Labour has unveiled a multibillion-pound industrial strategy to create a million new jobs, just as official data shows the country slipping into a Brexit slump.
Vowing to end “deindustrialisation”, the party is pledging to pump investment into key sectors to fire the UK’s economy which is now the slowest growing among advanced nations.
The key initiative would also bid to ensure wealth and opportunity is spread across the country, amid official statistics revealing the UK to have the highest levels of regional inequality in Europe.
Writing exclusively for The Independent, Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow Business Secretary, promised a Labour government would “unleash the untapped potential of every part of the country”.
But the strategy also marks the start of an emboldened Labour’s approach to tackling Theresa May on Brexit, which the Prime Minister considers her strongest ground in the election.
In a day of personal attacks, Mr Corbyn questioned the honesty of Ms May’s Brexit team – David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox – while the Tory leader accused Mr Corbyn of being incompetent and unpatriotic.
As Labour was boosted by a string of positive polls, Brussels signalled it was willing to postpone the start of the withdrawal negotiations if Mr Corbyn wins the election and needs more time to prepare.
Explaining the new industrial strategy in The Independent, Ms Long-Bailey said it was part of “concrete policies to rewrite the rules in favour of the majority of people in Britain”.
Where the Conservatives had failed to give industries, businesses and workers the support they needed, Labour would set up a National Transformation Fund and network of Regional Development Banks, she said.
They would provide “the engine Britain’s economy needs to drive investment in the infrastructure and green and cutting-edge industries of the future – creating jobs, developing skills and providing support for small and medium businesses”.
Crucially, the transformation fund was expected to create most jobs in the North-east, North-west and Yorkshire – rather than London and the South-east.
Ms Long-Bailey wrote: “The choice before voters runs deeper than how much each party will spend on the NHS, or whether or not primary school children will get free school meals – as important as these are.
“Across the western world, the political and economic settlement of the past forty years is crumbling.
“For years, policymakers believed that Britain could sustain an economy on the back of growth in the financial sector and the South-east, relying on the welfare state to redistribute to areas of the country that were left out of this growth.”
Ms Long-Bailey added: “Labour’s vision couldn’t be more different. We are clear that there is no way out of this failed economic model without a government that is prepared to intervene in the economy and to put power in the hands of people and their local communities.”
Labour believes it can create the new jobs by growing supply chains (100,000), increasing research and development (130,000), moving to a low carbon economy (380,000), housebuilding (257,000) and investment in transport, education and digital infrastructure (197,000).
On the campaign trail in Essex, Mr Corbyn accused the Prime Minister’s three-strong Brexit team of having “fibbed” over the impact of Brexit.
And he sought to contrast their record with that of Labour’s negotiating team, led by shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who had the “skills and experience to get the best for Britain”.
“We know the three Tories in whose hands Theresa May has placed our national future – David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox,” Mr Corbyn said.
“Now I don’t do personal attacks, so let me just say that in Labour’s Brexit team, there is no one who has fibbed to the British people about spending an extra £350m a week on the NHS because of Brexit, and nobody who has promised to use Brexit to slash workers’ rights, or slash tax for big corporations in a continental race to the bottom, or peddled illusions about the difficulties ahead.”
The Prime Minister spent a second day trying to focus the election back on the UK’s EU withdrawal, after the furore around the “dementia tax” and criticism of her refusal take part in TV debates blew her campaign off course.
Speaking in the North-east and referring to Mr Corbyn, Ms May said: “What we know in this election is that the only other person that can be Prime Minister in seven days’ time is simply not up to the job.
“He doesn’t believe in Britain. He doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t have what it takes.”
The clashes took place against the backdrop of confirmation that the UK is now the worst-performing advanced economy in the world – a year after flying high, before the Brexit vote.
Canada expanded by 0.9 per cent in the first three months of the year – the last of the G7 countries to report growth figures – putting Britain at the bottom of the group’s table.
In the UK, growth slumped to just 0.2 per cent in the January-March period, also behind Germany (0.6 per cent), Japan (0.5 per cent) France (0.4 per cent) and the US (0.3 per cent) and equal with Italy (0.2 per cent).
Meanwhile, a poll by YouGov for Queen Mary University of London for the first time showed more voters in the capital say they think Labour’s leader would make a better Prime Minister than Ms May.
Some 37 per cent picked Mr Corbyn and 34 per cent Ms May, when asked who would be best to lead the country. A survey taken after manifesto launches last month had the Conservative leader ahead by 38 to 32.
Overall Labour surged to a 17-point lead in the capital, reaching 50 per cent, up from 41 per cent a month ago. In the same poll the Tories were on 33 per cent, down from 36 last month. In March the parties were just three points apart.
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