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General Election 2015: Manifesto Review

The Labour Party Manifesto by Neil Taggart

Manifesto commitments can be very useful for Prime Ministers. “Why are we doing x? Well, it was in our manifesto and we are the elected government of Britain and so what we are doing has been endorsed by the electorate.” End of.

A manifesto commitment can even be used for not carrying out a promised policy. “Why are we not pressing ahead with policies y and z, even though they were in our manifesto? Well, during the election campaign we fully intended to implement those policies if we were fortunate enough to be elected. However, when we won the election and opened the books we uncovered the unholy mess made by the previous government and so our policies y and z, whilst wholly laudable, cannot be brought about in this parliament, not until we have completed the steadfast work of clearing up the irresponsible financial mess left by our predecessors.” That sound reasonable enough? It usually works.

Sometimes a seemingly cast iron guarantee is simply cast aside. In the 2010 General Election campaign, Conservative leader David Cameron gave an undertaking that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS – and then proceeded to do just that. The classic is Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s solemn pledge on university tuition fees, which for him and all his candidates was a ‘red line’ policy. Not much of a ‘red line’ there, then!  

As Prime Minister, David Cameron bravely supported Equal Marriage and helped bring about a progressive change in the law. However, it caused considerable fallout amongst some of his MPs and party members throughout the country, who pointed out it had not been in the party’s manifesto. They were right, it hadn’t.

So, why bother having manifestos at all? “They’re merely full of promises they’ll break as soon as they get into office” is a typical view of your average, cynical British elector.

Well, the cynicism and contempt are understandable but even so, in a democracy, it is still important that we at least try to hold our politicians to account. Despite all those broken promises, a party’s manifesto remains important.

The Labour Party launched its manifesto for the 2015 General Election in Manchester on Monday 13th April. The cover alone tells you that this is very different, say, from the 1997 manifesto of Tony Blair. In 1997 the highly photogenic Tony Blair dominated the front cover. This time there is no photograph of Ed Miliband, or anyone else, for that matter - just some simple text.

 Labour Party 2015 Manifesto         1997 Labour Party Manifesto

The last Labour government has been excoriated by its political opponents and most of the press for its fiscal record, blaming it for the recession (conveniently ignoring the fact that the downturn was international) and spendthrift policies. Certainly, the addiction to PFI-based capital spend was bad economics (it did not actually represent good value for money) and abysmal book-keeping (the idea that such expenditures were kept off-balance sheet was a nonsense, and something which would come back to bite Labour on the bum).  However, until the banking crisis, when desperate bailout measures were deemed absolutely essential, the Labour government had not ballooned national debt to the extent that we see today, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition.

Nevertheless, the perception of millions of voters in Britain is that Labour remains reckless on the economy and can never be trusted with their money again – and it is personal perceptions that lie behind voters’ choices at election time, not the cold, hard analysis of facts (however much politicians would like to believe the latter).

It is this lack of popular trust on the economy that Labour has attempted to tackle, head on and up front in this manifesto. The phrase Labour’s Manifesto Budget Responsibility Lock, right there on the first page of text, hardly trips off the tongue easily and its repetition on the doorstep will probably not seduce the wavering voter. It was obviously not dreamed up by some advertising agency (the whole manifesto was written in-house, apparently). However, the party leadership is adamant that it is necessary, right from the outset, to give a clear, solid commitment to sound money and sound economics: “Every policy in this manifesto is paid for. Not one commitment requires additional borrowing…”

This is blunt and straightforward – and absolutely essential to state early on if you want to be taken seriously and not be accused of plucking money off the branches of the elusive ‘Magic money tree’, which some of the other parties apparently have unlimited access to.

Many of the proposals that follow in the following pages will, however, be hugely attractive to millions of voters: the scrapping of ‘non-dom’ status for rich UK residents who get away with paying minimum tax, the abolition of the hated ‘Bedroom Tax’, the freezing of energy prices and rail fares, the effective outlawing of certain types of zero hours contracts and a halt to the creeping privatisation of parts of the NHS.

The commitment that VAT, National Insurance and lower/middle rates of income tax are to remain unchanged will also give a lot of voters reassurance.

Labour will also scrap the Free Schools experiment and presumably once again allow local education authorities to open new schools, in a properly planned way, where there is a shortage of places.

The NHS commitment – of extra doctors, nurse and midwives, is very specific on numbers and, together with the promise to halt the shrinkage of police numbers, will be very popular throughout the land.

The Labour manifesto has already been condemned by various interests representing free market capitalism. “Well,” as Mandy Rice-Davies once said, “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” There is nothing new in this. Every Labour manifesto, ever, has been opposed by backward right-wingers and those who put themselves forward as ‘captains of industry’.

Whatever, the attitude of the mainly Tory (and mainly ‘non dom’-owned) newspapers to Labour and its manifesto, the real question is whether the Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband, can now convince sufficient people to vote for it.

Ed Miliband’s performance at the press conference was probably the best in front of the TV cameras since he became party leader. The gawky awkwardness we have so often seen before was replaced by the image of an honest man confident in his beliefs and with his subject, and supremely confident as well in dealing with probing media questions. The revelation by any politician that they have a self-deprecating sense of humour is always a bonus, as well!

Anyone calling this election now would be a fool as everything is still to play for. A Tory majority government is a possibility, as is a Labour majority government – and every single minority or coalition combination one can think of in between.

In the early days of Ed Miliband’s leadership there were rumbles from disgruntled Labour MPs about his ability to communicate. After Monday’s launch it was clear Ed Miliband can communicate with clarity and passion. Could he end up as Prime Minister? Hell yes.

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GE2015 BRIT POLITICS Team - About Neil

Neil TaggartBorn in the Birmingham suburb of Tyseley, Neil Taggart gained a degree in Music from the University of Leeds, where he was elected as President of the University Union 1974-5. 

He was a Labour member of Leeds City Council 1980-2014, winning ten elections out of ten, occupying leading roles on Race Equality, Environment, Highways & Transportation, Recreation Services and Planning. He was Lord Mayor of Leeds 2003-4.  He served on West Yorkshire Police Authority 1985-2003 (also Chair 1997-2002) and the National Crime Squad Service Authority (1997-2002). He also served as Chair of West Yorkshire Joint Services 2009-13. 

His hobbies include railways and railway history, theatre, film, music and indulging his grandchildren. Cancer survivor.