By Ian Richardson
The radical policies outlined in Labour’s manifesto have galvanised wide layers of the Labour Party membership in the fight to defeat the Tories. Beyond committed Labour activists, the broad mass of voters do not care whether the manifesto is labelled too radical by its critics and are only interested in whether policies are likely to benefit them. The manifesto is replete with proposals that will do that.
Prior to the manifesto being made public, policies such as the £10 per hour minimum wage, the ‘triple lock’ to defend retirement pensions and free school meals had already begun to energise the Labour party base, including the centre and the left. The manifesto is much more wide-ranging in its scope. In effect it is a policy of trying to mount a broad defence of the interests of the majority after seven years of austerity. It is the opposite of the stepped up offensive, to drive wages down and profits up, that that Tories are threatening.
Labour’s manifesto pledges no tax increases on the bottom 95 per cent of incomes, in addition to a series of measures to boost wages. Unlike the Tories, who will return to increasing National Insurance Contributions on some of the lowest-paid, Labour intends to fund a wide array of improvements in public spending by reversing the Tory tax giveaways to the rich including their cuts to Corporation Tax.
Policies such as renationalising the railways and the Royal Mail, abolishing tuition fees, capping private sector rents and building new homes, free childcare and a ban on fracking are hugely popular among Labour members as well as appeal to wider sections of society. The result is a palpably renewed energy in Labour circles and among many trade unionists.
The manifesto also deals with some difficult issues skilfully. The Trident nuclear weapons system is a colossal waste of money, yet is popularly misunderstood as a defensive weapon. But it will never be used, unlike the armed forces which are murderously used to pursue actual wars in defence of British and US imperialism. It is more important to oppose actual wars, as Corbyn does, than to go down to defeat defending the principle of opposition to unusable nuclear weapons.
It is important too to register what is not in the manifesto, especially on the question of immigration. The 2015 Labour campaign was disfigured by a pledge to cut immigration, along with the vile immigration mugs. This time around, there are warm words about the positive impact of immigration, and a pledge not to demonise them or use them as scapegoats, while increasing investment in areas where pressures on housing or public services arise. There is no concession to racism.
Reflecting the popularity of these policies, some commentators, including Polly Toynbee and the Daily Mirror have welcomed the policies while still insisting that Corbyn must go. This is nonsense as anyone with the slightest knowledge of the politics of the Labour right knows that such radical policies could only have come with a left leadership.
Corbyn’s opponents would never have adopted these policies. His initial surge of support in the 2015 Labour leadership contest was spurred by his opponents’ support for cuts to tax credits, which is precisely a measure to make the lowest paid workers pay for the crisis. The Corbyn leadership is decisive in Labour adopting any progressive policies in the current period.
The manifesto’s appeal is to the interests of all workers, including better paid workers not just those on average wages and below. This is important. It is not possible for Labour to win, or even gain substantial numbers of votes, purely on the basis of policies that benefit the poor. Nor could it win by proposing increased taxes on all those on above average incomes, to benefit the less well-off. This latter approach has been pursued by the leadership of Scottish Labour in the recent period and contributed to Labour slumping to third place in vote share at the 4 May Scottish local elections, behind both the Tories and the SNP.
On Brexit the manifesto says, ‘We will scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union – which are essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain. Labour will always put jobs and the economy first’.
This is the decisive issue affecting living standards over the next period. It should really be the starting-point for the entire manifesto, as the damage from leaving the Single Market will massively outweigh all progressive policies, as the sharp fall in real wages shows. But this is an important commitment. The Tories intend to use Brexit to mount an increased austerity offensive. This Labour leadership clearly intends to defend living standards. A clear opposition to Brexit and leaving the Single Market is necessary, otherwise it is trying to fight a huge attack with one hand tied behind its back.
For now, the manifesto can breathe new fire into the Labour campaign and will stand in sharp contrast to the Tory offer. The entire labour movement, all progressive and all socialists should get behind the Labour leadership in this fight.
All out for a Labour victory! Vote Labour on 8 June! Defend the Corbyn leadership!