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

The Labour Party is trapped by its ambiguous record in office

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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little