While many in the press still wonder about the leaking of some parts of the Manifesto and others focus narrowly on the detailed costings, there is no doubt that this Labour Party Manifesto represents a clear alternative to the austerity policies of the Conservative government. Abolition of university tuition fees, nationalisation of rail, water and postal services, more money for the NHS and all paid for by higher taxes on the rich, this is a radical programme for social justice.
The nationalisation of services
Privatisation of key services has not worked. One only needs to look at the performance of Southern Rail to understand that the privatisation of the railways has been a failure. While huge profits were often based on public subsidies, private investment in infrastructure has been limited (The Guardian, 10 June 2013). The situation is no different, when it comes to the privatisation of water services. As Aditya Chakrabortty reported in the Guardian, between 2007 and 2012 there was only one year in which the consortium of shareholders of Thames Water in the UK took out less money of the company than it had made in post-tax profits, thereby doubling the company’s debt to £7.8bn (The Guardian, 15 June 2014). And all this while jobs were cut and investment into essential infrastructure was reduced.
In short, the privatisation of essential services has been a huge transfer of public wealth into private hands. The Labour Party Manifesto promises to put an end to this. The railways are earmarked for being returned into public ownership, as are water services and parts of the energy system. The privatisation of Royal Mail is to be reversed at the earliest opportunity.
Inequality in Britain has increased to unprecedented levels under the Conservative led governments since 2010. The most vulnerable in society have been hit most harshly. ‘About 30% of Britain’s children are now classified as poor, of whom two-thirds are from working families’ (The Guardian, 16 March 2017). By including a raise in the minimum wage to ‘at least £10 per hour by 2020’ and by putting an end to zero-hours contracts, the Manifesto indicates a clear way out of poverty, complemented with free school meals for all primary school children.
By repealing the Trade Union Act, enforcing all workers’ rights to trade union representation at work and rolling out sectoral collective bargaining, the Manifesto also ensures that working people will have the collective means to defend themselves and their families against super-exploitation in the workplace.
Abolition of university tuition fees
Higher Education in the UK has been transformed by the Conservative-led governments almost beyond recognition. Once a public good for all those capable, by increasing tuition fees to £9000 per year and removing the cap on how many students universities can recruit the Conservatives have transformed Higher Education into a market, where high quality education is available to those and only those, who can afford to pay for it. The Manifesto, promising to abolish tuition fees, is probably the last chance for a long time to reverse this situation.
Complemented with policies such as £30 bn in extra funding for the NHS over the next parliament, the building of over one million more homes, with at least half for social rent, and a guarantee of the state pension triple lock, the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes for the elderly, as well as an ethical foreign policy which will stop the export of weapons to countries such as Saudi Arabia, this is clearly a Manifesto for social justice. Because the money to pay for these policies is to be raised through an increase in taxation of people on higher salaries and corporations, this Manifesto promises to address the problems of inequality and poverty in British society.
Back to the 1970s?
Some observers have dismissed the Manifesto as heading back to the 1970s, as being unfit for the 21st century. Several of its policies, however, have already been implemented elsewhere in Europe. Germany, for example, has abolished university tuition fees, while water services have been re-municipalised in Paris in 2010 and in Berlin in 2013. In fact, water re-municipalisation is a trend not just in Europe, but across the world. ‘In the last 15 years there have been at least 180 cases of water remunicipalisation in 35 countries’ (Lobina, Kishimoto and Petitjean, 2014: 3). The Manifesto is clearly in step with the times.
|Photo by Labour Party Man|
Moreover, considering the enormous gap in wealth between rich and poor in the UK and globally, considering the problems of war, migration and a widespread shift towards the xenophobic right, this Manifesto is actually for the future. ‘If any of the above rings true, what is the real fantasy: Labour’s idea that income, wealth and power should be a bit more evenly distributed or the idea that the current state of affairs can be sustained for very much longer?’ (Larry Elliott, The Guardian, 14 May 2017).
Labour is currently clearly behind the Conservatives in the polls. But whatever happens in the elections on 8 June, the fight for social justice will have to go beyond. In shifting the ground for discussion, this Manifesto has already now, regardless of the outcome on 8 June, fundamentally changed the social, economic and political landscape in the UK.
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net
24 May 2017