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Editorial: Confronting Keir Starmer's manifesto myths

WHEN Labour unveils its manifesto tomorrow we should recall the words of Angela Davis: it is time we stopped accepting the things we cannot change, and started changing the things we cannot accept.

There’s a yawning gulf between Labour’s condemnation of the state of Britain after 14 years of Tory-led government, and its refusal to consider the radical restructuring needed if we are to halt, let alone reverse, the decline.

Anger at the poverty of Labour’s offer is getting louder. The party’s biggest affiliate, Unite, has publicly refused to endorse its manifesto, savaging the Labour leadership for backtracking on workers’ rights.

Starmer might think big business is now so enamoured of his party that he can do without union funds. But a lack of the Labour footsoldiers who overlap so heavily with trade union activists could still seriously erode the lead of a party whose offer is confined to not being the current government.

Scepticism about what exactly Labour would change will increase following Starmer’s attacks on the Tory manifesto this week — absurdly for being “Jeremy Corbyn-style,” by which he meant offering lots of uncosted proposals.

It was an odd jibe, exposing Starmer’s obsession with vilifying his predecessor, his dishonesty and a political ineptitude masked by his good luck in leading Labour during a period of Tory and Scottish National Party meltdown. After all, Starmer was on the Labour front bench in 2017 and 2019: he knows both manifestos were fully costed, and he campaigned for them at the time, something the Tories are happy to point out.

But it did helpfully remind us of those manifestos ahead of Starmer presenting his own. Because they at least began to confront the multiple crises engulfing our country and the world.

Corbyn ran through a few of those in his riposte: “If our manifestos in 2017 and 2019 were implemented, energy companies wouldn’t be making record profits while millions of people suffer in poverty. A billionaire wouldn’t be purchasing Royal Mail. There wouldn’t be raw sewage in our rivers and seas; 250,000 people wouldn’t be homeless.”

Pointing this out is not sentimental socialist nostalgia for the election that got away. It is vital to challenge the ruling-class myth that British people rejected Corbyn’s Labour because they oppose public ownership, or taxing the rich more, or raising spending on the NHS.

The polls tell us over and over that the opposite is the case. Big majorities want public ownership of water, energy and Royal Mail, as well as the railway, whose dysfunction under privatisation is so extreme that even Starmer’s Labour recognises the need to take it back. Polling in March found 48 per cent would raise taxes to increase NHS spending, compared to just 6 per cent who would cut taxes at the cost of reducing NHS spending.

Socialist policies, when unveiled by Labour in 2017, won it its biggest vote share increase in seven decades and forced the entire political conversation left, with the Tories forced to start lying about levelling-up plans and an end to austerity in order to compete. Labour then crashed and burned in 2019, but in an election where the Tory slogan “Get Brexit Done” reveals on its own which issue decided voters against it.

The myth of the “longest suicide note in history” — Labour’s left turn in its 1983 manifesto — empowered right-wing domination of our politics for a generation, obscuring factors such as the Falklands war and the Social Democrat split from Labour which kept Thatcher in power.

A new mythologising of the Labour manifestos of 2017 and 2019 is designed to do the same, trapping us in a neoliberal nightmare without end as Labour and the Tories cling to a Treasury and Bank of England orthodoxy that impoverishes our people and degrades the public realm.

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