What story will we take from the Labour Manifesto?

By Emma Burnell / @EmmaBurnell_

Manifestos are probably the most talked about documents that no one really reads. In a pure Aristotelian democracy, voters would carefully consider each of the policies in each of the manifestos measuring them against their own personal and political priorities and voting accordingly.

In reality, few will read the manifestos in whole relying on the Party’s messengers and third parties to distil their essence and making a decision based not solely – or even mainly – on policy, but on their sense of who is on their side and who they trust to deliver the most.

Once an election is over, the manifesto of the winners is treated as gospel, which is why Phillip Hammond got into so much trouble when he tried to reverse a manifesto pledge on NICs. It’s also why David Cameron was forced to go through with a referendum on Europe he was hoping to bargain away with the Liberal Democrats in coalition negotiations.

Labour’s manifesto has much that can be praised and some content that will concern some of us. While natural in any manifesto under any circumstances, the internal splits in the Party make this harder than ever to articulate sensibly. For those who support the leadership uncritically, every word is solid as oak. For those who oppose everything the leadership stands for, if Labour are defeated, all policies contained within this manifesto will be considered toxic.

The truth is this is a manifesto reflective of the serious time constraints in which it was developed. It has a large offer in the sense of nationalising a number of utilities, borrowing more to invest in infrastructure and protecting public services, but it doesn’t truly tell a story of the country the UK would be five years after electing this Labour Party to government.

At times, the manifesto feels like the early stages of a well-meaning brainstorming session. All ideas are included and treated equally, however developed, however feasible. What has been missed that would usually come through five years of negotiation through the National Policy Forum process is the rigorous testing of these ideas, the narrative that can be built around the best of these and the downgrading of others to post-election working with interest groups.

What our manifesto does show clearly is that Labour has a much greater grasp on the problems inherent in the current structure of our economy than the Tories. We are asking all the right questions about how we address the problems that have developed as a result of years of underinvestment in our infrastructure and our economy. We now need to ensure that as we seek to implement these policies in government or re-examine them in opposition, we allow ourselves to be open to new challenges for which our ideologies do not yes have prescribed answers and traditional ones for whom new answers may apply.

Given Labour’s current placing in the polls, and the maturity of the Open Labour audience about long term discussion of the direction of the Party this seems like the right place to reflect on what happens to the manifesto of a Party who have lost. Because if the polls are borne out, this will be a very live debate for the Labour Party in the coming weeks and months. There has been some vital and important work put in to develop some of the key policies in this manifesto. There have also been some places where it could be argued we have fallen back into comfortable solutions that may require bold new thinking.

In the event of electoral defeat and further internal wrangling, it will be incumbent on all of us to think hard about what from this manifesto works in policy and political terms and continue to champion these ideas from now to the election and beyond.

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