Labour’s 2019 manifesto is simply huge in the changes it proposes. Individually many are not out of line with other northern European countries. But taken together, they are a big step change from the plans Labour proposed just two years ago and more radical than anything we’ve seen in the UK for a generation (Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 manifesto proposed far fewer changes). That is clearest when considering the proposed increase in the size of the state. But it is true also on proposals for deep economic reform – from our labour market to corporate governance and a big increase in public ownership.
With high inequality and stagnant productivity, none of us should be satisfied with the status quo. Indeed, there are very strong reasons for thinking that an increase in the size of our state and reform of our economic model are priorities for Britain. But despite having quite so much in it, Labour’s manifesto is lacking some crucial ingredients for any would-be government wanting to embark on that journey.
First, prioritisation among such a long list of promises would be key.
Second, for any economic reform of this kind to last, much broader coalitions for it would need to be built than Labour has currently been able to secure (in contrast, see for example what the New Zealand Labour party has been able to do on collective bargaining).
Third, more honesty about the difficulties involved would be needed. For example, such an agenda would have to involve much more of a focus on wealth taxes. And while more can be raised from the top, the reality is we will all need to pay higher taxes if we want a state the size of Germany’s that delivers not just free social care but free broadband …
Labour hopes its hugely radical programme will refocus the election campaign on domestic policy issues and away from Brexit alone. That may or may not happen, but what is certain is that if Labour forms the next government, the party is going to have one hell of a to-do list. And, as we all know, a long to-do list risks becoming something very different – a wish list.