Next in our #GeneralElections19 series – Rory takes a look at the newly published Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos…
‘Radical’. The term has been applied with glee by both supporters and detractors of Labour’s manifesto, launched last Thursday at Birmingham University. The headlines and subsequent discussion of the proposals by the commentariat have been dominated by questions of tax and spend, investment and borrowing – how do Labour propose to pay for an estimated £83bn increase in day-to-day government spending and £114bn in capital investment?
Whilst this is important (and the party has published a costings document to accompany the manifesto, Funding Real Change), the obsession with cost risks missing just how revolutionary this Labour government could be for the UK.
This is the manifesto that Jeremy Corbyn dreamed of delivering when first elected as Labour Leader in 2015.
Nationalisations of mail, rail, energy and broadband; a National Care Service; a ‘green industrial revolution’ with a net zero target for carbon emissions by the 2030s; a second referendum on EU membership; 1 million new homes and 100,000 council houses a year. Any of these could have been flagship policies for a previous Labour manifesto, but put together they leave no doubt that life would feel very different under a Corbyn government.
It is an old adage of British politics that elections are won in the centre ground. Fresh from their shock election victory in 2015, the then Chancellor George Osborne repeated his political motto: “in politics, in opposition, the pressure is always to move to the centre; when you’re in government you can move the centre”.
But look at the shift the Conservatives have made in response to the popularity of Labour policies on spending and ripping up their own fiscal rulebook; cuts in national insurance tax, proposed cuts to corporation tax scrapped, and matching Labour brick-for-brick on housing, promising to build 1 million new homes. Without a doubt, the referendum has changed everything, and the direction of political gravity has been lost as a government prerogative.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies has questioned the ability of a Labour government to raise the money for Labour’s legislative agenda. Commenting on the party’s manifesto last week, Paul Johnson, the Director of the IFS said:
“The Labour manifesto suggests they want to raise £80bn of tax revenue, and they suggest that all of that will come from companies and people earning over £80,000 a year. That is simply not credible. We cannot raise that kind of money in our tax system without affecting individuals.”
By recent standards in British politics, the spending proposed is radical. But compared to other countries in Europe, a Labour government would still be spending less as a share of GDP than the likes of Sweden and France, and only marginally more than Germany. Whilst Labour’s manifesto is a break from the recent past, it can be viewed more simply as a standard social democratic model.
There is no doubt however that the task of the Labour Party to make the counter argument is a big one, even with policies that find broad popularity amongst the electorate. The Conservatives will attack the cost of their manifesto alongside Jeremy Corbyn, safe in the knowledge that they lead Labour in polling on both economic competence and leadership.
But in a political climate when trust seems to have fallen out of our discourse, and after the prevailing wisdom failed to convince most in 2016, who is to say the electorate won’t take another big gamble?
‘The Lib Dem pivot’
Jo Swinson began the election campaign resolutely presenting herself as a candidate to be the next prime minister. A squeeze in the polls as a small number of Remain voters return to Labour has seen the messaging switch to one of Lib Dem MPs being the means to stopping a Conservative majority.
The big policy the party set its manifesto around was repealing Article 50, but this was contingent on achieving a majority. The pivot means they are now briefing they would abstain on a Queen’s Speech that delivered a second referendum on EU membership. They are also notably the only one of the main parties to outline tough self-imposed rules on borrowing and tax rises which are in contrast to Labour and the Conservatives.
Other central policies included a penny on income tax to fund the NHS and a vote-winner for the middle aged in 35 hours of free healthcare for 48 weeks a year. Plans to legalise cannabis and bring in £1.5bn a year is reheated from 2017.