After a slow start, the General Election is now in full flow, complete with all the things we associate with campaign season: debates, impassioned speeches, and of course, manifestos.
Yesterday the Labour Party released their manifesto, and even by the standards we have come to expect from Corbyn, this really is an extraordinarily radical document. People often discuss Labour in terms of old and new. We had Blair and Brown, who were New Labour, and now we have Corbyn, who has returned to Old Labour. But to do that over simplifies the Corbyn era as if his proposals are just a reversion to the norm for the Party pre-1997. In reality, even the famous Michael Foot manifesto of 1983 – the so called ‘longest suicide note in history’ – pales in comparison to this 2019 edition, which is one of the most radical, and possibly the most costly, manifesto ever produced by a major party.
The manifesto includes a mass renationalisation programme, including of rail, water, energy, mail, broadband, and a range of services that have been outsourced locally. Government spending would skyrocket, with huge pledges on a green transformation fund, housebuilding, public sector pay rises across the board, and a National Care Service for social care to name but a few. This would be paid for by tax hikes for the wealthy, although as the IFS have already stated, this is unrealistic to put it lightly.
Having said all of this, radical does not necessarily mean unelectable. Perhaps it used to, but for the modern voter, extremes are in fashion. Since 2016, there has been a clear and decisive shift away from moderation, and as the 2017 election manifesto showed, Corbynism has a clear draw. In addition, this manifesto is a springboard for Labour to get the debate away from Brexit and onto the topics they want to talk about, like how society is run and public versus private ownership of services. Corbyn’s biggest drawback with voters is his dithering on Brexit. Nationalisation policies are not unpopular.
So on the whole, despite releasing a manifesto that is receiving heavy criticism from economic experts and media commentators, this may have not been a bad week for Labour. Corbyn held his own in the debate on Tuesday, with opinion on the winner split down the middle despite Johnson going into the debate as the favoured candidate. Corbyn isn’t a bad debater, as the internal Labour elections showed when he became Leader, and he succeeded again in getting the discussion away from Brexit and onto wider societal issues, onto ‘the elites vs the workers’, ‘billionaires vs ordinary folk’, ‘them vs you’.
If Labour lose on December 12th it will likely be because of Brexit dithering and a lack of unity and agreed direction in the Labour Party as a whole. The hard left radicalism and class warfare will alienate some but energise others, and focusing attention on that is Labour’s only real hope at finding a path to victory.