Labour published their election manifesto declaring it’s time for real change’. In the final few weeks of the 2019 election campaign all the parties have set out their stall with details around their policies and pledges they hope will win over voters. 

The Labour Party’s manifesto is available online at: https://​labour​.org​.uk/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2019​/​11​/​R​e​a​l​-​C​h​a​n​g​e​-​L​a​b​o​u​r​-​M​a​n​i​f​e​s​t​o​-​2019.pdf

As everyone will have different priorities in this election, the aim here is not to summarise every policy. Instead, below are four areas of interest based on four good questions to ask when reading a manifesto: 

  • What are the headlines? 
  • What long-standing ideas are applied to new problems? 
  • What new issues is the party discussing? 
  • What unanswered questions remain? 

Headline: high earners pay for more public spending

The Labour Party have sought to focus their election campaign on their pledge to increase state spending by £83billion pounds, with a pledge that the extra funding would come from increasing taxation on those earning more than £80,000 and increasing corporation tax. 

The biggest winners out of the spending spree would be public sector workers receiving a year on year above inflation pay increase, starting with a 5 per cent rise. There is also a pledge in their manifesto to introduce – over the course of five years – 30 hours of free pre school education per week for all children aged 2 – 4

Labour have stated that their spending commitments are fully funded by tax rises, but there has been scepticism raised as to whether the planned increases would achieve the funding required. On top of this they have also made additional commitments not in the manifesto to compensate women born in the 1950s who have been worst affected by bringing the retirement age for women in line with men at a faster rate than previously planned. Speaking for the Labour Party Angela Rayner also came under fire for not answering whether the removal of the marriage tax allowance would see low earners paying for spending rises. (It would.) 

Old news: nationalisation

The Labour Party has historically supported the state ownership of industry, this was most notably through Clause IV of their 1918 constitution which stated: To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

This was amended by Tony Blair in 1995 in what was widely seen as the modernising the Labour Party, and marked the inauguration of New Labour’. When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in 2015 there was speculation that the party would reintroduce the old wording, or rewrite it along similar lines. This has not happened, but as in the 2017 manifesto there is an increasing willingness to support the renationalisation of industry and bring them into public ownership. 

The 2019 manifesto includes commitments to renationalising National Grid, the Royal Mail, the big six energy companies, railways, and also the broadband part of BT. The party haven’t included costs for the nationalisation of these industries on the basis that the cost of buying out the private companies would be covered by the assets subsequently owned. 

New ideas: a four day working week

One of the most eye catching innovations of the Labour Party’s campaign is the pledge to reduce average full time working hours to 32 within a decade of coming to office. This was previewed prior to the manifesto launch as a four day working week and Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, insisted that it could be achieved without compulsion and would include NHS workers while also maintaining their improvement targets and planned level of investment. 

The Labour Party also claim that this will be achieved without affecting overall pay, and by improving productivity. The party commits to protecting workers through maintaining Sunday trading restrictions, and introducing mandatory bargaining councils’ to negotiate reductions in staff time. The manifesto also pledges to introduce four new bank holidays for the patron saints’ days. 

Unanswered questions: the role of faith in public life

The Labour Party have also released a specific race and faith manifesto. They did likewise in 2017, and that document contained more mentions of faith in the footer repeating the title than in the rest of the document combined, and a single mention of Christianity – referring to the protection of religious dress. The 2019 document includes a few more specific policies that Christians – and those who support the role of faith in public life – will be pleased to see. 

Labour are backing a special envoy for freedom of religion and belief at home and abroad, and are calling for religious literacy training, specifically for the FCO and the Home Office. Including in both this supplementary document and the main manifesto is a pledge to make attacks on places of worship a specific aggravated offence. The party also recognises the role of faith in local communities but rather oddly praises the use of religious spaces’ for foodbanks and homeless shelters, rather than the people who start and maintain them. 

However, there are other aspects of the Labour Party’s policy platform that are likely to cause concern for the place of faith in public life. In particular the manifesto undermines two areas that are key to the flourishing of community life – namely marriage and the protection of the unborn. As mentioned above Labour plan on removing the marriage tax allowance which they see as discriminatory on unmarried couples. The manifesto also sets out, without any further explanation, that the party will decriminalise abortion. This will remove the protection in law of unborn babies which is guaranteed through the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act. While the 1967 Abortion Act permitted abortion in certain circumstances, the underlying law has always remained which recognised the protection of unborn life. This proposal would not only remove that broad protection, but there is also no suggestion as to what regulations or restrictions would be put in place. Every indication is that this would lead to far wider access to abortion. 

The place of religion in public life has also been called into question by the high profile intervention of the Chief Rabbi who criticised the party for its handling of anti-Semitism.