May 17, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
I have to admit to developing a bit of a crush on Labour’s manifesto. It is bold and it offers a real choice for the electorate. It is in fact exactly what I hoped would happen when Jeremy Corbyn was running for Labour Leader. I don’t like all the policies, and will probably tear a few apart over the coming weeks, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what he and his team are trying to do here, which is fundamentally change the country.
Don’t listen to the critics who dismiss it as ‘Back to the 70s’ or the ‘Second longest suicide note in history’. The latter phrase came from the words of a Labour MP on their 1983 manifesto, which led to a crushing defeat by Margaret Thatcher’s Tories and relegation almost to third place behind what was then the Liberal/SDP ‘Alliance.
The 1970s saw every politician, Conservative and Labour, flailing around trying to control external forces beyond their control and internal forces out of control. That is not the case now. The 1983 manifesto included commitments to re-nationalise privatised companies as well as invest in private companies, and even take control of them – as opposed to the vital utilities this 2017 one is targeting, withdrawal from the EU without a referendum, reintroduction of price controls and exchange controls (stopping money leaving the country).
Instead, read through it and you will see a remarkably coherent plan which combines three interlinked arguments: That austerity inhibits growth, that the better-off and companies should pay more to fund public services, and that some industries need more government intervention to ensure they work in the interests of consumers and the wider economy. Again, lazy commentators or ones with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo will tell you this is all far-left dogma, but most mainstream Northern European social democratic parties (what we would call centre-left) believe the same things as in this manifesto.
Fairer judgement might be that the manifesto seems to focus most on banning things, making things compulsory and providing them for free, which some might feel is overbearing government intervention. Others might fear a rather cavalier approach to spending money (which everyone likes) with a far more circumspect approach to raising money (there is a difference between ‘fully costed’ and realistic).
But both those judgement can be met by the overall vision of the manifesto, which is the country has been managed wrongly for too long, that its economic and political model benefits the privileged few, not the many, and that investment leads to growth which leads in the end to whatever is borrowed being paid back.
Perhaps the best comparison will be with the Conservative manifesto. Are the Conservatives making a positive case for the status quo? Are the Conservatives making a positive case for the benefits of continuing to allow the free market to dominate our economic model? Are the Conservatives making a positive case for the contracting out to the private sector of some of our public services? Are the Conservatives making a positive case for austerity as a whole? I don’t think they are, and I don’t think they can.
Which is why, presented by a different leader, and in a different context (when Brexit doesn’t dominate), the Labour manifesto would have a lot going for it.