By Senior Campaign Agent Alasdair Fraser
A 43-page draft of the Labour party’s manifesto for the 2017 general election has been leaked to the press. The document, which has been verified by party officials, spells out the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for the country, should they gain power in June. However, as Professor Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, Mr Corbyn rarely gets a fair shake from the mainstream media. As such, it is important to read between the lines when it comes to these leaks, and examine the policies themselves, not what the press claims they are about.
Health and Social Care
The United Kingdom, particularly England, is currently in the midst of a health and social care crisis, with an ageing population and a government unwilling to pass meaningful reforms. Patient safety, overflow from the social care sector, and harmful levels of budget deficit, have led to a crisis in the NHS. The latter two of those factors are compounded by Westminster’s decision to delay recommendations by the 2011 Dilnot Commission on the provision and funding of social care until 2020.
The draft Labour manifesto promises a “properly funded” NHS, with £6 billion a year more funding for the health service, raised through new taxes on the nation’s top 5% of earners. This should alleviate the strain on overburdened hospitals, ambulance, and GP services.
Additionally, the manifesto promises to reverse the privatisation of the health service in England and repeal the Social Care Act 2012. Moreover, £8 billion over the length of the five-year parliament would be put toward social care, with an aim to create a ‘National Care Service’ “rooted in the traditions of the NHS”.
However, these measures will come at a substantial cost, which Corbyn hopes to offset with a progressive tax policy, raising revenue through increased taxes on the wealthy and top-earning businesses and borrowing.
Labour intends to set up a National Education Service, in a similar vein to the NHS. They promise to provide free school meals for primary students in England by scrapping tax breaks for private schools.
Plans also include funding for childcare, an increase to the cap on teachers’ pay, and returning control over what is taught in schools to teachers (in line with complaints about the failure of education regarding standardisation).
Additionally, Labour plans to abolish tuition fees for tertiary education, particularly university, bringing back maintenance grants for students from lower economic backgrounds.
These moves should prove popular on the left and show clearly the divide between austerity-driven cuts by Conservatives and social spending ideals of Corbyn’s left-wing Labour. However, as with many other things, they will come at a cost, and it will be up to the voter to decide if education is a priority (it sure should be).
The Daily Telegraph in its breakdown of the leaks accused the Labour leader of being ‘soft’ of defence. Mr Corbyn has long been an opponent of the Trident nuclear deterrent and supports using military interventions as a last resort. However, the document says Labour will go ahead with plans to renew the nuclear submarines and states it would deploy the armed forces only when "all other options have been exhausted".
The document calls for “a nuclear-free world” but says “…any prime minister should be extremely cautious about ordering the use of weapons of mass destruction which would result in the indiscriminate killing of millions of innocent civilians.” It also commits to retaining the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
Similarly, the Labour leak outlines an opposition to weapons exports to allies such as Saudi Arabia, where the international community believe the coalition of regional powers led by Riyadh is using British and American weapons to conduct a brutal bombing campaign against northern Yemen, which has been estimated to have killed some 10,000 people.
The Telegraph says the party faces “a series of rows about” these pledges, citing the loss of jobs. However, Labour will need to inform the public, who have been found to be particularly ignorant of the Yemen conflict, before they can convince them of scrapping arms exports worth billions.
Mr Corbyn stands accused of being soft on immigration. His party promises in the document to not repeat the Tories’ “false promises” of cutting back on immigration, something that experts believe to be almost impossible, and which the party in power has consistently failed to do.
The manifesto instead details “controlled” migration to boost the economy and proposes scrapping the rule against UK citizens taking their spouses home with them unless they earn a certain amount.
This move could prove problematic for the embattled Labour Party as Brexit negotiations loom. The referendum on EU membership saw a vast rejection of immigration among those who voted to leave. Although many areas that voted leave do not see the direct effects of immigration, individuals did identify it as a critical issue for them, as seen in Nick Clegg’s post-Brexit vote documentary in Wales.
Foremost among Labour’s plans for pensions, should they win in June, is guaranteeing the ‘triple lock’ on pension uprates introduced by the Tories (some say to sway the older vote). The promise extends to bus passes and the winter fuel allowance for older people.
Labour also plan to review Tory plans to increase the state pension age and will instead consider a “flexible” retirement age, taking into account an individual’s background and the type of work they do.
Tax and Business
The draft document also promises to increase the top rate of corporation tax from 19% to 26%, with the revenues being used to finance the extensive portfolio of investments detailed in the manifesto. Additionally, private health care providers would see a hike in VAT and firms with excessive levels of “staff on very high pay” could face a new government levy.
