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Chaos From The Top Down

November 25th 2019

It is taken as a given that most of the parties fielding candidates at this election would like to win it. For some, this wish is unlikely or impossible to come true. The SNP aren’t about to sweep the board in the rest of the UK. The Brexit Party aren’t standing everywhere. The Lib Dems talk a big game but... well, it would take something bigger than a new leader and a battle bus to win that many seats. This week the parties started to answer the question of ‘why’? Why do they want to win. What would they do with the power that they seek?


Labour’s answer to this was published on Thursday. And it is not short of ambition. A dazzling array of policies, a dizzying set of price tags attached. Corbyn knows that - either way - this is probably his last general election as leader. And he also believes that the Tories’ abandonment of fiscal discipline moves the Overton Window when it comes to public spending. So he has gone bigger and bolder than he did in 2017: massive nationalisations, employee ownership funds, a Green New Deal, pay rises for all *and* a four day week. The list is long and expensive but the overarching effect is, somewhat and somehow, underwhelming.

Why? Well because there is so much of it. So much policy that is so radical that it is hard to see this as a programme for a Parliament but rather as the endpoint of a decade and a half of radical left governments with massive majorities. And - to return to the point above - this conflicts with what Labour are *actually* seeking to achieve on 12th December. Because whatever they might wish, or say, Labour are not about to sweep to a majority.

Their best hope of exercising power is a hung parliament in which they form the largest single party. In that instance they will rely on support from the SNP and the Lib Dems - meaning compromises with them and with their own moderate backbenchers. That being the case, it is hard to see why Labour has gone to the bother of such an exhaustive and exhausting policy document that risks putting off millions of voters. But as is so often the case with the Corbyn clique, such an analysis missed the point. The Conservative Party, by contrast, is preparing to launch a nakedly political platform that will be short on detail and long on pressing home their advantage. You can have Brexit *and* more dosh for your kids’ school, Boris will say, ‘and I’ll lock up the wrong-uns the seal the deal’. Whether you believe this is deliverable is by-the-by given that the Tories believe voters see almost everything in Labour’s prospectus as pie in the sky. And if you don’t think it is desirable then that is up to you, of course, but you are at odds in theory with a fair lump of the voters Boris needs for a majority. And why are the Tories being even more ruthless than usual in the triangulation of their manifesto? Well, because they *have* to get a majority - they have no potential governing partners left, unless the Lib Dems decide to ignore Einstein’s law of madness.

So there we are. The Labour manifesto is full of things that people don’t really believe they can practically achieve. The Tory manifesto will be full of things that people don’t really believe they actually want to do (like up the wages for nurses or spend more on schools). Which will play better on the doorsteps in marginal seats? It is too early to tell, but by this point in 2017 Labour’s polling was trending upwards and the gap between them and the Tories was closing. No sign of that this time, yet.