The leak of the entire draft Labour manifesto is going to make today’s joint meeting of the shadow Cabinet and the National Executive Committee even more fraught than it would have been anyway. Blame and suspicion will be in the air – even though, with a meeting of 80 people, it was never going to be possible to keep the manifesto secret until next week’s formal launch.
The leak itself hasn’t done the party any harm, unless you take the view that publishing the party’s policies is damaging and that the manifesto should have been kept secret until 9 June.
The question at today’s meeting is whether the internal opposition to Jeremy Corbyn tries to change any of the policies that have now been advertised. My understanding was that Tom Watson, as deputy leader and leader of the internal opposition, takes the view that, as long as the policy on Trident is protected, the leader should be allowed to decide the programme. The leaked draft confirms that “Labour supports the renewal of the Trident submarine system”, so that is probably enough. It doesn’t say anything about Nato, except that “the last Labour government consistently spent above the Nato benchmark of 2 per cent of GDP on defence”. But that means that Labour isn’t committed to pulling out of Nato so that, too, may be enough for Watson.
For the rest, the leaked document can be summed up as: “Forwards to a better Milibandism and refighting the last war.” This is the programme Ed Miliband wanted to stand on, but Ed Balls told him he couldn’t. Paradoxically, it is not a very Corbynite programme. It doesn’t do much to abolish capitalism. But John McDonnell has probably told Corbyn it’s a step in the right direction.
For people who already support the Labour Party, currently about 30 per cent of those intending to vote, most of it is authentic left-wing stuff, done with a bit of conviction, unlike the timid hedging of the previous leader. It is not actually proposing to nationalise anything, except the Royal Mail. Rail franchises would be taken back into public ownership as they expire, which was Miliband’s policy, new state energy companies would be created to compete with the existing ones, and the National Grid, already regulated by the government, would come under government “control”. That is because, at £40bn, it would be expensive to buy out the shareholders and not even McDonnell is ready for confiscation yet. At least the Royal Mail would cost only £4bn to buy back.
Individually, most of the policies are popular not just with Labour supporters but with the wider electorate. The question that the Conservatives will latch onto, though, is how to pay for it all. McDonnell’s answer is to put up corporation tax, which raises vast sums, but everyone knows the money has to come from people in the end: the customers, employees and shareholders of the companies that pay the tax.
And there are two other weak points in the manifesto. One is a sentence on Brexit that, in the draft, has a word missing: “We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable and negotiate transitional arrangements to avoid a cliff-edge for the UK economy.” I assume that should be “viable option”, but it explains why Corbyn on Tuesday refused seven times to say that Britain would definitely leave the European Union under a Labour government. If you refuse to leave the EU unless a deal is agreed the implication is that, in that case, you would at least try to stay in – raising again the tricky question of whether Article 50 is reversible. This is not a position that can survive a four-week election campaign.
The other weak point is immigration. Most of the draft is unspecific: “Labour believes in fair rules and reasonable management of migration.” But it says that Labour would replace the “income thresholds for family attachments” with a more general “obligation to survive without recourse to public funds”. Given that the Brexit vote was, in part, a vote for lower immigration, this is likely to go down badly with some traditional Labour voters, and with some of the floating voters that the party needs.
For close watchers of the election, the leak of the manifesto looks like Labour infighting and disunity. I doubt, though, that it was leaked for a factional purpose. The truth is that the party’s divisions do make discipline harder, and it was leaked simply because it was circulated to too many people. The contrast with Theresa May’s close and leak-free operation is instructive. As is the difference with the New Labour years, when numbered copies of the draft were handed out at the start of a (smaller) manifesto meeting and then collected up at the end.
For most voters, though, it doesn’t matter how the manifesto was published. It matters what is in it. Now we know and now we can decide what we think of it.Reuse content