Monday, 13 April 2015

Labour manifesto

Manifestos are important. They are what parties in government are judged by. This is true even of the current coalition disposition. The coalition agreement addressed the manifesto commitments of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, so that each side - and let us not forget that the Conservatives had to give up a lot, too - could justify itself. Further, the House of Lords is under an obligation not to block legislation which is in the manifesto(s) of the elected government.

So each of the 2015 manifestos should be taken seriously. Labour's was launched today, with Conservatives to follow tomorrow and the LibDems on Wednesday - though the costings of the latter are already released.  I look forward to the serious dissection of Labour in tomorrow's serious press, but I have glanced over today's document. I went straight for the back pages because that's where the "small print" tends to be.

As expected, Labour at least matches the Conservatives in a commitment to renew Trident and to protect jobs in some traditional areas ("The UK defence and security industry is a key contributor to our economy, with a turnover of £22 billion a year. We will work to secure defence jobs across the UK"). It should also be pointed out that a nuclear missile replacement would also help industry in the US.

On the international front, and in particular in relation to developing countries, there are warm words which Lib Dems would not disagree with. The promise to engage more with the EU is a welcome change of heart after Gordon Brown's Euroscepticism. I have to say that the efforts "to open up EU decision-making" have come from the EU side, particularly from the parliament and some enlightened presidencies, but has not gone far enough. Labour's record is as bad as the Conservatives on this. There is no specific mention of the need to open up the common market in services which has been implicit in EU treaties for so long.

Labour would "ban MPs from holding paid directorships and consultancies". Well, good luck with that one, especially as their own MPs have benefited from such in the past. Legislation would have to be very carefully worded to avoid circumvention. They would "create a statutory register of lobbyists", but they have avoided any conflict with unions by not addressing the problem of big organisations buying elections and favours.

The much-discussed principled, but probably net loss-making, abolition of non-dom status is there, but of course nothing about the scandal of limited-liability partnerships introduced by Blair-Brown. (Mind you, I shall be pleasantly surprised if any of the other major manifestos includes action on this.)

They have back-tracked on Lord's Reform.  After scuppering a measure, approved by all the major parties, to largely elect the House of Peers, Mr Miliband produces for this election the vague notion of  "a Senate of the Nations and Regions" which one suspects would be appointed as before.

For Wales, Labour commits to the same formula of retaining the Barnett formula with a funding floor as has already been announced. And do I detect some weasel words when it comes to further devolution? "An all-Wales Policing Plan" is not the same as devolution of policing.

I gather that the IFS has already cast doubt on the costing of the manifesto because no date has been put on when Labour would start cutting into the deficit. Labour have also not said how they would pay for their bald promise to "abolish the Bedroom Tax". We acknowledge that there will be a cost even to the balanced measures in Andrew George's Affordable Homes Bill, blocked by the Conservatives but hopefully to be enshrined in the Lib Dem manifesto. It would not be the many billions estimated by George Osborne, but it will still be significant. If Labour wants to restore the full subsidy to every renter (and in equity they should give it back to the private tenants deprived of it in 2008), they will need to find much more.

They would also have to find an alternative income stream for "a compulsory jobs guarantee" because the "Bank Bonus Tax" would be very much a one-off, as Alistair Darling admitted.

Most worryingly, there is nothing one way or the other about id cards or about security (apart from social security). An incoming Labour government would therefore feel free to return to restrictions on civil rights which Theresa May would balk at.

Apart from that, there are plenty of warm words (much repeated) on the social front with which we could hardly disagree. There are also several other gaps. My first impression is that it is not a document which would be a barrier to intelligent coalition negotiations.

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