The Labour Manifesto: ‘Formidable and Ambitious’

At this general election, the stakes could not be higher, argues ILP chair DAVID CONNOLLY. The Labour Party manifesto launched last week represents a strategic shift and opens up a vision of a different kind of society. A Labour victory is vital.

In launching the Labour Party’s general election manifesto last week, Jeremy Corbyn said he welcomed “the hostility of billionaires, bad bosses and dodgy landlords”. Given that a third of Britain’s billionaires have contributed several millions of pounds to the Tory campaign, he can expect plenty of flak.

The Guardian’s Larry Elliott has described it as “the most radical Labour manifesto in years” written by leaders who “don’t accept their plans have to get the thumbs-up from the City”.

Indeed, it does contain a raft of policies that the political establishment have blocked for a generation. It doesn’t just address many immediate problems that are a direct result of austerity but also challenges the assumptions that underpin the dominant economic thinking of the past 40 years.

At its core are the twin aims of reorienting the UK economy around a Green New Deal and rebuilding the public sector. There are bold pledges on creating a new National Care Service and scrapping the hated Universal Credit as well as restoring local authority control of free schools and academies.

The pledges to re-nationalise key utilities and create a new nationalised broadband service come with ideas for worker and consumer participation. Homelessness, the housing crisis and food poverty are addressed by a promise to build one million social homes in a decade and create a Right to Food.

The promise to increase spending on the NHS by an average 4.3 per cent a year, with free annual dental check-ups for all, is a step in the right direction. A ban on zero hours contracts, the return of some trade union rights and a long-term aim to move to a 32-hour working week all seek to redress imbalances between capital and labour that have grown over the past 30 years.

Pledges to put rights and justice at the heart of Britain’s foreign affairs extend the aims to the international sphere.

This left-wing form of social democracy, well researched, formidable and ambitious in its range, opens up a debate about what kind of society we want to live in. It’s a strategic shift which recognises that tinkering isn’t good enough anymore, that a different vision is needed, one that can change the terms of the political debate. We should give credit to all those members and representatives who have contributed to the many policy-making processes over the past four years.

Huge challenge, high stakes

The challenge now is to turn these policies into accessible narratives about greater democracy and empowerment that the public can grasp, making clear what the priorities would be in the first one hundred days. We need to recognise that while much of the public may like many of the policies, many don’t believe they can be implemented. That’s either because of their own deeply rooted scepticism about politics or the strength of entrenched vested interests, or because they’ve been led to believe “the money isn’t there to do it”. In respect of this last point, the manifesto’s financial addendum is an important document.

We must also acknowledge the frustrating difficulty many in the party have felt in attempts to build on the groundswell of support generated in 2017, partly due to internal party conflicts.

Overshadowing all this, of course, is the Brexit issue with a large section of the electorate seemingly committed to ‘getting Brexit done’, regardless of the consequences. To address this, Labour is the only main UK-wide party offering a second referendum. Importantly, this time around it would be a legally binding vote with measures to ensure that leaving or remaining could follow quickly from the referendum result.

The stakes in this election are high, to say the least, and the challenge is formidable. But, in this time of anticipation and anxiety, we must all do our utmost for a Labour victory on 12 December.

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You can read the Labour Party manifesto here.

A ‘complete guide’ to the manifesto is available on the Labour List website here.

Also see: ‘After a decade of decay, Labour’s manifesto offers us hope for the future’ by Gary Younge, and ‘Labour’s electrifying manifesto should jolt this election into life’ by Polly Toynbee, both in the Guardian.

8 Comments

  1. Will Brown
    29 November 2019

    Just been to the launch of one of Labour’s regional manifestos – with John Healey launching the Yorkshire version in Sheffield this morning. Very impressive presentation of what a Labour government would mean for Yorkshire.

    As Shadow Secretary for housing, he focussed in particular on Labour’s housing plans. Importantly, these don’t just focus on social and council house building but also better regulation of the often-neglected private rented sector.

  2. Harry Barnes
    1 December 2019

    As David points out in relation to Labour’s manifesto, “At its core are the twin aims of reorienting the UK economy around a Green New Deal and rebuilding the public sector.” The Manifesto leads on this first item (also talking about rebuilding the public sector) with a key section entitled ‘A Green Industrial Revolution’ containing four key sub-sections: on page 11 ‘Economy and Energy’; page 19 ‘Transport’; Page 22 ‘Environment’; and page 25 ‘Animal Welfare’. These contain key proposals which we need to push.

  3. Jonathan Timbers
    4 December 2019

    I agree with David that the “challenge is to turn these policies into accessible narratives”. The problem is there are so many of them they seem like a desperate attempt to buy votes rather than a strategy for reforming unbalanced Britain.

    What I find on the doorstep is if you present them as a way of righting our economy and encouraging economic development outside London, then people are sympathetic. But the seemingly unstoppable flow of spending promises is not enhancing that narrative – I put it kindly.

