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The main achievement of Labour’s bulging, left-wing manifesto could be to kick start a debate over public spending, even if it guarantees the party another term in opposition.
Media commentators have had a field day, deriding the leaked 45-page document as an unaffordable wish-list that ensures Labour’s defeat in the general election on 8 June.
Under a Times headline ‘Labour’s ticket to the Dignitas clinic’, Philip Collins, former chief speech writer for Tony Blair, said ‘the manifesto is full of things that will be banned, compulsory or free but offers no credible way of paying for them.’
The Daily Mail said Labour would commit Britain to a £650 billion decade-long spending spree it claimed would cost each household £2,400 a year.
Julian Jessop of the Institute of Economic Affairs told the paper it would result in ‘economic disaster’, adding: 'Enormous tax hikes on business and the so-called “rich” will discourage innovation and investment, harming much-needed economic growth.'
The Financial Times also weighed in saying Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that the manifesto was fully funded did not stand up to scrutiny.
‘It has promised to raise taxes for the top 5% of earners but it has not said by how much. Corporation tax would be lifted substantially. But neither of these measures would begin to fund the spending spree that Mr Corbyn intends to embark on. The abolition of university tuition fees would cost £8 billion a year alone, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and increase the deficit by more.’
Labour MPs outside the Corbyn camp were also unimpressed by the 20,000 word document the party’s leadership had produced. Ben Bradshaw, Labour candidate for Exeter, is reported in the Telegraph saying: ‘Let’s get real...it’s the Tory manifesto people need to be focusing on, seeing what they’ll do in government and we Labour MPs are trying to save as many good Labour MPs as possible.’
Yet Labour’s manifesto may have a longer after life than all this scorn would suggest. Theresa May has already stolen former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s 2013 proposal to cap energy prices. She may find rich pickings in future from the Opposition’s list of policies, which according to a ComRes poll in the Daily Mirror today resonate with voters, even if Corbyn himself does not.
The ComRes online survey of 1,000 adults found 52% backed renationalising the railways with state intervention in the energy market and restoring the Royal Mail to public ownership respectively receiving the support of 52% and 50%.
Labour’s most popular polices are banning zero hours contracts with 71% in favour and 60% of Conservative supporters also expressing approval. Raising income tax on those earning more than £80,000 a year was backed by 65%, with the measure again finding strong support among Tory voters.
But while Labour scores higher on health and education, it rates well below the Conservatives on crime, defence and – not surprisingly given the huge expense of its pledges – economic competence.
The potential cost of Labour’s policies is indeed eye-watering. The pledge to scrap planned rises to the state pension age – another policy that did well in the ComRes poll – would alone cost £300 billion over the next 30 years, according to pension provider Royal London.
Steve Webb, the former LibDem pension minister now Royal London’s policy director, said: ‘As we live longer, it is inevitable that state pension ages will have to rise, as they are around the developed world. It is unrealistic to suppose that as a nation we can afford to ignore the fact that we are all living longer'.
Ros Altmann, who succeeded Webb as pension minister after the 2015 election, said she 'could not believe' Labour meant to scrap the planned rises without also raising national insurance contributions.
Labour has provoked consternation and bemusement with its nostalgia for the historic state interventions of the 1940s. While this can be dismissed as out of touch, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies the role of the state in meeting our most pressing policy issues lies at the core of the choice facing voters in the election.
In a new report looking at the long-term pressures on public spending the IFS forecasts that the growth and ageing of the population and technological changes will require an additional £100 billion of annual spending in 50 years’ time.
Rowena Crawford, an associate director of the IFS, said: ‘We face a big choice: do we increase the size of the state? Do we rein in spending on health, long-term care and state pensions? Or do we continue to refocus the diminishing share of national income devoted to other areas towards health, pensions and care?
‘These pressures and this choice are not new. What would be new would be a serious attempt to address these issues in a coherent and systematic fashion.’
Labour’s outlandish and unrealistic manifesto should perhaps be seen more positively in this context.