Labour’s Manifesto

Or Labour’s Santa vs. The Tory Scrooge according to Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian. He  thinks Labour largesse will be rejected despite the popularity of the party’s proposals because people still believe Labour crashed the economy in 2008. You might trust a doctor who tells you a glass of red wine is good for you, but reject the same advice from an alcoholic. There is some uncomfortable truth in this but it only reinforces the very austerity trap that Labour is trying to avoid. It is the ultimate catch-22: you only demonstrate virtue in this conversation by cutting everything to ribbons in order to rebuild it.

There is a way out but Labour hasn’t found it. Instead of fiscal responsibility rules and pledges to balance current expenditure and only borrowing to invest, all copied from the Gordon Brown play book, Labour would have to show that the economy is dangerously dysfunctional and must be radically reformed. The first target should be the financial institutions and practices that brought economic ruin, then a radical critique of private sector responsibility for low productivity and lack of investment across industry and services. Instead of trying to restore and repair there should be radical restructuring proposals to address the imbalances between sectors and regions.

But there is nothing like this, nothing even remotely radical. Labour will have a ‘firm ring fence’ between retail and investment banking, not their separation; there is nothing about the financial practices that crashed the economy, but Labour will stop banks closing local branches where people need them! There will be a much needed £250bn for renewing infrastructure and a further £250bn mobilised by a National Investment Bank that will bring in private capital to fill existing gaps in lending by … private banks! Other than additional investment the industrial strategy amounts to encouraging  strategic industries to replicate the model of an Automotive Council staffed almost entirely by CEOs and senior executives. Nothing remotely radical or strategic .

This really is old-fashioned, soft-left, tax-and-spend socialism. Even the proposals on public ownership are driven by the interests of consumers in lower prices. It is also, of course, humane, generous, well-intentioned, and infinitely preferable to the calculated meanness of the Conservatives and I will certainly vote for it. At some other time and place it might even have attracted a good deal more public support than it is likely to get as May rallies the nation against those Europeans. But when the bloodletting begins in the Labour Party after 8th June, the left should not waste any time defending the Manifesto. And if it defends Corbyn, who really does represent the left in the Labour Party, it will have to examine its own politics as well as his.

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