November 26, 2019 by Paul Goldsmith
I’ve read the Manifestos so you don’t have to. Kudos to the Labour party, who have been completely honest about their intentions to change the country. Should they win a majority they will have a mandate to fundamentally transform the country. But their chances of winning a majority are so low that the manifesto simply won’t be delivered.
It is a classic Corbyn manifesto, in which he is promising to solve bad thing X by doing questionable thing Y, getting the rich to pay for it. It promises a lot of people goods and services and rights without asking them to take any more responsibility or have any further obligations, telling them that others, or the State, will do that for them. It’s no surprise this kind of thing is popular, but I would say the individual policies are popular whilst the whole manifesto package may just be too unrealistic in terms of delivery to get Corbyn anywhere near the line at the election.
The truth is that a lot of X does need to be solved. For instance, as Corbyn explained very well on Friday’s Question Time, businesses aren’t going to locate in Cumbria or Cornwall if they can’t be guaranteed reliable broadband. Should that be solved, by Corbyn’s policy of nationalising Openreach then providing free full-fibre broadband by 2030, more businesses will locate in these places, generating jobs there, generating tax income (and reducing benefits) allowing for the policy to pay for itself and probably other priorities.
But other Xs do not necessarily need to be solved. Corbyn wants to end what he calls privatisation of the NHS. There has been none, but what he means is the use of private companies to perform routine operations, which has been used for over 20 years to reduce waiting lists, and which has been rated by the King’s Fund (the independent health think tank) as improving outcomes and efficiency in the NHS. The idea that this can be done without increasing waiting times (it is reckoned 42 new hospital trusts would have to be built to stop this happening) is just pie in the sky.
Unlike the Conservatives, who are claiming no tax needs to be raised at all to meet their (much more modest) spending pledges, Labour are quite open about the need for tax revenue to fund their plans (29 times greater rise in public spending than their opponents). The top 5% of earners will pay a ‘little bit more tax’. This has been done by moving down the tax bands, so any income over £80k is taxed at 45% and anything over £125k at 50%, and corporation tax is raised to 26%. This, compared to many countries in Europe, are not punitive tax rates. Corbyn also promises to make the major multinational corporations like Amazon and Google pay tax on sales.
However, Paul Johnson of independence economic think tank the Institute of Fiscal Studies, doesn’t reckon it is possible to raise the tax revenue required from just the top 5% of income earners, and feels that the tax burden will need to be shared more. Furthermore, major multinational corporations’ accounting and financial income is footloose, as, frankly, is much of the income of the highest earners in this country. So there would also need to be some kind of metaphorical ‘iron curtain’ coming down around their income. I am aware of the connotations of that, but it is likely to be true.
The truth is, the reason this manifesto is so honest and refreshing in a way is the ideological coherence of it. Corbyn and John McDonnell simply believe the State is better at providing health, education and utilities than anyone else, so they should provide it, whatever the consequences. Those consequences could include increased cost, lower quality of services and a levelling down that hurts everyone. But that might not happen, we don’t know. Which is the point.
Scrapping universal credit and stopping pension age rises sounds good too, but are they actually going to do anything to address the problems that required them to happen. Labour do not explain how they are going to resolve the problem of having to claim so many individual benefits that universal credit clumsily tried to solve. Labour aren’t going to turn back time, so the UK population is getting older, so saying that the pension age rises won’t happen doesn’t explain how Labour is going to address how we pay for those getting older.
Meanwhile, there are some straight worrying promises. Corbyn is a big fan of the Trade Unions, after all he studied them for one year at North London Polytechnic in 1970. When Corbyn says that he will end ‘unnecessary regulations on trade unions’, does he mean restrictions on secondary striking, that used to give teachers the right to walk out in support of mineworkers? When he says that Unions will be able to vote on technology changes, is he effectively saying that they will have a veto on the very changes in technology (ones that might save labour costs, and possibly even enable a four day week on the same pay) that are behind some of his manifesto.
The other worrying promise is the setting up of ‘Inclusive ownership funds’ – 10% of the shares of large companies going to workers. Sounds good, until you realise it is effectively confiscating 10% of a company’s shares with no compensation. That should not be possible in a functioning democracy.
All that said, I want to end on a positive note. The section on their ideas for a Green New Deal is comprehensive, cohesive and really rather exciting. They have actually thought through how it might work in a way that makes meeting their net zero carbon by 2030 seem possible. It will take a lot of investment, but that investment should pay for itself with tax revenue and the environmental benefits. There are some stark promises -including delisting companies from the London Stock Exchange if they do not ‘contribute to tackling the climate and environmental emergency’, but this is an area of their manifesto (or bits of it) that might actually be delivered by other parties as it happens to be extremely well thought through.
P.S. I realise that as a Private school teacher you may want me to comment on that part of their manifesto. However, realising that much of what they want to do on Private schools is only possible outside the EU. For instance, VAT on education isn’t allowed because it is a ‘socially useful’ service. So Labour have massively fudged their Private School policy – saying that ‘We will close the tax loopholes enjoyed by elite private schools and use that money to improve the lives of all children, and we will ask the Social Justice Commission to advise on integrating private schools and creating a comprehensive education system.’ The first is unlikely to happen due to legal challenges and the vagueness of the word ‘elite’ and the second is an ‘inquiry’ that will likely not produce much that is tangible. In the end, private schools is probably a ‘second term’ issue for Labour.