Andy Burnham

It’s a much-anticipated read, whose author is making a somewhat ill-advised comeback and whose most famous character is disappointing readers everywhere – no, it’s not Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, it’s Andy Burnham’s manifesto for the Labour leadership.

As ever with such things, we’ve read it so you don’t have to. The document itself is a weird mix of the vague and the specific.

We learn, for example, the details of how Andy would like to reform the House of Lords along the lines proposed by Billy Bragg (if I was recommending an idea that Billy Bragg had come up with I probably would have left out its origins, but hey).

On the deficit, a slightly more pressing matter, we get platitude spaghetti, slapped incomprehensibly into our eyes:

‘It is essential to have a plan to reduce the deficit. But the Tory Government’s approach of doing so almost exclusively through spending cuts will destroy the fabric of our communities and hurt the most vulnerable. Instead, I will bring forward a balanced Labour plan for a sustainable economy, based on growth and investment, fair pay, a re-balanced tax system and a labour market that works for all. Alongside it, I will promote an industrial strategy for Britain, devised and delivered in partnership with both business and trade unions, and with government investing for the future in infrastructure and the green economy.’

In translation, Andy tells us he will have a plan to reduce the deficit – and its most important distinguishing factors are:

a) it will be a Labour plan, not a Tory plan (this is more important than having a good plan),

b) it will involve ‘growth and investment’,

c) it will definitely work,

which is nice to know.

Having dealt with the pesky deficit so swiftly, we learn some more of that odd detail from The Guardian’s accompanying report:

‘A special national rail governing body will be set up to encourage public bidding for rail franchises and new rules to ensure that all rolling stock would carry uniform National Rail livery regardless of whether the operating company is in the private sector.’

Yes, that’s right – he hasn’t given us the details of how he intends to solve a multi-billion pound deficit, but we do at least know he will seek to specify what colour trains are painted. If you were worried that Labour might return to their twin bad habits of over-spending and micro-managing, there’s a pretty clear sign that your concern is justified.

I can only think of one political party which has pledged in a manifesto to specify and control train liveries if in Government – who was it? Oh yes, UKIP in 2010:

‘…the unseemly haste with which National Express destroyed the quality GNER brand by painting out its heraldry on service trains standing at rail stations was a disgrace. As with the iconic red bus in London, so the Government should insist on a modernised form of traditional branding – chocolate and cream for Great Western, scarlet red for Midland, Apple Green for the East Coast. These are icons of Britishness.’

That would be the manifesto denounced by Nigel Farage (who signed it) as “drivel”. Not a great precedent.

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