Earlier this week, the Labour leadership released (leaked) their draft 2017 GE manifesto, to a mixed reception, but masses of coverage. It’s definitely the case that Corbynites can’t complain about the media attention the document received, something they have been arguing for since he became the party’s leader over 18 months ago. The manifesto pleased Corbyn backers, and was very radical in terms of the re-nationalisation of entities, and investment in infrastructure, and health. It included pledges to re-nationalise the railways, Royal Mail, and the energy grid, build 100,000 new homes a year, abolish tuition fees, increase health funding, and raise the minimum wage to £10 a year.
It’s fair to say the manifesto is packed full of good ideas, and many of them have received widespread support from the public. Polls since have found that 58% support re-nationalising the railways, water companies and other utilities, 61% support the increase in minimum wage, 52% support increasing the top rate of tax, 64% back abolishing zero-hour contracts, 53% want universal free school meals for primary school students, and 59% back better rent control.
Many of the ideas will also please, and appease the left wing of the party. There will be many Corbyn supporters whose pulses will be racing at the idea of public ownership of the railways, reversals of tax cuts, abolishment of university tuition fees, and big spending pledges. But they’ll be many in the party who see it as letting down the swing voters we need to have any chance of forming a government.
It’s worth remembering that general elections are most definitely not won or lost because of a manifesto, although they do go a long way to help controlling the media coverage you receive in the run up. Most voters do not cast their votes based on a party’s policies, but the strength of the party’s leader, and the credibility of the party. We saw this only two years ago. Whilst the 2015 manifesto was popular with voters, it failed to compensate for a lack of economic credibility and scepticism about leadership, and it will do again. Popular policies do not simply win elections. In 2001, the Conservatives unveiled tax cuts that was favourable with voters, but they lost heavily, and they still lost in 2005 when pushing popular immigration pledges.
Labour currently trail the Conservatives by over 18 points, a gap that a manifesto can only partially close, if received with great acclaim. In 2015 Ed Miliband refused to address voter concerns over Labour’s economic credibility after the financial crash, immigration controls, and welfare, all because it would upset party members. The Tories were seen to be delivering on all these issues, and that is still the case in the run up to this election.
Labour’s draft manifesto arguably once again fails to deliver on these key issues once again. Labour’s policy includes a hell of a lot of spending, including moving private entities back into the hands of the state. The manifesto fails to address concerns over where this money would come from; and the idea of more borrowing is not something the electorate is going to buy into. To many, it will likely be seen as reckless spending, and not a risk worth taking.
The manifesto also pledges that Labour refuse to make “false promises” on immigration. Although this is a smart move compared to the disastrous “controls” handling of 2015; Brexit showed that Britain overall wants immigration reform, and this is something that once again Labour is not addressing. A problem for Labour is that whilst the public do lean left on some issues, and find some left policies popular, they also are favourable to some pledges on the right. Most voters want to be tough on welfare, tough on immigration, and tough on security and terror.
A manifesto is also only as plausible as the leader who presents it, and as I previously mentioned, a vote is often determined by the public’s collective impression of a party and its leader. Theresa May currently leads Corbyn as the public’s preferred PM by 49% to 21%, much wider than the gap was between Cameron and Miliband. In other issues, the public also back the current government. On Brexit, the Tories lead Labour by 39% to 12%, and on the economy, they lead by 40% to 12%. The only area Labour do lead is on the NHS, but when replacing party names with leader’s names, May outpolls Corbyn once again.
Unfortunately, as a Labour member, there are many areas that the manifesto fail to address. Areas that will be crucial to the swing voters we need. As Luke Akehurst brilliantly put, “The way to judge a manifesto is not “do I like these policies?” but “will a voter in a marginal seat switch from Con to Lab because of it?”. The manifesto merely brushes over the issues of Brexit, and welfare, and fails to look at issues including increasing wealth, childcare, and security in the world’s current climate.
There are also some policies that I doubt will be as popular as many would believe. One that comes to mind is the pledge to abolish University tuition fees. As highlighted by Martin Kettle “should Labour really abolish tuition fees for the middle classes, many of whose children have gone to private schools, others of whom can well afford them?” Ben Gartside also highlights that “tuition fees are not the educational barrier they are presented to be”, and “tuition fees make up over half of many university budgets”, which will need replacing.
He makes the case that tuition fees should not be abolished, but a certain set percentage should go back into pre-school education, where the drop-off of deprived children is at its largest. Another issue is the NHS, and the funding that Labour wants to give. The UK is a growing, and ageing population, and although throwing money at the NHS is popular, it is very much the easy way out. More needs to be done to bridge the gap between health and social care, and find solutions to the long-term problems we face.
The media coverage, both visual, and social will tell you that Labour has a great week. The manifesto leak got plenty of positive coverage, and overall, the reaction from the public was also positive. It does however not change the underlying facts when it comes to elections. Manifesto’s aren’t everything. The Tories are seen to be delivering on Brexit, immigration, and jobs, and until this narrative has been changed, all efforts are pointless. This is the inconvenient truth.