Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2679

Is Labour gearing up for a radical general election?

This article is over 4 years, 1 months old
With the opposition set to release its manifesto soon, Nick Clark looks at how the policies favoured by its members must not be forgotten on the campaign trail
Issue 2679
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Labour Party conference
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Labour Party conference

Jeremy Corbyn has promised Labour’s election programme will be “the most radical and exciting plan for real change ever put before the British electorate”.

If the policies that Labour Party members have voted for make it into the manifesto, then that might be true. They include ending private education, hitting a target of zero carbon emissions by 2030 and defending free movement for migrants.

There are also plans for a four-day working week—without loss in pay, as well as to renationalise Royal Mail and bring rail and water companies into public ownership.

These are the policies we should expect to see in a Labour manifesto. The party’s members know they need to be radical to connect with people who are fed up with politics as usual. But expectations are one thing—what actually happens is another.

Labour’s manifesto isn’t simply party policy.

It’s written by the leader’s office, who pick which policies they like, then taken to a special meeting of the party’s national executive committee.

At that meeting shadow ministers, MPs, trade union bureaucrats and other committee members can pick it apart, amend it or even tear it up.

So the 2017 manifesto that came out was a watered down version of the draft that went into the meeting.

This is an opportunity for bureaucrats and the right to override some of the defeats they’ve suffered.


The GMB union opposed party members who overwhelmingly want zero carbon emissions by 2030. They claimed this would mean job losses in the energy sector and attacks on people’s living standards. In the end, the conference passed two motions.

One backed a 2030 deadline, and another said it should limit carbon emissions “in keeping with the IPCC advice” which recommends a 2050 deadline.

Labour Party conference showed how leaders lag behind membership’s radicalism
Labour Party conference showed how leaders lag behind membership’s radicalism
  Read More

At a recent Labour party rally Corbyn said he wanted to achieve zero emissions “as soon as possible”.

That could mean by 2030, it could even mean before—for GMB bureaucrats it will certainly mean after.

There’s a similar question over migrants’ rights. Corbyn has previously promised to end free movement. He’s bowed to pressure from union leaders and the right, who falsely claim migration plays a role in lowering wages.

Despite this, Labour’s 2019 conference voted to not only keep freedom of movement—but extend it. It also explicitly said Labour should “reject any immigration system based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps/targets”.

Yet since then shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has said Labour’s policy is for a “skills-based immigration system”.

Labour politicians have ignored conference decisions throughout the party’s history.

Philip Snowden—one of Labour’s founders—wrote, “Of the hundreds of resolutions I have seen passed by conferences outlining a drastic programme of reform, I can hardly call to mind one which has had any practical result.”

This is the tradition Corbyn has promised to break from. Labour’s manifesto will be a test of that.

The battle over Palestine

There have been huge and damaging rows in Labour over support for Palestinians and what sort of criticism of Israel is acceptable.

In 2018 the Labour Party adopted a definition of antisemitism that essentially rules out describing Israel as a racist state.

Supporters of the definition want to make it impossible to say that the creation of Israel in 1948—which involved the ethnic cleansing if Palestinians—was racist. Yet in 2018 conference delegates overwhelmingly passed a motion condemning “This aggressive attempt to rewrite history, and erase the victims of the 1948 war, who were expelled or fled from their homes in Palestine.”

And in 2019 they said Labour should reject any solution in Palestine that doesn’t allow refugees from 1948 to return to their homes.

That’s something the right bitterly oppose.

Any attempt to get any of this into the manifesto will be met with a massive kickback from the right.

Schooling the leadership

One Labour policy that really annoys the right is to launch an assault on private schools.

Delegates at Labour’s most recent conference voted to “include in the next Labour Party general election manifesto a commitment to integrate all private schools into the public sector.”

This would involve ending private schools’ tax cuts, charitable statuses and public subsidies.

Engines of Privilege—Dismantling an education system for the powerful
Engines of Privilege—Dismantling an education system for the powerful
  Read More

It also says their “endowments, investments and properties” should be “redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions.”

Labour members also want to bring academies and free schools—which are privately-run—under the control of elected “local education committees” set up by councils.

Both of these polices go further than Labour’s 2017 manifesto.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is cautious. She talks about ending “tax loopholes” for private schools.

But she doesn’t say anything about bringing them into the public sector.

And just last month she met with Chris Wheeler, who represents private school headteachers and hit out at Labour’s conference policy.

And he reported the “great meeting” revealed “much more that unites than divides.”

Four day week fight heats up

Labour wants a four day week.

Conference noted that workers in Britain have some of the worst holiday entitlements and work the longest hours.

But bosses won’t give us a shorter working week just because a Labour government tells them to.

Carolyn Fairbairn of the bosses’ CBI organisation (pictured) said it would have to be paid for with “productivity gains”—cuts and harder work.

A four-day week either means giving the bosses what they want—or fighting them for it.

MPs cling on to arms sales

Labour Party members also want to immediately stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

They’re appalled at Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen that has killed up to 100,000 people—and outraged that British-made arms have helped make it possible.

Labour MPs aren’t so bothered though. Many of them are more concerned that a Labour government should keep Britain’s cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia than end the horror in Yemen.

In 2016 enough of them abstained in a vote in parliament to make sure their own party’s proposal to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia didn’t get through.

Labour’s last manifesto only said there should be “negotiations towards a political resolution” to stop the killing.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance