Oh Snap

Is Labour's Manifesto 'Radical' Or Not?

The latest anti-Corbyn attack is that he's basically Ed Miliband.

by Tom Whyman
18 May 2017, 7:00am

JC greets a supporter (Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images)

There's a hot new rumour surrounding Jeremy Corbyn, being scurrilously distributed by the sensible and moderate arm of our beloved British press. This rumour is that Jeremy Corbyn – despite seeming on the surface like a bearded old commie peacenik Trot – is really not that radical at all.

In fact, so the rumour goes, Jeremy Corbyn is so un-radical that he's practically Ed Miliband – a man whose policies have famously all been stolen by Theresa May (you know, the energy price thing... and, I dunno, was Miliband pro-fox hunting?)

This rumour appears to have been started by the New Statesman's Stephen Bush who, some weeks prior to May's announcing the snap general election, pointed out that most of the Corbyn agenda could be found on the pages of the 2015 Labour manifesto.

Following Labour's manifesto launch – officially this week, unofficially last week via a leak – the rumour has begun to spread. Bush's New Statesman colleague George Eaton, for example, notes that – despite prominent members of Corbyn's team clearly professing to have read Marx – the manifesto they have produced appears to owe more economically to John Maynard Keynes.

Meanwhile, Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, argues that Labour's manifesto cannot possibly be radical, because all it seeks to do is re-establish the social-democratic institutions that got mangled up by Thatcher and her successors. Corbyn's manifesto is, as Rawnsley puts it, "Miliband microwaved". This sort of left-wing politics utterly fails to respond to "the evolving challenges of the 21st century", he says – in particular the automation of labour.

The take-home point seems to be that, since Corbyn isn't actually all that radical, what Labour is getting is Corbyn's supposed lack of "electability" in exchange for, well, no real policy gains.

All this business about Miliband and microwaves goes hand-in-hand with the more prominent line of attack that the right-wing press has pursued in light of Labour's manifesto launch. What they're claiming is that Corbyn's policies are so un-radical that they're actively regressive.

Corbyn, that old socialist dinosaur, will "take us back to the 70s", which as everyone knows was the worst decade of all possible decades. I've seen documentaries: everyone in the 1970s dressed badly; there was no electricity because of the unions; and even the air itself had a sort of hazy, cheap-looking quality to it, like it had been shot on 16mm film.

So what's going on here? Is Corbyn in truth nothing more than a bearded Ed Miliband, a politician so bewilderingly un-dynamic that he's actively trying to turn back our political clock?


WATCH: When JME Met Jeremy – full film coming to i-D soon


Labour voters really do seem genuinely excited by the party's manifesto (just look at the crowds the allegedly uncharismatic Corbyn is drawing) – and, in my view, this is because it is making to voters a genuinely radical promise.

What is this promise? Well, it's something that a lot of political commentators – and perhaps also dogmatic AS Politics students who for some reason get to write for historically left-wing magazines – might not be able to spot. It's the sort of thing that's only likely to resonate with you if you've been forced, by economic circumstance, to live your life struggling against the raging currents of precarity, the tide of destitution that constantly threatens to engulf poorer, property-less people in Britain at every second – to pull you under, just if ever you happen to stop to take a breath.

What Corbyn's Labour party is promising is that we will all – every one of us – finally get the chance to take that breath. Railway nationalisation; infrastructure investment; house-building; rent controls; expanded welfare provisions; more rights for minority groups; more money and support for carers; more help for the mentally ill – the vision of Labour's manifesto is for a society in which, as Corbyn writes in the foreword, "everybody is able to get on in life, to have security at work and at home, to be decently paid for what they do, and to live their lives with the dignity they deserve".

Policy for policy, there might well be a case for claiming Labour's manifesto is – at least compared with anything Marx and Engels might have written – rather modest, even unambitious: certainly, taxing the rich is a far cry from eating them. But to those of us who've grown up under Tory rule, the mere fact that Corbyn is proposing that the state ought to work to make our lives easier, rather than harder, feels breathtakingly, earth-shatteringly radical. This is what's really exciting about Labour's manifesto: maybe, if the party somehow manages to overturn every pollster's predictions and win, this general election will help make our lives better.

@HealthUntoDeath