Socialist Worker

Labour launches its ‘manifesto for hope’, but there’s still a fight ahead for Corbyn

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2682

 
Corbyn speaking at the manifesto launch

Corbyn speaking at the manifesto launch


The Labour Party launched what leader Jeremy Corbyn called its “manifesto for hope” on Thursday.

He pitched the manifesto as a challenge to “the bankers, billionaires and the establishment,” and “the tax dodgers, the bad bosses, the big polluters and the dodgy landlords.”

He also called it an attempt to deliver “real change”—also the title of the manifesto. “That’s what this manifesto is all about,” he said.

Confronting the climate crisis is front and centre of the manifesto—and the major theme of its official launch event in Birmingham.

It’s a sign that the Labour Party has been forced to adapt not only to the reality of the crisis, but also—though neither Corbyn nor the manifesto mention them by name—the climate strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests that have forced it onto the agenda.

New promises that go towards tackling the climate crises are tied to Labour’s promise to greatly improve life for ordinary people—a “Green Industrial Revolution”.

These include a million new climate jobs, and retraining workers in polluting industries for new, unionised jobs on “equivalent” terms and conwditions.

But, as predicted, the manifesto didn’t commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030—the bare minimum target to avert climate catastrophe.

Instead after opposition from the GMB union, which disgracefully says siding with polluting industries is the way to protect jobs, the manifesto avoids any clear commitment.

It only says vaguely that Labour will “achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030” and will “put the UK on track for a net-zero-carbon energy system within the 2030s”.

Another big headline promise is for 100,000 new homes built by councils “for social rent,” as well as 50,000 “social homes” every year. Labour also says it will determine “affordable rent” based on local incomes rather than the Tories’ bogus definition which is 80 percent of market rents.

Promises

And it promises a rent cap on private landlords.

This is a slight improvement on Labour’s 2017 manifesto, which promised 100,000 council and housing association homes a year. Although reading between the lines, homes “built by councils for social rent” is not the same as council housing.

It suggests that housing associations—essentially private companies run for profit—will still provide a big chunk of social housing.

Labour also repeats some of the promises it made in 2017. These include scrapping university tuition fees, and a minimum wage of £10 an hour—though this is now too little.

But there are also problems and concessions to the right—especially over migration.

Labour’s conference called for the party to defend and extend freedom of movement, which allows European Union migrants to live and work in Britain.

Party members also rejected any migration system “based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps/targets”.

Yet the manifesto’s section on migration says freedom of movement is “up for negotiation.” It begins by saying the migration system “must allow us to recruit the people we need.”

“Our work visa system must fill any skills or labour shortages that arise,” it says.

The manifesto also criticises the Tories’ “failure” to hit their targets for reducing immigration.

It couches its own promises to “regulate” immigration in the language of protecting workers’ and migrants’ rights. So although it accuses “bad bosses” and the Tories of driving down wages and working conditions, it suggests they have done this by “undercutting” them with migrant workers.

The 2017 pledge to continue with the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles and submarines is maintained.

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Overall, the tone of the manifesto is more combative than the one Labour released in 2017.

The foreword by Corbyn talks not just about improving society—the focus of the 2017 manifesto—but also challenging “the vested interests holding people back.”

“The big polluters, financial speculators and corporate tax-dodgers have had a free ride for too long,” he says.

Corbyn also spent a big chunk of the manifesto’s launch revelling in the opposition he will face from “the most powerful people in Britain and their supporters.”

“They do not want real change in this country,” he said. “Why would they? The system is working just fine for them. It’s rigged in their favour. But it’s not working for you.”

That language needs a campaign and policies to match. Many passages in the manifesto talk about trying to persuade, encourage or help businesses get on board with Labour’s policies.

And Corbyn has spent this election campaign attempting to appear more professional and respectable than he did before. There have been none of the mass, open-air rallies that defined the 2017 campaign for instance.

This is a bad idea not only because it makes for a lacklustre campaign. It will also fail to persuade the bosses to allow a Corbyn government to implement even a fraction of the promises its new manifesto makes.

Implementing those changes means being willing to go further, and to confront the rich head on—and that needs a campaign based on struggle.


A climate crisis pledge 

crisis means ending that system of profit—something which Labour’s promises unfortunately only begin to touch on. It pledges to nationalise the “supply arms of the Big Six energy companies.”

That supposedly doesn’t include the bits of those companies that mine fossil fuels.

Labour says it will “take on the powerful interests that are causing climate change”. But the only method it suggests for stopping them is delisting companies from the London Stock Exchange if they “fail to contribute” to tackling the climate emergency.

And Labour will rely on profit-making companies to build green infrastructure.

After opposition from the GMB union, which disgracefully says siding with polluting industries is the way to protect jobs, the manifesto avoids any clear commitment on carbon emissions.

It only says that Labour will “achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030” and will “put the UK on track for a net-zero-carbon energy system within the 2030s”.


Migrants’ rights take a hit

Labour’s manifesto makes a big concession to racism over the question of migrants’ rights.

Its section on migration—which comes as part of a chapter on “tackling poverty and inequality—says freedom of movement is “subject to negotiations.”

There are migrants Labour wants to let in and, implicitly, those it wants to keep out.

It criticises the Tories’ “failure” on immigration—both for keeping out “essential key workers” such as nurses, and for missing targets to lower migration.

It wants a work visa system designed to “recruit the people we need”—and by definition exclude migrants it considers less useful.This is couched in the language of protecting workers. It accuses “bad bosses” and the Tories of driving down wages by “undercutting” them with migrant workers.

The manifesto also complains that the Tories have “weakened our borders” and made public sector workers check people’s migration status, “creating a hostile environment.”

Instead Labour says it will “review our border controls to make them more effective.”

But that means more of the measures that force people into the hands of people smugglers, and into the back of refrigerated lorries.


Fighting for a four-day week 

abour’s manifesto includes the promise of a

32 hour—often referred to as the four day—working week.

This is good, but it will be “funded by productivity increases”—which for bosses could mean making work more intense.

Labour also says it will “repeal anti-trade union legislation” and “unnecessary” restrictions on industrial action, including the 2016 trade union act. But it doesn’t commit to repealing all of the trade union laws introduced by Margaret Thatcher.


Changing the school rules

The manifesto included plans to scrap Sats, bring back EMA grants and axe university tuition fees.

One policy that didn’t quite make it into Labour’s manifesto was to integrate private schools “into the public sector”.

Instead a Labour government will only ask a new “social justice commission” to give its opinion on this.

It doesn’t quite say that academies and free schools—which are privately run—will be abolished either. But it does say their budgets and day-to-day decisions will be decided by an elected governing body.

Labour also promises to replace the hated schools inspector Ofsted.


Laying down the war policy

The manifesto promises an inquiry into Britain’s complicity in torture and rendition of terror suspects.

It also says it will allow the Chagos islanders—forcibly deported from their island home under the Harold Wilson government—the right to return. It will also suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and some arms to Israel.

But it confirms that Labour will renew the Trident nuclear weapons.


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