For the past ten years, since David Cameron’s modernisation of the Conservative Party, a popular cry has been: “they’re all the same”. That claim will be just a little bit harder to sustain after the leak of Labour’s manifesto – though it may be worth noting that its contents are “still being finalised by party chiefs”.
ConservativeHome’s favorite comment on them to date comes from Toby Young, who swoops on the proposal to re-nationalise the railways as each franchise expires. He points out that the last one will do so in 2036, by which time Jeremy Corbyn will be 87. But, then again, the whole draft has been certified by the Diane Abbott College of Arithmetic: no more tuition fees, no rise in the state pension age, the doubling of paternity leave, £6 billion more for schools, £5 billion more for the NHS, 100,000 more council houses, 10,000 more police officers…all paid for giving the sturdy trunk of our old friend, the Magic Money Tree, a vigorous shake until the last of those magical mystical miracle £50 notes have fallen off.
We can look forward to enjoying the proceeds in the dark, since Labour wants to ban fracking, while also enjoying lower energy bills because, er, of greater use of renewables. But this site can pour all the mockery it likes over Jeremy Corbyn’s head. This Neverland prospectus – restoring the spare room subsidy, relaxing work assessments, a higher employment and support allowance, and so on, is as likely to shore up Labour’s core support as to collapse it. Corbyns main difficulty has been cutting through to voters. He will be greatly assisted in that task by the publicity that this manifesto will generate. The core constituency of what was once the party of the working man is now welfare claimants. Many won’t ask themselves who will fund this cornucopia once the wealth-creating sector has been pulverised to a smoking husk.
Better for Corbyn that he is seen as dangerous than as simply irrelevant. Nor will nationalising Royal Mail, the railways or the energy companies frighten all the horses. It is the best part of 40 years since the state owned and ran a mass of utilities, and many will not remember the Soviet-style delights of the experience. You will think that £80,000 or so is not a lot of money, and in some ways you will be quite right. But it is a monarch’s ransom to some core Labour voters – and many others. They won’t be at all alarmed by those who earn that much and more paying extra tax. That they themselves would bear the brunt of the inevitable panic cuts in public services once the economy nosedived will not always occur to them.
Corbyn’s tax proposals are so punitive, and his economic sums so plainly awry, that even the North London public sector rich will leak votes elsewhere – deep in the belt of seats represented by Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry and Abbott and Corbyn himself. But the real flaw of the latter’s prospectus for his core vote lies elsewhere. A mass of it turned out to vote for Brexit last June. And the manifesto draft explicitly rejects the view, backed by Theresa May, that no EU deal is better than a bad deal. It follows that Labour believes that a bad deal is better than no deal – in other words, that Britain should ultimately pay up a £100 billion bill (or insert higher sum here) at the request of Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel. Lynton Crosby will have a lot of fun with that.
He has not even started yet on Corbyn’s sympathy for the IRA during Britain’s long struggle with it. But he will relish the prospect of getting going on Labour and defence. The draft pledges to keep Trident – but says that “any prime minister should be extremely cautious about ordering the use of weapons of mass destruction” (as though other potential Prime Ministers would be “extremely reckless”) We can look forward to Corbyn ducking and diving as he refuses to confirm that he would ever use such weapons – thereby, irrespective of the merits of the argument, sending precisely the signal of weakness to patriotic Labour voters that Theresa May, Crosby, Michael Fallon et al want him to send.
But the most exposed flank of all is the draft’s immigration proposals. Corbyn proposes to scrap the minimum income rules for the partners of non-EU migrants, and refuses to commit to reducing migration at all – or, as the manifesto puts it, it wants “fair rules and reasonable management” of migration, and no “false promises on immigration numbers”: in other words, no pledges of restriction at all. As Lord Ashcroft’s polling has found, immigration control was not the main driver of the Brexit vote. But it was the second main factor named, and that the impact of migration is felt especially by poorer voters in Labour’s heartlands is too obvious a point to stress. The party’s draft will not only motivate more Tory voters to turn out, but tempt Labour ones to switch. Go, Lynton, go!