Labour Has Already Won the Policy Debate

In this election, Labour has put forward a bold agenda to tackle Britain's pressing social crises while the Conservatives have hidden behind a paper-thin manifesto that promises more of the same.

With six days to go until the country heads to the polls, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson will be viewing tonight’s leaders debate (BBC1 at 8.30) as one of the final chances to make their case to the nation.

Both party manifestos offer the country a change. In Labour’s can be found a vision of a just, sustainable and democratic society, while the Conservatives offer a path to more privatisation, liberalisation and marketisation. The choice could not be starker. 

But before we summarise the economic policies in each manifesto, we should recap where we are after ten years of the Conservatives. 1 in 200 people are homeless, there are four million children in poverty, and the generation growing up today can reasonably expect to be worse off than their parents.

The gender pay gap is rising, austerity has caused 120,000 deaths (and counting), we have the largest class sizes within the OECD, schools cannot afford to stay open for five days a week. And to top it all off, scientists confirm that we are reaching environmental tipping points with climate change from which there will be no return. The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world – but that means precious little when you have a government that doesn’t want to address these challenges.

The Conservative manifesto focuses on their latest scapegoat for explaining the problems in our society: Brexit. They plan to deliver it through the existing government deal and rule out any extension to the transition period beyond 2020. Beyond Brexit the manifesto promises to ‘unleash Britain’s potential’. Quite why Britain’s potential wasn’t ‘unleashed’ in 2010, 2015 or 2017 is not explained. 

After a decade of austerity, newspaper headlines have talked about a spending increase. It is claimed that government spending will grow to about 41% of GDP (the same size as the Netherlands). Nearly all of the spending increases are on health sector. Once health spending is removed, government spending outside of health is set to be 15% lower than in 2010.

Furthermore, the majority of the spending pledges pre-date the manifesto – £13.8 billion of them, in fact. Once this is taken out, the Conservatives are only actually promising a further £2.9bn in government spending – and in three years’ time. 

The Conservatives have made headlines with their pledge to 50,000 more nurses, and 40 new hospitals. Looking at what little detail there is on these pledges, they soon start to unravel. 18,500 of the 50,000 increase in nurses comes from ‘improved retention of existing staff’ – in other words, encouraging the exodus of healthcare professionals to stop. But the ‘maintenance grant’ promised to nursing students does not come close to reversing the complete nursing bursary students once received.

Of the ‘40 new hospitals’, the manifesto commitment is to upgrade just six by 2025. A further 38 hospitals have received funds to ‘plan’ for building work, but not to actually do the work. There is no detail of where, or when, or with what money these 40 new hospitals will be built. But most fundamentally, this manifesto locks the spending cuts from the government’s austerity programme in place, which will snowball its effects. It stands in direct contrast to Boris Johnson’s recent claims to have opposed austerity all along.

Labour’s manifesto, meanwhile, leads with a pledge to realise a Green Industrial Revolution, which will deliver one million well-paid unionised jobs. It is an ambitious yet pragmatic programme to radically transform the economy and to transition to a low carbon future. It will be funded through their proposed £400 billion in capital spending, via a National Transformation Fund, of which £250bn is earmarked for a Green Transformation Fund to achieve a substantial majority of emissions reductions by 2030. 

Money will be raised by increasing VAT, income tax and national insurance only on those earning more than £80,000 a year. Corporation tax cuts will be reversed and a windfall tax on oil and gas will be introduced. 95% of earners will not see tax rises. 

Labour’s manifesto pledges to reform the neoliberal economic underpinnings of our society into a just, sustainable, and democratic socialism. A Sustainable Investment Board will be established, comprising of the Chancellor, Business Secretary, Bank of England Governor and representatives across trade unions and business to oversee the National Transformation Fund.

Under Labour’s plans, the Office for Budget Responsibility will be asked to incorporate climate and environmental impacts into their forecasts. Companies that fail to contribute to tackling the climate and environmental emergency we be delisted from the London Stock Exchange. Under Labour, public ownership will be increased, and the preference for outsourcing of public services will end. A range of reforms are set to be introduced to corporate governance and ownership to empower workers. 

Through Labour’s new set of fiscal rules, a public sector net worth target is instituted, marking the first time a major party has set out a fiscal target that takes into account the public sector’s assets, and not just its liabilities. This may seem like a small change but its impacts are big: without a focus on net worth, the government has an incentive to sell off public assets for short-term gain – for example, the Conservative sale of our stake in the Eurostar.

A narrow focus on government deficit and debt, as we have seen in the debate around fiscal credibility in recent years, encourages the deterioration of public sector net worth. It also underpins austerity and is responsible for so many of its disastrous consequences.

In many ways, the Tories’ pledge to increase spending is a result of a shifting Overton window, a recognition of the negative impact and unpopularity of the austerity programme of the past decade, as well as how untenable austerity economics are in the long term.

But, looking beyond the aforementioned wafer-thin policy proposals, especially on health, it falls short of promising any real change. The Labour Party manifesto is one for workers, for the public sector, for the environment and for those struggling in today’s economy. By facing our overlapping ecological, democratic and equality crises head on, it offers an antidote to our crumbling society. It’s a manifesto that shows the world can and should be a better place. 

In my lifetime, any major change in government has resulted in life getting worse for the average person in this country, perhaps leaving many nervous of the scale of change Labour is proposing. To any reading that feel this way: this doesn’t have to be the case – we deserve better, and Labour’s manifesto promises it.