Labour’s 1983 manifesto is widely known as the longest suicide note in history. Its 2015 manifesto is the longest till receipt in history. It is costed and , ordered and itemised, and will electrify anyone who is aroused by the high wild cry of
Labour has allowed the Conservatives to frame its politics. Frames are the mental structures through which we perceive the world. The dominant Tory frame, constructed and polished across seven years by its skilled cabinet makers, is that the all-important issue is the deficit. The crisis, it claims, was caused not by the
In reality, the deficit should rank somewhere in the low hundreds on the list of political priorities. It’s a con; an excuse for redrafting the social contract on behalf of the elite. But Labour has meekly acquiesced to this agenda, only the extent of its
Its promise to cut the deficit every year commits it indefinitely to the Conservative programme, with differences of degree rather than direction. This means cuts. Balancing the books, the manifesto says “will need common sense spending reductions”. There’s another Tory frame; the “common sense” that has seen benefit claimants driven to suicide. Whose common sense insists on eradicating the deficit, rather than sustaining public services?
Even the two protected services will decline under Labour austerity. It promises an extra £2.5bn for the NHS, but maintaining standards of care is likely to require about £30bn by 2020. Holding the education budget steady means a 7% reduction in funding per child, as the number of pupils will rise. Elsewhere, the pointless cruelties continue: for example, Labour proposes to keep and possibly tighten the coalition’s household benefits cap, which breaks up lives while saving almost nothing.
Think what Labour could do, if it chose, to revitalise public services. A 0.01% transaction tax would raise £25bn a year. Replacing the mossy and regressive council tax with land value taxation would transfer many billions from the rentier class, as would matching the rate of capital gains tax to the top rate of income tax. Yet the party’s manifesto proposes none of this; boasting instead that “Britain will continue to have the most rate of corporation tax in the G7″.
Why not address the scandalous banding of
There is some good in its manifesto: Raising the minimum wage; banning zero-hours contracts; repealing the health and social care act and ending the bedroom tax; restoring Sure Start centres; reducing the voting age to 16; extending the freedom of information act to privatised public services – these are progressive measures. But the manifesto is more remarkable for what it does not contain.
Here are just a few of its howling silences: reforming our unfair electoral system; drafting a written constitution; new controls on
The dysfunctional housing is addressed by no significant structural reforms.
How does Labour expect to attract the poor, the young and the disenfranchised, whose votes, if they were mobilised, would guarantee power for a progressive party? How does it propose, while trapped within Tory framing like a bee behind a window, to ignite a passionate re-engagement of the kind we have seen in Scotland? Its appeal is negative: we are neither the Tories nor the party the Tories say we are.
For inspiration, progressive voters must look elsewhere. Yes, the other parties have their flaws. While Labour appears to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, the Greens have the opposite problem. But hiding behind their tongue-tied leader are dozens of inspiring and transformative ideas that have far greater potential to inflame public passions than Labour’s dismal . The same can be said of both Plaid Cymru and the SNP.
I understand the danger of letting the Conservatives and their gleeful cruelties back in. I accept the argument for supporting Labour in the 16 constituencies in which a strong Green swing could hand the seat to the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. These are Brighton Kemptown, Cambridge, City of Chester; Ealing Central and Acton; Halesowen and Rowley Regis; Hornsey and Wood Green; Hove; Morecambe and Lunesdale; Plymouth Sutton and Devonport; Pudsey; Sheffield Hallam; South Swindon; Southampton Itchen; Watford; Wirral West and Worcester. But if you live anywhere else, you can vote – without fear of punishment by our ridiculous electoral system – for the party that inspires you.
Why does Labour refuse to be that party? In a country crying out for transformation, for something better and bigger and more engaging than just efficient book-keeping, it could both power and regain its soul. It appears determined to do neither.
This article first appeared in the Guardian on 14 April 2015.
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