 with the move to a Thatcherite free enterprise system and a fresh consensus since; even under New Labour. What the direction of politics will be after the coming general election is difficult to know. If the Thatcherite condition holds within say the context of serious moves to leave the EU and to break up the UK – and if Labour comes to terms with the general thrust of such moves; then we are into a serious political crisis. How do we then move? I feel that this would lead to a crisis for democratic socialists with complexities as great as in he situation way back in 1899. At that time would we have gone with those seeking to form a Labour Party? Would we have moved to a more left sect or say we wanted the ILP to keep on its own? Or (like most miners at the time) would we have been with the Lib-Labs? Or would we have worked like the Fabians at the time as permeationists, trying to influence key figures across the political scene? With hindsight we can now work out who we now identify with in 1899. But in 1899 we would have had no clear foresite on how to move – only instinct. We could be in a similar position soon.

    But until we experience what is ahead of us, then I don’t think that we should jump the gun. Which is what Ernie seems to be doing. There is an option for progress even under, say, a minority Labour Government. Then a Conservative equivalent might help to move Labour somewhat to the left. But whilst we may need to face such new complexities in future, what we push over few days up to May 7th is clear to me. We need Labour votes. When the result is announced and we start to see the political consequences, then we might have to start thinking and arguing outside the current framework. But let us centre on one task at a time. We don’t have long to wait for the wider discourse.

  6. Barry Winter
    18 April 2015

    Thanks for your summary, Harry.

    Here’s an interesting view of the Manifesto from Labour’s left by Michael Meacher MP.


  7. Ernest Jacques
    18 April 2015

    Being pragmatic as well as old, I would give my right arm to see the end of Trident and the UK’s nuclear weapons and I would vote for anyone who appose this so-called nuclear deterrent. But Harry you are right, the Colonel Blimps and throwbacks to the days of Empire – Tory, Ukip and Labour – will vote for this monstrously expensive vanity toy is updated.

    On the issue of austerity don’t you think that the star of this election (whatever you think of the SNP) has been Nicola Sturgeon who, unlike Ed Miliband, is the voice of progressive politics not just in Scotland but throughout the whole of the UK.

    It is the SNP leader who has led the attack on Tory austerity and who has become the champion of the poor, the low paid and the socially excluded and who has made the case for balance, fairness and along with Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) and Natalie Bennet (Green Party) have articulated an alternative to the neoliberal horror story which Cameron and Miliband will continue in their very different ways.

    To my mind, Nicola Sturgeon is a breath of fresh air.

  8. Harry Barnes
    17 April 2015

    Ernie, If by a wave of the wand I could get rid of Trident then I would. But that is not going to happen as a consequence of this election. Labour, Conservatives and UKIP are for retaining it. Even if a number of Labour MPs rebel, Trident will be retained for now. You need other reasons for not voting Labour in Scotland or elsewhere.

  9. Ernie Jacques
    17 April 2015

    Sorry Harry, but if I lived in Scotland I would vote for the progressive, anti-Trident party and it wouldn’t be Labour.

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