12 Jun 2024

Labour manifesto includes ‘major changes’, says Shadow Transport Secretary

We spoke to Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh, who was in Grimsby for the Sky leaders’ event.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: I imagine we’ll hear more about Keir Starmer’s father, who was a toolmaker, and how he had his telephone cut off when he was a kid. Why do politicians feel the need to do this? Don’t we just want people who are good at running the country, rather than people who are pretending to be like us?

Louise Haigh: I think politicians answer those questions when they are asked them by journalists, but honestly, I don’t think most people mind people’s backgrounds as long as they are honest about them and don’t pretend to come from a background that they didn’t, don’t pretend to be something they’re not.

But you’re absolutely right. This election is about two choices to the country. Do we want five more years of chaos after the 14 years we’ve had of the Tories running down the country and our public services, or do we want a Labour Party and a Labour government that is prepared to rebuild our public services, grow the economy and put people first again?

And Keir Starmer will be making that case. I think I suppose he draws on his background to say why he makes certain choices in politics, and that explains the choices he would make as a Labour prime minister, and I think that’s what people are responding to in this election as well.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: He talks, doesn’t he, about being working class and you wonder how working class he really was as a kid. He went to a good school. He was a scholarship boy, I get that, but he went to a private school, he went to the Royal School of Music. He became a lawyer, he went to good universities. That’s not what most people think of as working class. Is it what you would think of as working class?

Louise Haigh: His father was a skilled worker, a toolmaker, as you’ve said. I think that’s a pretty solid working-class background. And my understanding is that the school he went to only became private whilst he was there, so he didn’t attend a private school in the first instance, I don’t think, but it’s undeniable that he came from fairly ordinary roots and has had an extraordinary career because he’s a very, very talented individual that has consistently shown leadership skills throughout his life.

And he’s quite a rare candidate for prime minister in that he came into politics quite late, having risen up through the law profession and become the Director of Public Prosecutions, having run a huge organisation. That is genuinely quite a rare thing in British politics, to have worked so long outside politics.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: I just wonder whether if any of this really matters. You went to private school. It doesn’t matter, does it?

Louise Haigh: As I say, I don’t think it does matter as long as you’re honest about where you came from. I think integrity and honesty matter in politics far more than people’s backgrounds. At the general election, people will be making that choice about two very different options for the next five years of this country.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Do you know what’s in the manifesto, in detail?

Louise Haigh: Yes, I was there when we agreed it on Friday, but you won’t be surprised to know I won’t be giving you any hints before it’s published tomorrow.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Do you think it’s going to make any difference? You know what a lot of people are wondering is whether this isn’t really about detailed plans because you don’t want to do anything that frightens anyone in this election year. You’re being very cautious.

Louise Haigh: We have set out where we are going to make tax rises already, including the abolition of non-dom and massive expansion of a windfall tax, that cutting of VAT relief on private school fees, in order to invest in our public services. I’ve set out our plans to radically overhaul public transport, the biggest overhaul of rail in more than a generation, to bring our railways back into public ownership and to expand control over our bus networks. And today we set out plans to fix our crumbling roads as well.

Angela Rayner set out plans to expand workers’ rights by the biggest amount in our history, and Ed Miliband on our publicly owned GB Energy. So I completely reject any idea that our manifesto is cautious. It includes major changes that will really impact people’s lives, and just because it is fully funded and fully costed, which we make no apology for, because we are still paying the price of Liz Truss’s disastrous mini budget less than two years ago, which, delivered unfunded or attempted to deliver unfunded tax cuts for the richest few. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t radical or they won’t deliver real change.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: You have talked about bringing the railways under public ownership, which is largely out of necessity, isn’t it? But is that actually going to make the railways run properly at an affordable rate? Not plagued by strikes? That’s the key.

Louise Haigh: Yes, it’s one of the keys, absolutely, and this government have deliberately provoked and prolonged the industrial dispute. We’re into the second year of the first national dispute in over 30 years on our railways, and that would be obviously a very early priority of a Labour government to settle that dispute. Our railways are 40% less efficient than some of our European counterparts because of the fragmented and privatised nature of the railways. So not only do we think it is the right thing to make sure that public interest is at the heart of our railways, we’re absolutely confident it is the most affordable and efficient way to run a unified, publicly-owned system as well. Just like some of the best performing railways across the world already are.