    I have other problems too. I am not convinced that universal broadband is the game-changer we are told it is. I am not convinced that spending such eye watering sums in such a short space of time, while reducing the working week, is really sensible. Luckily, the four-day week proposal depends on a ‘working time commission’, which seems to apply so many caveats in the small print that changes will probably be limited in practice to a few public sector trials and extra bank holidays.

    I understand the demand management theory behind them. Unfortunately, the theory highlights the mismatch between economic theory and experience in individual enterprises and organisations. It’s not good enough to point to the decline in working hours and rising prosperity after the war. There has to be a clearer understanding of the ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum of the relationship between reduced hours and rising demand. In any event, the key problem is under-employment, not long hours, unless of course you’re ‘self-employed’, when the sky’s the limit.

    Another problem I have is the ‘make business pay’ narrative, when what is needed is a ‘make business invest in the real economy’ narrative. Left-leaning economists, like Mariana Mazzucato, have similar problems with the manifesto. She said: “Between now and the election, the debate should be less about the ‘money tree’ accusation and more about the detail of the plans… Increasing the expectations of future growth opportunities by business is key to getting the economy on track. Business must pay its fair share of tax, but the narrative must move from a punitive one to one that is really win-win: invest in people so they can all create value, invest in communities so they flourish, invest in innovation to stimulate productivity.” That’s the narrative we need, but it’s not what we’re getting from a manifesto that lacks focus.

    David provides a link to another article about the manifesto in the Guardian, written by Larry Elliott, its economics editor. Like so many economists, he seems æbroadly’ (that’s the word these left economists used in the FT) in favour, there is more than a hint of scepticism when you read between the lines. Thus, Elliott says: “Labour has learned some lessons from the rightwing populists: identify your enemies, channel anger at a rigged system, offer painless solutions.” It seems that Elliott sees the manifesto as primarily a political rather than economic document. That, as I said at the beginning, is its biggest problem.

    Having said that, I wholly welcome the £10 living wage, employee share ownership, the renationalisation of utilities and rail. I just wish there was a stronger sense of priorities, that’s all.

  4. john stephen enderby
    16 December 2019

    Two Important Lessons

    Like everyone in the labour movement I was absolutely devastated with Thursday’s election result. Labour had produced the best manifesto since its crushing election victory of 1945, with popular policies like the nationalisation of the railway network and the out-of-control energy companies that had ripped off the general public – so what went wrong?

    Presentation
    Important policies have to be presented in a non-partisan way and in the national interest. This was clearly understood by Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, which also explains their electoral success as Labour leaders.

    Left-wing policies have to be presented with tea and biscuits, and not with idealistic rhetoric and the waving of the red flag. Socialism has to be seen as the ‘patriotic’ choice for the electorate and something which is in the sensible interest of everyone. The language and tone has to be moderate and measured with a hint of the right-of-centre to bring on-side the non-partisan voter. This is not rocket science or quantum physics, but the way sensible political discourse can, and has, led to electoral success for the Labour party in the past

    Brexit
    Like many within the Labour movement I had got it seriously wrong on the issue of Brexit and believed the Labour party should have campaigned to remain within the European Union. This was wrong.
    The electoral devastation of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats proves this beyond a point.

    Labour was clearly seen as siding with a self-serving political establishment which wanted to ignore the will of the people and frustrate the wishes of northern working class voters in the hope that this would somehow win them electoral success. This was an inversion and betrayal of the radical traditions of the Labour movement and was more than illustrated in the figure of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who now claimed the mantle of the Leveller Colonel Rainsborough in defending the democratic will of the people – on behalf of the Tory party. A cringing site for anyone with a knowledge of socialist and Labour history.

  5. Harry Barnes
    16 December 2019

    As a consequence of Labour’s collapse at the general election and the move towards electing a fresh leader, a serious yet comradely debate is needed within the Labour movement on what our future direction of travel should be – and who can best lead this. Even if this is unlikely to happen, some of us should try to push for it.

    The manifesto that we should have been fighting the general election on should now form a major part of our discussions in relation to our direction of travel.

    Apart from the section on Brexit, which arose from an unsatisfactory attempt to reconcile conflicts inside both the PLP and the wider movement, it is a very important document, although as a manifesto it should really have honed-in on what could feasibly have been delivered within the lifetime of the new parliament. Yet it was so fully directed at overcoming the controls of capitalism, that many of its proposals would have been undermined by such powers within the operations of a mere five year period.

    In shaping Labour’s old Clause 4 and planning earlier socialist programmes, Sidney Webb was so fully aware of the powers of capitalism that he stressed the need for care and gradualism. He was even depicted as walking slowly in front of a socialist steamroller holding a red flag. For when a specific expliotive power of capital is tackled, capitalism is likely to turn to fresh devices that will then need to be dealt with – and that slows up the process. We can’t just wish away the powers of capital. It requires steamroller type persistence.

