Gerald Kaufman’s gibe that the 1983 Labour manifesto was “the longest suicide note in history” does not have quite the same ring to it following the discrepancy of a second farewell in 2017. Bennism is just so nice that they had to kill it twice. In 2017, Labour looks likely to pledge massive state expenditure and substantial re-nationalisations.
The original suicide note had promised to unilaterally cancel the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, abolish the House of Lords, and exit the European Economic Community. It is altogether more slippery this time around. The masses have decided for themselves that they are leaving the EU and Labour is so far mutely following. Labour “will seek to end the hereditary principle and reduce the size of the current House of Lords.” Labour will pay for nuclear weapons that Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to ever using, committing to a bill of billions in order to dissuade warmongering nonentities from resigning from his shadow cabinet. It could well cost over a billion pounds per nonentity.
It is farcical though and probably one of the most enjoyable mornings in non-Brexit related politics for years:
Andrew Gwynne:… all our costings will be clear when we launch the manifesto…
John Humphrys: It’s been done for you, this is the manifesto!
I nonetheless agree very strongly with Gwynne, Labour’s co elections coordinator, that we should “have some ambition in politics.” Indeed, we have had enough meekness from the Left since 1983 to atone for the Russian Revolution several times over. The manifesto heaves into view as a gigantic starting-point. It is a luxury to be contemplating transformational spending decisions rather than trying to reduce the vast feast of politics to one tiny, suckable, strong-and-stable soundbite.
This manifesto should be (as the 1983 one was) sold as a gambit or a leap-into-the-dark. It should commit to borrowing in the calculation that taxing the subsequent economic growth will fill the black hole back in again. Such a document can never be “fully costed” because it is founded upon speculation.
One of the biggest headlines to be generated by this manifesto is, however, worth cocking a critical eye at. Professor Peter Scott is persuasive when arguing in the Guardian that, “It would not cost billions to get rid of tuition fees.” The state, he contends, spends a fortune on universities anyway and it is typically unable to recoup its expenditure on student loans. Yet whatever system Labour proposes will have to be radically different to the present regime in Scotland. Successive Scottish administrations have favoured free tuition over maintenance grants for poorer students. Today, in the analysis of the New Statesman, “Scotland has by far the greatest level of educational inequality in the UK.”
Free tuition in Scotland is a sly bung for the middle class that is flatteringly, and deceitfully, kitted out as progressive politics. Most degrees are no longer a useful national expense. An ocean of skills and knowledge remains forever unused as the majority of graduates currently take jobs that have no connection to their studies. As the left-wing writer Guy Standing has noted, “An education sold as an investment good that has no economic return for most buyers is, quite simply, a fraud.” And nationalising that fraud through free tuition is hardly the wisest priority.
Uninspiringly, the manifesto’s “Industrial Strategy” goes off on an immediate tangent about delivering “superfast broadband availability” and it is soon lost in the depths of the countryside. There will be a National Investment Bank with a mandate to pick the wrong winners – renewable energy sources – a bias which has had dire results in Scotland for energy prices. We should certainly make a grab for the 3% of GDP that is destined for R&D. This would double the current expenditure, although it would still leave us with a lower level of R&D spending than that enjoyed by Israel, Japan, and South Korea (by 2013’s figures).
A few more stray observations:
• There will be no Universal Basic Income. Whereas recent treatises by Guy Standing and Nick Srnicek/Alex Williams have called for “anti-work politics,” or a radical modernisation of the concept of work, Labour will be husbanding the same existing landscape of paid labour and unemployment benefits.
• The Left in Scotland is made completely wretched and discredited by this manifesto. A generation of thinkers such as Stephen Maxwell, Gerry Hassan, and Lesley Riddoch have promoted “left-wing nationalism” in the vainglorious delusion that Scotland is somehow intrinsically more left-wing than the rest of the UK. They are now stuck with the SNP – a Blairite carcass – whilst across the entire Union we can vote for left-wing policies and a state with the resources to actually fund them.
• With the one step forward of reforming the House of Lords, there is a whole falling back down the stairs again with a commitment to implementing Lord Leveson’s proposals. State-backed press regulation would be a disaster for the UK’s democracy.
• Labour will ban unpaid internships and employment tribunal fees, wiping out two significant injustices in the workplace.