Labour have produced a class-based programme that we can all get behind, writes Lindsey German
So the actual manifesto is now out - and pretty good it is too (with some exceptions that I'll come onto below). Taxing the rich, making people and companies pay their tax, and using the money to fund education, build council houses, nationalise major utilities and railways, expand childcare and fund the NHS. It is quite remarkable that the response to these is just one: where will the money come from, how will we pay for it?
Now, these questions are important, but surely the first question anyone should ask - especially a supposedly intelligent journalist - is whether these policies are a good idea. You don't have to be a socialist to think that many of them are. A number of economists agree that the problem with the British economy is its lack of investment, its reliance on low-wage and minimum wage jobs doing a great deal of harm to productivity, and also leading to levels of inequality which are at record highs and which are creating a tiny wealthy elite alongside an increasingly impoverished and overworked majority.
Any attempt to end this and the widespread public sector squalor which exists alongside fabulous private wealth should be welcomed. It is also what millions of people are crying out for. There has to be massive investment in public building and infrastructure to even begin to alter this situation after decades of neglect and privatised initiatives which have left taxpayers shelling out to underwrite private firms. Labour has also made clear where the money will come from.
The response from Tories and media (I know this may be a distinction without a difference but bear with me) is to ignore the big questions and debates in favour of demanding to know every detail of policy and how it will be paid for, and then saying quite brazenly that the tax take will not be achieved because companies and individuals will avoid paying it. This is Thatcher's 'there is no alternative' all over again. Do they seriously expect people to accept nothing ever changing except at the whim of the market? And do people really think that in a democracy this is acceptable behaviour?
The great thing about the manifesto is that it does make clear that there is an alternative, and it's one that demands the rich pay more. I think that whatever happens in the election, the fact that this alternative has been put gives people something to fight for, and they won't stop after June 8th. At the same time, any Labour politicians who think this is back to the 40s and 60s and the heydays of social democracy are fooling themselves. It will take a serious struggle to achieve even some of the demands in this manifesto - where we will see working people pitted against the whole of the political establishment.
Not according to the gospel
The very thought of a move to the left has created panic in the massed ranks of the extreme centre. Its representatives cannot believe what they see unfolding before their eyes. First, there was the election of Corbyn, then the Leave vote in the referendum, now the election where Corbyn's Labour (although far behind) is increasing support in the polls, and where this most left-wing manifesto is being seen as relatively popular with the electorate. None of this was supposed to happen in the gospel according to Tony Blair.
The election is not panning out the way they would want. One estimate reckons that the two main parties will come close to winning nearly 80% of the votes between them. In other words, this is shaping up to be a two-horse race. The great hope of the hardline Remainers, that the Lib Dems would surge, is obviously not going to happen. UKIP is slumping (to the benefit of the Tories). The British political scene is becoming increasingly polarised, and the centre is being squeezed in this election.
How sad this must be for Tony Blair and Nick Clegg, who look longingly across the Channel to the presidency of Emmanuel Macron, whose new 'neither left nor right' party En Marche is forming a new centre. (Although how 'centre' the ex-banker is likely to be, given his appointment of a right-wing prime minister and his inauguration trip down the Champs Élysées in a military vehicle, is anyone's guess).
There are undoubtedly moves to create such a party here. No one knows exactly how the election will pan out, but certainly, some Labour MPs are prepared (and may be preparing) to sit as independents rather than work with Jeremy Corbyn as leader. They would work closely with the rump of Lib Dems and would be aided and abetted by the seemingly endless numbers of centre politicians who sit in a House of Lords whose time really should now be up. They have the money, they have the motive. All that is holding them back is fear of failure, since they remember the fated SDP of the 1980s. But they look at En Marche and think that maybe with their own charismatic leader they too could do it. The one thing they won't do is accept the challenge to their policies that Corbyn represents.
It's not defence, it is attack
My main disappointment with the manifesto is over defence and military spending. Trident, 2% military spending maintained, not much on Palestine and no commitment, unlike in the leak, of only going to war as a last resort. Some of this isn't surprising, but nonetheless, you can't have a progressive domestic policy with a militaristic pro-nuclear foreign policy. Just as Labour has been bold over issues of nationalisation, so it should be over questions of war and peace. I fear too many on the left don't understand this. Unfortunately, they will probably learn it the hard way.
Would you ask a question in front of your boss?
Isn't there something deeply wrong and slightly sinister about Theresa May always visiting workplaces where she takes questions from workers under the watchful eye of their bosses? I mean, are we really supposed to believe they can ask what they want or behave how they want. We have already heard of people who say that they have been told not to heckle. But even if you don't want to do that, you might want to express a critical opinion. But would you really do that if your Tory boss was standing there, beaming at Empress Theresa? I think not. Usually, these things happen in dictatorships of some sort.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
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- The ghost of Christmas parties past – weekly briefing
- Nothing to Lose but Our Chains: Work and Resistance in Twenty-First-Century Britain - book review