Labour launches manifesto – change, but not gamechanger

As expected, there were few surprises in Labour’s manifesto that was launched today. In keeping with the party’s ‘safety first’ approach to the campaign, the document largely collates Labour’s various pre-announced policies.

The theme of ‘change’ features prominently throughout both Labour’s campaign and its manifesto. This – along with the missions – is the closest we are getting to an overarching vision. The message to the electorate is clear and Labour is determined to own ‘change’ in comparison to the Tories and their ‘stick to the plan’. Labour hopes the policy commitments in today’s manifesto are enough to demonstrate what that change would be.  

Structurally, Labour is continuing with its ‘missions’ for government. Not only is this a device for grouping all of its polices, but it is also going to be key to Labour’s approach to governing. Anyone hoping to influence the next Labour government needs to frame their political engagement around how they can help the party achieve these missions. 

Whilst there are few surprises, there are several firm commitments. Labour has previously been criticized for not being ambitious or specific enough, but this document sees Labour set itself some clear targets which will not only form the basis of its legislative programme but will also be a yardstick around which the public can judge Labour in the future.  

Politically, this manifesto is unlikely to create any waves and that absolutely suits Labour’s electoral strategy. Labour is running a safety-first campaign and it seems to be paying dividends as the polling has not tightened and, if anything, the Labour lead over the Tories has actually widened. Labour did not need this manifesto to be a gamechanger; they needed to reassure the public that they can be trusted and that they will be the change this country needs. By those measurements, the Labour leadership can be pleased with today.  

But manifestos are also supposed to be programmes for government. So, you can expect to see several related Bills introduced in next month’s King’s Speech, and having firm commitments on controversial subjects (such as planning and GB Energy) should make legislative passage through Parliament easier.

What may be of greater interest is what is missing from Labour’s manifesto, particularly on tax raises (beyond commitments not to raise VAT, NI and income tax) and on any future spending cuts that may be needed to meet the party’s fiscal rules. Labour is banking on economic growth doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the delivery of its commitments so Labour’s first budget is likely to be far more significant than today.