Labour’s election campaign was thrown into disarray when its manifesto was leaked to the BBC and several newspapers.
It was not so much the content that caused the embarrassment (though that is controversial enough) but the symbolism the leak gave of a party unable to organise its own affairs, never mind the country’s, and of a party riven at its very heart. How much damage will this do?
No one in the party’s hierarchy tried to deny the authenticity of the document, splashed all over the pages of both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror. Nor did anyone try to claim that the leak came from anywhere other than the upper ranks of the party itself. It was therefore easy for Labour’s opponents in the election to claim that it all proved what they had long been saying: that Jeremy Corbyn leads a party that is as shambolic as it is divided and therefore wholly unfit to run the country. Even Labour supporters were forced to conclude that the leak was an act of sabotage from within by those who want to endorse this image of their party so that it will succumb to a heavy defeat and so (they hope) put an end to Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
As for the manifesto itself, no-one could accuse the party of producing a slight affair. Running at around twenty thousand words and over fifty pages, it provides an exhaustive account of Labour’s aims and ambitions. As expected from a party with a veteran left-winger at its head, the manifesto is the most socialist it has produced in decades. The party wants to renationalise both the railways and the Royal Mail and provide a publicly-owned energy company in every region. It advocates large increases in spending on the NHS, on social care and on education, where it wants to create a National Education Service, to make a new ‘NES’ as central to British life as the NHS is. And it wants to abolish university tuition fees.
But it goes into great detail too about a whole range of less central issues, such as the rights of Gipsy, Romany and travelling communities, banning pesticides that are harmful to bees, and finding ways to slow the number of pub closures. Defenders of the document will say that a manifesto ought to be thorough and comprehensive because through it a party is providing the terms on which it is asking the electorate to give it a mandate to govern. But others have been more critical.
Chief among the almost derisory criticisms coming from the party’s opponents is the charge that the manifesto is nothing more than a wish-list. No government, they claim, could possibly implement so full a programme in just five years of government. What a party that was serious about taking power would do is concentrate on a few priorities and emphasise only those. Instead, Jeremy Corbyn, a backbench rebel of over thirty years, has simply cobbled together a list of all the dreams he has ever had of what he would do with power if he ever had it and published it as Labour’s manifesto without any idea of how he would make it happen.
In particular, his critics say, he has failed to say how he would pay for these policies. He has promised that Labour would not increase VAT, put up national insurance contributions or raise income tax except for those earning over £80,000. He would reverse cuts to corporation tax and make changes to capital gains tax but the revenue from these changes would be nowhere near enough to pay for such an ambitious programme. Andrew Glynne, one of the party’s election bosses, told me on Today on Thursday morning that the manifesto would be fully costed by the time it was published next week but given the scale of Labour’s plans, it seems certain that the other parties will be waiting ready with their calculators to demonstrate that Labour hasn’t done its sums.
Almost as controversial as what was in the leaked manifesto was what was not in it. Perhaps as a result of the suddenness of the election, the party seems not to have fully worked out an immigration policy, regarded by many commentators as one of the most salient issues at this election, not least among Labour voters who voted for Britain to leave the EU in last year’s referendum. Mr Corbyn has refused to set a target for cutting immigration numbers and, if anything, seems to want to ease immigration rules.
Unsurprisingly, Labour’s Tory critics have dubbed the manifesto a recipe for an old-fashioned form of socialism they believe the public rejected for good when they voted for Margaret Thatcher. The Daily Telegraph’s headline spoke of Mr Corbyn wanting to ‘take Britain back to 1970s’. Others have compared it to Labour’s 1983 manifesto, famously dismissed by the late Gerald Kaufman, a Labour MP, as ‘the longest suicide note in history’.
But defenders of the manifesto present a different picture. Mr Gwynne told me that it was ‘genuinely transformational’. And Kevin Maguire, the political commentator of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror, wrote that the policies in the manifesto ‘would rate comparison with the achievements of the 1945 Attlee Government which founded the NHS and created a modern welfare state.’ One senior Labour figure told the BBC’s political editor that it was the manifesto Ed Miliband would like to have proposed two years ago but didn’t have the nerve.
How damaging, then, will the leak prove to be? Mr Gwynne tried to put a brave face on it by saying that at least everyone was talking about Labour. It is, of course, a gift to Labour’s opponents who will say it simply proves everything they’ve been saying about the party and how Mr Corbyn is simply not fit to be prime minister.
But it may be that the public won’t much notice and that the embarrassment of the leak will fade from view once other things take up our attention.
What do you think? Does the leak itself affect your own view about whether or not to vote Labour? And what do you think of the actual contents of the manifesto?
Let us know.