Thursday, June 13, 2024

Labour Manifesto 2024

 The Labour Manifesto for 2024 was launched today, and here it is.  136 pages sounds like a lot, but when you strip out the photos and blank pages its not quite as scary as all that. But how scary are the contents?

The intro sets out the key beliefs and ideas behind the manifesto. There is a danger that, with so many lists, the casual reader might get lost:

Two Shared Beliefs

  •  That politics should be driven by a sense of service, not self-interest
  • That if you work hard you will get a fair chance to 'get on' (whatever that means)
Five Missions
  1. Kickstart economic growth, targeting being the highest growth in the G7
  2. Become a clean energy superpower, with lower bills, more jobs, and zero carbon by 2030
  3. Take back our streets, halve serious violent crime and restore confidence in the police and justice system
  4. Break down barriers to opportunity through childcare and education reform.
  5. Build an NHS fit for the future. 
Six First Steps
  1. Deliver economic stability with tough spending rules
  2. Cut NHS waiting times with 40k extra appointments on evenings and weekends
  3. Launch a new Border Security Command
  4. Set up Great British Energy
  5. Crack down on antisocial behaviour
  6. Recruit 6500 new teachers. 
Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of references to 'Conservative chaos' and the things that need fixing. Labour will 'stop the chaos and turn the page', we are repeatedly told. Its notable that the first main section is 'Mission Driven Government', setting out values and approach rather than specific policy: e.g. that policies need long term goals, and that government should work in partnership with business, trade unions, civil society and faith groups. 

What's In It?
  • Commitment to retain a nuclear deterrent
  • Strategic Defence Review to assess all current threats
  • Border Security Command, with extra staff, working internationally to deal with trafficking gangs, and clearing the asylum backlog. Fast tracking removals of failed asylum claimants. 
  • Balanced budget and falling debt, but 'there will be no return to austerity'. Not sure how they'll do that without raising taxes. 
  • Address the cost of living crisis: reduce costs of energy, food, housing and childcare, free breakfast clubs in every primary school. 
  • National Wealth Fund to make public investments - e.g. in ports, gigafactories, steel, carbon capture. 
  • Cap on corporation tax, and giving businesses long term plans for taxation, so they can do financial planning. 
  • Replace business rates with a new system (but nothing about what the new system will be)
  • 10 year Infrastructure strategy covering road, rail, reservoirs and key national infrastructure. And of course they will 'slash red tape' in the planning system. Everyone promises this. Nobody does it. 
  • 2030 phase out date for new cars with petrol/diesel engines. 
  • Renationalise railways, new local powers to control bus routes through local government. 
  • 1.5m new homes 'over the next parliament' (300k a year, compared to 210k at the moment), with 'a new generation of new towns' (but no figure on how many, or how large). Promises of an increase in social and affordable housebuilding, but no figures. 
  • Workforce training plans in key sectors - health, social care, construction - to reduce dependence on migrant labour. 
  • Ban on zero hours contracts, parental leave available from day 1, align minimum wage with actual living wage. 
  • 650k new jobs in green energy - clean power, home insulation. Huge uplift in onshore and offshore wind and solar, plus carbon capture. No new gas, coal and oil licences, and no fracking. Windfall levy increased. Great British Energy to drive this. £6.6bn on home insulation, grants and loans for renewables. 
  • Chunky sections on crime, addressing violence against women and girls, and the justice and prison system. 
  • 'An ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty' developed in partnership with charitable and faith sector as well as business and local government. Apart from free breakfast clubs at primary school, little detail as to what this might look like. Mental health support in every school. 
  • Addressing the dentistry lottery - 700,000 more urgent dental appointments (per year? over the parliament? for whom? - children need to be a priority)
  • 8500 extra mental health staff for children, young people and adults.
  • Scrap hereditary peers in the Lords, and eventually replace the second chamber with a representative one.  
  • Recognising a Palestinian state 'as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two state solution with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state'. Diplomatic language there, but no blank cheque for Hamas. 

