Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Judging Labour's Manifesto.

At the Labour Party Conference in 2014 a document entitled "National Policy Forum Report 2014" was adopted. My own summary of its contents appeared earlier on this blog and covered 16 separate items. They can be accessed via this link.

The Report was endorsed in the expectation that it would shape Labour's General Election Manifesto, which was finally published yesterday. The Manifesto can be found here.

How close is the Manifesto to the Report? I feel that the two publications are as close to each other as could reasonably be expected. This is especially the case as we have had to wait for a period of over six months between the emergence of the two documents. And as everyone knows even "a week is a long time in politics".  I have persistently argued that the Manifesto should have been issued and used much earlier than it has been - especially as a version of it could have had an impact during the Scottish Referendum Campaign. If this had been done, then we may have stemmed the rise of the SNP.

The Labour Party did, however, published a version of its programme in December. This was entitled "Changing Britain Together" and it can be found here. Unfortunately, this document was never effectively pushed amongst Labour Party members, nor in the media. 

The big difference between the original National Policy Forum Report and the Electoral Manifesto is that the latter is placed in a key and new framework which is missing from the former. The framework appears at the start of the Manifesto and (as was intended) has grabbed the immediate attention of the media. It states that Labour's plans are to be pursued in ways that in budgetary terms are said to be highly responsible. So that given a wide range of Labour commitments, none will require any additional borrowing. Yet also in the Manifesto Labour says it "will cut the deficit each year". This commitment then shapes each of its proposals, which in general terms list where the funding for the positive aspects of its programme will all come from.

Unfortunately, a fall-back proposal for financing services seems to have disappeared. In the original  National Policy Forum Document it said that "Labour will continue to support a progressive taxation system and ensure that the wealthiest individuals and businesses contribute to the economy". But perhaps it is felt that this is a hidden codicil that can always be turned to, but there was no need to feed this idea to a hungry media.

There is, however. at least one clear and unfortunate adjustment in the Manifesto compared to the Forum Document for those worried about TTIP. It now states that "We support the principles behind the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty (TTIP)." This is, however, followed by the past proposal that TTIP should not apply to the NHS and other public services.

Then all that is mentioned about co-operative principles is  "Our charities, mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises are pioneering new models of production that enhance social value, promote financial inclusion, and give individuals and communities power and control. We will continue to support and help develop the social economy by improving access for co-operative and mutual organisations to growth finance through the new British Investment Bank. And we will consider how to support employee buy-outs when businesses are being sold." Although this paragraph is very small compared to the Co-op Party's own Manifesto which expands such proposals (as seen here), much depends upon whether Labour's words are just a highly condensed version of the same agenda. 

Unfortunately references to providing a quality professional youth service, lifelong learning options,  recarbonising the power sector by 2030 and calling for a Financial Transaction Tax are key matters which have disappeared since the time of the Forum Document. But a great deal of progressive material remains. If Labour forms the next Government it will be for activists to push to overcome the types of shortcomings which I have indicated. For the Manifesto does show that we have moved beyond the clear days of New Labour and that the door may have opened slightly for carefully crafted initiatives from democratic socialists.

We now seek the proof of the pudding.


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