The Last Word: A year of failure

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There are five modest changes that would improve the manifesto, writes Richard Angell in his Last Word

First published on ProgressOnline

The prime minister has been in post for one year and one day. Theresa May’s style is a strange mix of shyness and arrogance. Her ‘stiff upper lip’ looks cold and heartless but her actions wreak of a quiet confidence that she is born run to rule. She no longer has David Cameron’s majority – and neither does she have his Eton-taught entitlement, but there is something similar at work. This arrogance was exposed in her disastrous election campaign.  

We are told by those who know her well that she takes time, considers the evidence and then makes decisions. This is not easy in No 10, as Gordon Brown found out when he moved from the Treasury. But even if it were possible, the remnants of it have not served her well. Most of the way she tried to show she was different than her predecessor have never seen the light of day. 

Ed Miliband’s team might have clung to her support for workers on board and energy market reform as proof they were not so radical, even mainstream, but she has had to U-turn on every one. The siren voices against these policies were well known – the Tories sought them out to attack Labour pre-2015. The only conclusion therefore is that she simply does not care about them that much. She really is not a different kind of Tory. The only thing she has got right is insisting there is ‘no Mayism’. 

But we still have May. At the moment she serves not at the pleasure of the public but at the pleasure of the 1922 committee, and lives out her time in Britain’s nicest open prison. She may still be in office one year from now but either way she is not in power and lives on borrowed time. 

Making improvements

The best manifestos are – by definition – those that bring a party to power. The 2017 was positive and had lots in I agreed with but we did not win. It therefore needs improvement if we want to bring about an improved result. 

This week I wrote about ways it could be better and have had the normal abuse in response. If people think doing the exact same thing twice and getting a different outcome is wise that are more content with this Tory government than I am. 

I maintain the fact it was less redistributive towards the poor than the Liberal Democrat manifesto, and that it did not contain the radical reform that Britain’s economy so desperately needs. There was higher spending and more renationalisation but little that would change the short-term casino capitalism that Miliband had within his sights, nor any measures to address the asset-less in society who are really falling behind.

But on its own terms, I argue for five, relatively minor changes that John McDonnell would be wise to make:

First, it should accept the Institute for Fiscal Studies worst-case scenarios for how much the tax measures would bring in. It should then cut its cloth accordingly.

Second, McDonnell should promise that any revenue raised over the IFS’s projections will be spent on deficit reduction. 

Third, reprioritise some of the £11bn allocated for free tuition fees for the middle classes and filthy rich to reverse the Tories’ benefits cap and to provide grants for those not going to university. 

Fourth, retain the renationalisation of Royal Mail and the railways (not that I agree with the latter, but to certain voters it seems to be a solution to their dire transport problems) and promote alternative energy providers (something I enthusiastically support), but drop the pointless renationalisation of water companies that seems to have no measurable benefit, no recognisable support in the country and could be hung around our necks by the Tories in a decent campaign.

Finally, pick a side on Brexit. By the time of the election Labour will have to. In this hung parliament – as I wrote for the New Statesman – Corbyn could keep Britain in the single market and the customs union. Staying in the former is the best anti-austerity policy this county could ever see.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell  

 

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