What's To Like?
  • Unlike the Libdems, the document is consistent. It has the same quote on security: "The first duty of any government is to keep the country safe", and therefore the first section is about national security, rather than chapter 21. 
  • The cost of living crisis is named, and there are clear steps to address the key components of it (food, fuel, housing, family costs)
  • Using the state where the market fails: much of our key infrastructure was built by government corporations, and left to the private sector it is disintegrating. Reintroducing the state as a key actor in transport and energy is a good move. We should do it in housebuilding too. 
  • Good, ambitious and detailed plans on green energy, this will be a shot in the arm to our contribution to reducing global warming. 
  • Recognition of faith groups as partners with government and other agencies in developing plans and delivering outcomes. However, I suspect Labour are saying this mostly with an eye on the mosques rather than the churches. 
  • Tackling homelessness, rather than just letting it happen. 
  • Retaining a diagnosis of gender dysphoria for trans people, so that there is proper healthcare support in this area, rather than a free for all. 
  • Commitment to restoring 0.7% of GDP as foreign aid, though its 'when fiscal circumstances allow' - i.e. can be put off indefinitely if they so choose. 

What's Not To Like?
  • Aspiration rather than policy, again and again. What does Labour will also ensure the police and intelligence services have the powers and resources they need to protect the British people from terrorism and hostile espionage really mean? Blank cheque for a surveillance state, or just proper staffing? The document is deliberately worded, in many places, to sound good but make no specific commitments to action. Which is exactly what you get when Keir Starmer speaks. 
  • It's not clear where the money is coming from. Labour says what taxes it won't raise, but the costings deal with surprisingly small amounts of new spending - either there is something they're not telling us, or there are surprise tax rises/spending cuts coming down the tracks. 
  • There are entire sections you could read, and still have no idea what, specifically, Labour will do in government in that area. 
  • The idea that you can sort out anti social behaviour and criminality by 'cracking down' and putting a few more police on the street. Like the other parties, Labour ignores a key root cause, family breakdown. Research shows that children from fatherless families have impaired chances in education, work and earning, and worse outcomes in addiction, health and crime. 
  • The 40k extra appointments will be created by 'incentivising staff' - i.e. paying people to work longer hours. Good luck with that. But at least Labour aren't averse to 'using spare capacity in the independent sector' to reducing waiting lists. What the NHS really needs is some way of curbing the lucrative alternatives of locum or private sector work so that doctors aren't financially rewarded for leaving the NHS. 
  • A 'trans inclusive ban on conversion practices' will mean that counsellors can't explore with people presenting as trans whether something else is going on. The vast majority of people who explore transition don't go through with it, and the vast majority of children presenting as trans have at least one other significant mental health or neurodiverse condition. There still seems to be an internal conflict in Labours approach to trans rights, and their approach to womens rights, something which has already spannered the SNP. 
  • Phasing out all sales of petrol/diesel cars by 2030. The electric car market is dominated by the Chinese, who are dumping unsold EVs on global markets, and electric cars themselves are much more expensive than conventional cars (which have become more efficient). There are serious problems in the EV market
There is plenty here, but there is a jarring mismatch: repeated rhetoric about what an awful job the Conservatives have done, but remedied by minor tweaks - a few extra staff here, more brushing of teeth there. We are not actually presented with substantial or far-reaching policy solutions. There are major structural problems in the country, all of them connected - birth rate, age profile, immigration, housing, NHS, social care, mental health, inequality, family breakdown, social mobility etc. Though the document talks a good game about long term plans developed in partnership, Labour needs to be much much bolder than what's presented here

 To say this is unambitious is an understatement. After 14 years in opposition, whilst there are a decent number of ideas and proposals here, overall it is incredibly timid. This graphic from Sky sums it up: 

If Labour were intending not to scare the horses, then they've just about succeeded, with a few exceptions. But the lack of ambition is linked to the other major reservation - that there is something we're not being told, particularly about taxation and spending cuts. And I do have concerns about the Labour party as a whole - Starmer has changed the party, but not to the extent of Tony 'New Labour' Blair. There are still a number of people in the party - including some on the front bench -  who I wouldn't trust in government, and good MPs like Rosie Duffield are kept at arms length because they don't toe the line of Stonewall activists. 

PS If you don't have time for a 136 page manifesto, try this one from the Trussell Trust. 16 pages, 10 specific proposals. Come on Keir, how about going down in history as the PM who put all the food banks out of business?

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