    Labour’s manifesto should not be seen as something which could ever have been delivered in the life of a single parliament, but as a general direction of travel.

    The manifesto did, however, start out on a key item which needs to be a top priority (before we run out of time) – the need to tackle climate change via what it called a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. On this, the Manifesto covered the key areas of the economy and energy, transport, environment and animal welfare. It is a pity that its proposals were not given wider publicity – even by the party itself. There was even a case for the Green Party pulling out of many parliamentary contests and joining in the support of Labour candidates on this matter. The other key sections were on the need to ‘Rebuild Our Social Services’, how to ‘Tackle Poverty and Inequality’, and the need for ‘A New Internationalism’.

    But as this was a manifesto for a general election in which we were seeking to become a government for the next five years, it was not something we could democratically have hoped to deliver in that period. Yet there were few references to time restraints, apart from the reference to delivering “free full-fibre boardband by 2030”.

    There were times when the manifesto went over the top in its claims, such as the “ambitious Vision Zero approach to UK road safety, striving for zero deaths and serious injuries”. Well that is not going to happen as long as we have road transport – although actions could significantly reduce such killings and injuries.

    Then the section headed ‘Ministry for Employment Rights’ contains the need for no less than 30 full items. It is difficult to see these getting onto the statute books within a five-year period – unless we adopt a Militant-style Enabling Act.

    Yet the direction of travel (except for Brexit, which is now mainly outside of our control) is something we need to press for. Which leadership candidate will want to retain that, albeit with a sensitive form of gradualism?

  6. john stephen enderby
    17 December 2019

    I totally agree with Harry that the manifesto cannot be abandoned and must be the broad direction of travel for any future Labour government. The manifesto could have been more carefully honed, though it contains broadly popular policies which most people would have supported, if this had been a normal general election. We cannot, and must not, blame the manifesto for Labour’s crushing electoral defeat at the polls. We must look elsewhere for the reason why many people had lost confidence in our party.

    Labour has always been an inclusive, tolerant and diverse movement which has stood firm against the forces of fascism and racism through most of its history. This came into serious question when allegations emerged of widespread ant-semitism within some local branches of the party. Indeed, many felt they were no longer at home and welcomed within our once inclusive movement and had to abandon the party after many years of membership and loyal service.

    This was a killer blow for the 2019 general election. How could a movement founded over a century ago from an alliance of radical non-conformists and Jewish refugees from Russia find itself in such a position? Some deep introspection is needed, but we need to find an answer to this question if we are to move forward as a movement and regain the confidence of both the voters and our abandoned members.

  7. Harry Barnes
    19 December 2019

    For the government’s elaboration of the contents of the Queen’s Speech see here –
    https://investigatingbalcombeandcuadrilla.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/queen_s_speech_december_2019_-_background_briefing_notes.pdf

    How should Labour respond to this approach and where do the leadership contestants stand on the matter ?

  8. Jonathan Timbers
    20 December 2019

    Leadership shouldn’t be the central question for Labour; economic policy should be. Until we’ve found a credible story about how we will change unbalanced Britain, we will lose elections no matter who leads us.

    After their decisive rejection, it will be difficult in future to re-offer the proposals in this manifesto. But we should try to stay with those policies that rewire the market economy in favour of the many not the few. By that, I refer to the corporate tax changes that we proposed, and the Tobin tax, the living wage, employee share ownership and the Green New Deal. Whether those tax changes will yield as much as we said they would is not certain. This article in the FT puts forward a different case that has to be answered, if not necessarily totally accepted.
    https://www.ft.com/content/7364ee82-0c6e-11ea-bb52-34c8d9dc6d84

    We also have to address the social care crisis.

    James Meadway, the author of Labour’s economic polices, has already published an article distancing himself from the manifesto. In his view, what the leadership put forward could not have been delivered in the way they seemed to think. Nationalisations had much too high a priority; unlike 2017, financial discipline was an afterthought rather than something we talked about in advance of the manifesto. https://novaramedia.com/2019/12/17/labours-economic-plans-what-went-wrong/

    The resulting scepticism was justified, in his view. I agree with him and think we need to be much more cautious in our costings in future. Our focus should be on releasing people’s potential in a market system, where we have rewritten the rules. It should not be a litany of giveaways and a promise to nationalise this and that at the drop of a hat, for that’s how it seemed. Nationalisation is just one tool in the box; it’s only one form of social ownership.

    I have to say this because I feel angry: I think McDonnell rather than Corbyn really does carry the blame for this mess. He was right to take it all on himself after the election. It is his fault, much more than Corbyn’s.

    It reminded me why I felt I couldn’t support his leadership bid in 2007: the lack of prioritisation and of focus on robust costings, confusing a socialist programme with a string of radical ideas. I really thought he’d learnt his lesson in 2017; I was so wrong. Apparently, he ignored Meadway’s papers on implementation – can you believe that? He has helped sentence my family to at least a decade more of Tory rule. I’m furious.

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