Labour's Policies could Transform Britain after Years of Austerity – it Now Needs to Convince the Public it Can Pull it Off
The director of Labour for a Public Vote on why Labour is the only party to have correctly identified that next month’s General Election is about much more than Brexit.
Labour has refused to let this General Election be solely defined by Brexit.
The party’s shadow ministers have spent the past two years working on progressive policies and, beyond that, a vision of a fairer country, in which injustices are challenged and children get a better start in life. The result has been a wealth of proposals which not only offer incremental change, but the potential for a real and tangible difference in the way that our economy and public services are run.
For example, Labour’s offer to women and families: Sure Start centres, free childcare for two-to-four-year-olds, time off if needed for women going through the menopause and a year’s maternity leave. This is all but forgotten, despite being great policy.
In the latter half of this campaign, the party needs to come back to some of the inspiring policies that were rolled out in its first days.
The story of this campaign, if successful for Labour, could be that it is the only party to have realised that next month’s General Election is about providing an answer to people’s grievances after nine years of Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) Government.
The Tories have run shy of policy announcements and, those they have announced – such as 50,000 ‘new’ nurses – have quickly turned out to be flagrant lies. The party has relied on its ‘Get Brexit Done’ mantra, just as the Liberal Democrats have relied on their opposition to Brexit. But, in this General Election neither is enough – all the more so since voters know that Brexit will not be done even if Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement passes.
In contrast, Labour has made clear its ambition to, not only meet the felt needs of different demographics – including young people (action on climate change and free tuition fees), younger women (childcare and a year’s maternity), and middle-aged women (redressing the WASPI injustice) – but also to change the fundamentals of the way our economy is run.
The party’s longstanding critique of the economy – that it benefits a few at the expense of the many – now has policy attached that will not just tinker around the edges, but create real change. Workers on boards, nationalised utilities, a windfall tax on oil companies and more are real and radical changes to the way our economy works and who it benefits.
This is why if voters want change, they will only get it from Labour.
The Conservatives’ offer is simply continued austerity. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that a Tory win would mean austerity “baked in“, that there is a “notable lack” of social care funding and “even in 2023–24 day-to-day spending on public services outside of health would still be almost 15% lower in real terms that it was at the start of the 2010s”. Child poverty would rise to record levels.
The Liberal Democrats’ offer is little different. Despite some better policies, their pledge to always keep a budget surplus seems predicated on a belief that what the country really needs in 2019 is a new George Osborne. It is not an offer that promises change.
Labour’s challenge now is to make people believe that we can pull it off. After a long time in opposition, any party has a challenge to win public confidence as voters grow used to seeing one party in power and the other in opposition.
But, there are some easy wins. Labour is in power across much of the UK. We are in government in Wales, we run most of the devolved city authorities and many councils. Publicising stories of Labour changing lives would normalise the idea of Labour in power.
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Crucially, having won the argument that this General Election is about much more than Brexit, Labour now needs to come back to Brexit – the outcome of which is not simply about whether Britain remains or not in the EU. Rather, it is the social justice question of the age. Its outcome will determine the direction of our country for decades. Either we remain in the EU regulatory orbit – meaning that workers’ rights, environmental protections and safety standards keep pace with our nearest neighbours – or we cut ties and follow the authors of Britannia Unchained in seeking to create a low tax, low security economy and a society that would benefit only the few at the top, while the rest would be left to sink or swim.
Jeremy Corbyn has to meet this challenge head on, and attacking Johnson’s Brexit deal is the best and clearest way to do so. The withdrawal agreement is the Tories’ real manifesto. It would be catastrophic for the UK economy – a 7% hit to GDP and a loss of £70 billion over 10 years. Johnson was desperate to avoid scrutiny of his deal, pulling it from Parliament when his programme motion was rejected. He is fully aware that the public would hate it if they knew what it means.
Spelling out its impact would not push Labour Leave voters away, but would bring them back – not least because polling has shown that they care more about the NHS, the welfare state and public services than they do about Brexit, all of which would be harmed under a Johnson Brexit. Giving them the facts gives them the chance to come home to the one party that does care about their interests.
Attacking the deal is also the best way to bring more Remainers back into the fold. Labour is already winning back Remainers from the Liberal Democrats due to their faltering campaign and increasing awareness that only Labour can get us a second referendum. Attacking the deal would ram the point home, while hitting the Tories on exactly the point on which they are desperate to avoid scrutiny.
Polls show that the public are weary of austerity and want change. Labour is the only party to offer it – and to its credit, the offer is more than credible. To win public trust, and to take on the Tories on their signature issue, we must now take on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.