A socialist Labour party manifesto … how far we have come

So we are getting to the sharp end of 2019 general election campaign, which I would argue is the first time that we have had the actual possibility of voting in to power a socialist Labour party. And because of this I have taken the time to read the manifesto.

I would have read the other two manifestos but I didn’t really see any point. Neither party, in their current guise can be trusted to keep campaign promises. In only the last ten years both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have campaigned on major issues that they u-turned on as soon as they got in to power. For the Conservatives it was the promise that they would protect the NHS, which they didn’t. And in the case of the Liberal Democrats during their election campaign they promised not to increase tuition fees, which they did.

More often than not the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. In the case of the Tories and the Lib Dems, senior members of both parties have either lied to the electorate during campaigns or simply didn’t feel the need to keep their campaign promises once in power. Because their promises are hollow, it follows that their manifestos are worthless,. The case for the current Labour party is however different. Or to be more specific its current iteration as an actual socialist Labour party.

The socialist Labour party has never be in power. The last Labour government was not only not socialist, it was arguably Thatcherite. And most of the senior leadership of the current socialist Labour party spent most of the last Labour government opposing the ‘New Labour’ continuation of the neoliberal agenda started in 1979 under Thatcher. Why the current leadership hasn’t pointed this out every time someone shouts something about the last Labour government during debates in the House of Commons is beyond me. But I digress.

I am not a member of the Labour party, but many people I know, love and care for are. I know that some feel that loyalty to the party has to trump everything else because as progressives and radicals we can often feel under siege in the modern system, but it is not the party that requires their loyalty. It is the people of Britain that are being crushed by four decades of a neoliberal consensus within the british establishment. Confusing the Parliamentary Labour Party with the membership, is as dangerous as confusing the Westminster village for the United Kingdom.

And as laudable as loyalty to the party is, the reality is that sections of the PLP are not playing by the same rules. The neoliberal ‘cabal’ within the party has done everything it can, and at every opportunity given to it, to undermine the will of the membership who chose a socialist leadership. The Labour party membership has sent a clear message, that they want a socialist Labour party, not another party of crypto-thatcherite neoliberals in red ties. Which brings me nicely back to the 2019 general election, the socialist Labour party manifesto and just how far the progressive left has come in the last two decades.

The manifesto is 107 pages long, and it takes a good few hours to properly digest it. And I do have some issues with it, but i’ll come back to those.

Let me first start by saying that from my perspective it is one of the most progressive statements of intent from a major political party in a G20 country in recent decades that I have ever seen. If every policy in it was enacted, we as a country would be  taking one of the most significant steps towards sustainability, equality and progress that the country has ever taken. And if after four years that manifesto had been completely delivered, the inhabitants of these islands would finally be justified in prefixing the name with Great.

Although if I am being completely honest, it doesn’t quite go far enough for me. However if it certainly goes a significant way in the right direction.

The truth is I can’t see how anyone from the poorest 95% of society that reads it, won’t recognise just how much better their lives would be if that document was enacted. And as for the 95-99%, if they just let the policies laid out in it play out logically in their imaginations, they would have to be pretty short sighted not to see how both their lives and the lives of their loved ones would also be significantly better off.

In fact, the only people I can see that would be worse off would be the 1%. It would undoubtedly diminish their privilege by curtailing the parasitism of their neoliberal capitalism. If this manifesto was enacted completely, the 1% would find it much harder to exploit workers, evade taxes, privatise public services, undermine democracy, accelerate climate change or impoverish entire communities. Privilege as they know it would be over. And I am ok with that.

For me there are a couple of problems with it. Firstly, I don’t understand why the socialist Labour party has insisted on pledging to continue building new nuclear power stations. It is overly simplistic and short sighted to suggest that we can address climate change by just finding non-fossil fuel sources to produce the same quantity of energy. As I mentioned in a piece I wrote last year, I believe that nuclear power duplicates the exploitative relationships and power dynamics of the current energy model in social terms, and as such is highly likely to end up duplicating a similar outcome in social terms.

But perhaps just as importantly, it simply does not answer one of the key arguments made by the student protests. The suggestion is that todays adults are handing a poisoned chalice to tomorrows adults, in the shape of the climate crisis. But what is so different about handing them a chalice that is poisoned by nuclear waste, one of the deadliest substances on the planet that maintains its toxicity for 500,000 years. We are being asked to mandate a plan for energy production that involves stockpiling certain death. It makes no sense.

And I do understand that the nuclear and secondary industries supporting nuclear can’t just be closed down. But the 1 million climate jobs argument could be tweaked to prioritise the workers in the unsustainable industries that are having to be wound down first. The fact is, that the policy to address climate change is the perfect opportunity to consign nuclear energy to history, and to build a world for future generations free from our hubris.

The other thing that bothers me about the manifesto is the renewal of trident. It appears on page 101. This is a campaign promise that will likely end up costing the British taxpayer between £167 and £200 billion in order to give a handful of people the power to wipe out life on earth. And this isn’t something that goes away after four years. It is a genocidal weapon that will be pointing at the earth and everyone on it for close to three decades. And what happens in 5 or 10 years time if the Tories or UKIP take power and they hand control of trident over to one of their delusional racists.

I know many members of the senior leadership of the Labour party agree with this position, because I have heard them speak in public countless times about exactly this. And I guess they are prioritising the democracy of the party, and the authority of conference to determine policy over what they believe to be morally correct. But it still feels like a missed opportunity. Not from the leadership so much as the party and conference. Perhaps the british people could be trusted to make that decision in a future referendum.

Anyway, good luck to everyone campaigning and working to make this country and the world a better and more sustainable place for all of us to live in. And congratulations to everyone who worked on the manifesto, it is a truly historic document.

Oh yes, and I thought it would be the operative moment to repost a piece I had published last year. It was published by the Morning Star 25th October 2018 and asks the question “is free-market democracy capable of delivering socialism”. I guess we will find out soon enough.