Jeremy Corbyn’s programme may not persuade those outside the Labour heartland, but it could fire up his supporters.
Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto is a big break with the recent past. Whether the manifesto allows the party to make a fresh connection with the British electorate won’t be clear until 9 June. What is beyond doubt is that this manifesto proclaims that politics and government in Britain do not have to be done in the way the country has long been accustomed to. That is true, and Labour is offering the country a real choice. So far, so very good, on both counts.
Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest achievement is to put several propositions back into the arena that had been thought extinct. That does not mean all of them deserve a new lease of life equally. Nationalisation in the shape of expensive, centralised public ownership is one to treat with caution, not least because of the power it gives to trade union leaders to drive up costs. There are signs that Labour’s economic team recognises that, but not enough detail about how it can be done. Other changes, though, are more straightforwardly welcome. The most important of these concerns taxation.
For 30 years or more, taking its cue from America, British politics took it as axiomatic that all voters will always recoil from increased taxes. Understandable though this was in some ways, it was a denial of the principle of social responsibility. As a result, throughout this era, parties have had to contrive ways of providing good levels of public provision without overt tax increases. Not surprisingly, this has become increasingly hard to maintain, and the effect on public goods has often been brutal. The no-tax assumption reached its nadir in 2015 when David Cameron and George Osborne promised no rises in income tax, VAT or national insurance for all. But it was an unachievable fantasy, as Philip Hammond found in the recent budget.