Coming to the Labour manifesto so shortly after viewing the Liberal Democrats’, I was struck more by the similarity of approach than by the differences – not so much the common emphasis on, say, climate change or mental health, as the fact that both parties have opted for a very long series of specific proposals rather than – as they might have done – a strong critique of government since 2010, a focus on key principles, an analysis of Britain’s democratic problems, the failures of regional policy or measures that could help to bridge the divide between our alienated and marginalised communities.
The policy on social security is, as is all too common, mainly reactive; there is lip service to dignity and respect, but not much that explains how that can be achieved. There is a commitment to help people with disabilities, which mainly boils down to £30 on ESA or accepting a supplement within UC – putting back what’s been taken away – with other marginal measures. The best idea is getting rid of Universal Credit – but that’s reactive, too.
Another of the peculiarities of this document is how much it proposes centralisation. A National Education Service; a National Care Service; a National Crime Agency; a National Youth Service: a National Strategy for Childhood; even a national LGBT+ plan. The proposals are mainly specific to England. I searched for references to Wales, only to find that devolution is not central to the vision here; it’s being treated in a different manifesto.
This is being feted as a deeply radical document, but I’m not convinced it is. There are too many token measures – removing hereditary peers, or an enquiry into Orgreave or releasing papers about Cammell Laird shipyard workers. With the splendid exception of universal broadband, there’s not enough that is really game-changing.
Additional note, 22nd November. There are some elements of the proposals that I missed, because they are not in the manifesto at all: they are in a separate costings document. Most of the elements are straightforward, but I should welcome the proposal to bring basic corporation tax and Capital Gains Tax to the same level as Income Tax – currently there are incentives to present income as if it was something else. No doubt this will be represented by critics and some over-enthusiastic supporters as a radical attack on the wealthy, which it is not; it is a dull but sensible rationalisation of a system that has grown far too complex.