These proposed reforms would be accompanied by an increase in income tax for those who earn over £80,000-a-year but promises no increases for 95% of workers, in line with previous promises made by the party. These measures have caused apoplectic responses in the right-wing press, but should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been watching Mr Corbyn these last few years.
The manifesto also promises the largest programme of re-nationalisation in recent memory, with rail, energy, and buses all being targeted to return to public ownership. A standard feature of many social democracies, natural monopolies are owned by the taxpayer to stop unfairness and inequality in vital utilities and services.
Labour hopes to tackle the high cost of energy in the UK by returning ownership and operation to the state. This would effectively allow the sitting government to have total control over pricing and quality, although some would argue that waste, increased delivery costs, and a lack of competition are concerns.
Transport is another vital industry that would return to state ownership under a Labour government. The Railways Act 1993 would be repealed, reversing privatisation of the network, ending private franchises for the operation of trains. Similarly, buses, previously owned and run by local authorities, would have their franchises bought back, causing companies such as First and other firms, which hold incredible market share in many cities across the UK, to lose their ‘monopolies’. This in theory would lead to lower costs for the end user, but could force the government to absorb some of the cost as a loss leader against other forms of public transport.
The Royal Mail, privatised in a “historic mistake,” would also be returned to the people.
Earlier this month we published a ‘head-to-head’ between activists Robbie Travers and George Aylett on the renationalisation of railways, which is worth reading if you haven’t quite made your mind up yet.
Unions and Workers
The manifesto, which has yet to be finalised, also proposes the creation of a Ministry of Labour in Whitehall, with an aim to empower workers and clamp down on exploitation. It also includes plans to strengthen trade unions and bring redundancy laws “more into line” with our European cousins. Additionally, it calls for the Trade Union Act 2016 to be scrapped, reversing Tory restrictions on union activity and industrial action in the workplace.
Furthermore, the manifesto promises to clamp down on the exploitation of the ‘self-employed’, forcing employers to offer them full rights unless companies can prove they are not ‘full employees’. This should stop cases where firms avoid providing benefits and rights to workers because they are individual entities separate from their business. Bereavement and paternity leave are also addressed, with the latter increasing to four weeks, with increased pay.
The Housing Crisis
The UK requires a certain number of houses, mainly council and housing association homes, to be built each year to meet demand. However, governments have in the past failed to reach these targets, leading to a range of social and economic problems.
Labour promise in the leaked document, to build 100,000 social houses every year. 4,000 homes will be constructed for people who have been forced to sleep rough in the past, in an attempt to tackle homelessness. Additionally, rent would be capped at the rate of inflation, with tenancies being secured at three-years. Furthermore, buildings would have to meet “zero carbon” targets that the manifesto claims are possible because the “technology is there.” Existing homeowners will also receive incentives to make their homes energy efficient in the form of 0% interest loans for insulation and other measures.
The manifesto suggests once and for all, that Labour will accept the democratic result of the EU referendum - but will reject Theresa May's hardline, patriotism fuelled approach. Essentially, the Labour leadership will not take 'no' for an answer when it comes to a partnership with the EU - contrasting with May's 'Brexit means Brexit' rhetoric. In the eyes of Jeremy Corbyn, a deal which allows access to the Single Market, likely at the cost of border control, is far preferable to No Deal.
The leaks also show that Labour hopes to put IT infrastructure at the forefront of their vision for a better Britain, with free WiFi in city centres and on public transport and high-speed 30 Mbps broadband being promised for every home within five years.
Additionally, to protect the environment and at-risk communities, fracking, a process of extracting shale gas from the land known to contribute to poisoned water tables and cause ecological damage, would be banned.
Furthermore, the manifesto addresses policing and prisons issues, with plans to hire 10,000 extra police officers, 1,000 additional border guards, and 3,000 more prison officers. The government’s controversial Prevent strategy will also be scrutinised, with a full review of the UK’s counter-extremism legislation.
These measures should all prove popular with their respective activists, but could all be turned or reworked by the Tories as ways to distract from more press-friendly issues such as the NHS, pensions, and taxation.
While the document reported on by the Telegraph and Mirror is not final – it is due to be reviewed by the party’s National Executive Committee before being sent out to voters – it does show the lengths Corbyn is going to provide a left-wing alternative to the Tories while also softening his personal views in favour of policies that have more of a chance with voters. Moves like maintaining the triple lock, updating Trident, and re-nationalisation and the NHS, are key issues for voters. However, it has yet to be seen if confidence in Corbyn’s leadership and the fractured Labour party can be allied by what no-doubt will be regarded as a relatively radical manifesto by many.
Image Rights: Kevin Walsh @flickr