16 May 2017

Corbyn’s manifesto – Labour offers a stark choice

You do wonder if the team started with a number on one side and then worked back. The £48.6 billion tax and spend proposals equate to 40% of GDP. That puts this overall offer on the outer perimeters of British political experience but not beyond them. That 40% figure has generally not been breached apart from in 1971 and in the recession of the early 80s and might be considered the outer limits of a norm that Labour’s number crunchers didn’t want to crash through but senior Labour figures insist they “don’t target ratios.”

Water nationalisation had been added to the manifesto on top of rail, energy, Royal Mail, bringing back privatised local government services into council control and ending NHS privatisation. These cover many different approaches to common ownership and there’s some clarity still needed on quite how some of them would work. There’s no clarity on the cost of nationalisation. Labour’s opponents can be expected to fill that void soon.

The reception in the room was ecstatic. The biggest cheers, came for ending tuition fees (we were in a university), putting rail into public ownership and getting the rich and big business to pay more tax and stop tax dodging.

There was anger towards the media and a memorable moment when a questioner who said he was from the Morning Star attacked the media for bias. He got a huge cheer from the Labour supporters but a gentle rebuke from Jeremy Corbyn.

Sometimes the party has put clearly defined numbers next to very much unclear policies. Tellingly Labour has struggled to come up with a clear idea of what it will actually do to restore Universal Credit cuts. It seems coming up with multiple nationalisations may actually be a walk in the park compared to working out adjustments to universal credit.

Jeremy Corbyn ducked a question about whether he wanted immigration levels cut. He ducked a question on how much he’d borrow to invest. But he was relaxed and joking about the manifesto leak and when asked why he was a turn off to voters joked about a cult of personality.

He starts the manifesto with an introduction talking about how this is an important election (he agrees with Theresa May about that) because there is a stark choice – “starker than ever before.” It’s the difference between a state tax take of 37% of GDP and just over 39% of GDP. That may not sound like much, but it is a big change of direction on offer.

Theresa May puts Brexit centre stage and Mr Corbyn does the opposite. One of his many challenges in office would be undertaking the massive programme of reform outlined today at the same time as a negotiation with the EU which threatens to suck in much government energy and slap a workload on Whitehall, the thought of which already turns top civil servants pale.

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