Labour is not fighting an easy general election. As we all know, the polls have not been running in Labour’s favour, but they have been inaccurate before and they may be wrong again. There could still be some surprises, including a much better result for Labour than most people have been expecting.
The election manifesto unveiled by Jeremy Corbyn on 16th May 2017 looks well-designed to shore up Labour’s core vote. Even if a Labour majority realistically may be out of reach, the outcome may be a considerably stronger Labour opposition in the next Parliament than most of the media seem to think is likely to materialise.
This is because the Labour manifesto dares to promise to spend very large sums of money on policies which poll evidence suggests are likely to be popular with the substantial slice of the electorate which is tired of seeing the country run much more in the interests of the already well off than ordinary people. Resentment is running high that the wealthy seem to go on getting wealthier at a time when many people have had no real wage increases for a decade.
No wonder that scrapping tuition fees, a £10 minimum wage, pouring money into schools, the NHS, child and social care, renationalising the railways, and taxing companies who pay their chief executives absurdly large sums of money, go down well with people who have suffered from poor privately provided services and stagnant incomes, It also makes sense to the vast majority of people to reverse the near-freeze on public sector housebuilding and other sorts of infrastructure investment, which has been one of the most baneful legacies of the Thatcher era. These policies represent a real attempt to change the way society is run, benefiting those on low and middling incomes at the expense of those who are much better off.
Where the shoe always pinches with programmes such as this is on how they would be paid for and whether they would have a negative impact on the economy as a whole, undermining anyone’s ability to carry them out. The Labour manifesto makes a brave effort to explain where the funding will be found. It will come from a combination of higher corporation tax, income tax on high earners clamping down on tax evasion, reversing capital gains tax reductions and a range of smaller tax changes.
These may not be popular policies for those currently doing well out of the economy but it is not clear that any of them are unfeasible, even though some of them may not produce as much money as their proponents hope they will do. And the economy would have to go on growing to make the sums add up. So there are risks -- but ones which quite a lot of people would be prepared to take.
It is true that policies along the lines Labour is now proposing would take us back to conditions closer to the post-War period than those we have experienced since the Thatcher government, but many people may not see this as such a bad thing. It is worth remembering that, in the 1950s and 1960s, the UK had a much higher economic growth rate than it has now, unemployment was much lower, jobs were more secure, and the proportion of the national income going to wages and salaries instead of unearned income was much higher than it is currently. Quite a lot of people would not mind seeing these conditions returning.
So how will Labour do on 8th June 2017? We shall see. The policies in the manifesto may not win the current election but they will certainly keep a solid block of voters supporting Labour, providing a powerful block of votes in the next Parliament. If the Tories win, the country will urgently need a strong Labour opposition to hold the government to account. It will also keep Labour representation in place on a sufficient scale for the Party to regroup to fight another day.
By John Mills,
Originally published in the Camden New Journal on 18 May 2017