Leading article: A less than convincing manifesto for a fourth term

The Labour Party is trapped by its ambiguous record in office

Share
Related Topics

If Labour's election manifesto, unveiled by Gordon Brown yesterday in a newly-built Birmingham hospital, has a central theme it is "reform" (mentioned more than 70 times in the document). This is less than convincing – and not only because the banner of reform always looks more attractive to politicians when public money is tight. The proposals in Labour's manifesto are rather vague and too late in the day to be very credible.

The party proposes making every hospital a foundation trust, sacking underperforming chief constables and subjecting school leaderships to parental ballots. Health, education and the police all certainly need major reform, but Labour fails to define what would trigger their school ballots, or the ejection of chief constables. In the absence of detail it is hard to avoid the suspicion that this is mere tokenism.

In his foreword to the document, Gordon Brown claims he rejected a "business as usual" approach for this manifesto. But there is marked continuity in several areas, not least in the powerful role of the centralised state. The guarantee that patients will receive results of their cancer tests within one week shows that the target culture is still beating in the Labour leadership's breast. And the promise of a £4-a-week "Toddler Tax Credit" shows that Mr Brown is sticking resolutely to the principles of fiscal redistribution.

We also saw some of Labour's familiar cynical grandstanding in the promise that migrant workers in the public sector will be subject to English language tests. This is rather rich coming from a party that attempted to cut funding for English language tuition for new arrivals.

On tax, the pledges were mostly negative, with promises to freeze income tax and retain the VAT exemption on certain goods. And on the spending side there was silence. In common with Labour's budget last month, the manifesto had nothing to say about where the pain of scheduled spending cuts will be felt, despite the reality that these fiscal choices are likely to be the biggest single influence on the lives of most people over the coming Parliament.

"A future fair for all" is Labour's slogan for this election. But in the absence of substantive detail in so many areas, voters will have to weigh the credibility of that promise on the basis of Labour's record. And that history is ambiguous. The party certainly has a strong story to tell over the sound manner in which it responded to the global economic crisis. And the manifesto is strongest when it builds on positive aspects of Labour's legacy such as the promise to bolster the minimum wage. The intellectual thrust of the manifesto – that government should be more prepared to intervene in the economy when necessary – is welcome too, showing that Labour has learned from the colossal market failure of 2008 the valuable lesson that the state is not always the problem.

But Labour also has a history of broken manifesto pledges, from the promise of a referendum on proportional representation in 1997, to ruling out an income tax rise in 2005. And then there is the unavoidable fact that Labour has been in office for 13 years. If all these reforms are so pressing, especially on constitutional reform, why has Labour not already enacted them? As a pitch for a mandate to shape Britain's political future, Labour's manifesto is less impressive than it needs to be. Tomorrow we will examine the proposals of the Conservatives to take the nation forward.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

£33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'