Labour manifesto exclusive: inside Alexander and Miliband's "word of mouth" election

50,000 people sent manifesto details as close Labour duo puts pressure on Tories

In the half-hour following Labour's manifesto launch today some 50,000 people were sent an animated film with click throughs, Newstatesman.com has learned. The figure is in stark contrast to the mere 8000 copies of the manifesto the party sold in 2005.

This time round, the Labour manifesto has been designed to be "shared", in what the campaign coordinator Douglas Alexander describes as "the word of mouth election". The Cabinet was photographed with datasticks that will be distributed, including interactive multimedia presentations as well as a PDF of the document itself.

Alexander and Ed Miliband, the manifesto coordinator, have been the two key figures behind today's launch. They first met in 1990 in David Miliband's kitchen, and -- as well as making a number of trips together including this one with the New Statesman in Bangladesh and India -- together form what has been dubbed here, 'Next Labour'.

One who knows both men tells NS.com: Their shared theme that Labour should be defenders and reformer of the state runs through chapter after chapter of this manifesto." Alexander is fond of saying that it is "people who win elections, not posters" and today's manifesto launch has his "word of mouth" finger prints all over it.

Alexander was influenced by the Obama campaign's use of PDA handheld devices on which activists showed voters films on the doorstep. But no party anywhere in the world has launched a manifesto using a viral animated film.

Once again Labour's document is weighty -- 10 chapters covering all major policy areas -- and party insiders believe that "the standard has now been set for the Tories'
launch tomorrow". David Cameron was Michael Howard's manifesto coordinator in 2005, while Oliver Letwin has performed the role for Cameron this time.
Letwin's talk of a 'policy pyramid' drew criticism from Tory MPs at a Westminster briefing.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Labour's Eurosceptics should steer clear of loaded language

Phrases such as "wholesale importation" leave the impression Labour will not speak for migrant workers.

Nothing reflects Britain’s division over Brexit than the Labour party. Do we want soft or hard Brexit? What do we prioritise? The fractures within the party’s ranks is a portrait of the divisions splintering the country.

Labour’s ambiguity over Brexit helped it in the general election in appealing to everyone. It convinced Remain voters that they could hold the Tories to account while promising the Leave voters that the referendum decision would be respected. But now clarity is needed. 

The Labour leadership seems to be angling for a hard Brexit, wishing to leave the single market and customs union on the grounds that this honours the wishes of the 52 per cent. Ironically, they are at odds with everyone in this situation, from the general public – who favour access to single market over immigration controls – to a poll in LabourList showing that 72 per cent of readers prioritised inclusion within the single market.

Jeremy Corbyn's lukewarm attitude to the EU is well documented. If the Labour Party are serious about their public ownership plans for the railways and energy, it’s likely they envision it being made difficult within the EU because of directives which create competition between the state and the private sector. There are unexplored alternatives to this, as seen in Germany and Italy where private companies are made and run the industries with the states acting as the major shareholders of the company. However it’s unlikely to see the hard left ever accepting this, given its disdain for both the private sector and the idea of it interacting with the state to deliver services.

But this is not all that should trouble progressives regarding the Labour leadership’s stance on Brexit. During a recent Andrew Marr programme in which he appeared on, Corbyn claimed that mass immigration had been used to denigrate the conditions for British workers, saying that there was a “wholesale importation” of workers from parts of Europe which would then undermine the rights of British workers. It’s an argument that has been regurgitated by British politicians consistently in recent years – but from the right, not the left.

The idea that migrants are taking British jobs and depressing wages does not hold up to evidence at all. The London School of Economics carried out a research which illustrated increases in migration from the EU did not result in depression of British wages. That’s not to suggest that wages have not stagnated, but rather the trend is linked to the financial crash in 2008, rather than migration. Corbyn’s defenders insist that there were no deliberate racist overtones in his argument, and that the villains are employers deliberately taking advantage of an easily exploited labour market. But the manner in which Corbyn framed his speech was worrying.

The reason for this is that Brexit has created an unbelievable sense of uncertainty, insecurity and fear amongst migrants. Their position in society is now being contested by politicians with different stakes in society to them. Xenophobic abuse – legitimised as an acceptable part of political discourse by Brexit – has been climbing swiftly. Immigrants are seen as threats to British jobs and that is a narrative consistently drummed out – not just since last year but for possibly the past decade.

This is not to say that Labour should not address how some employers might seek to cut costs by hiring foreign workers on a cheap rate. But phrases such as “wholesale importation” or even using the heavily demonised “mass migration” simply sketches the idea that Labour are swinging towards the hard Brexit voters, and in doing so leaving migrant workers to be defended by no one. If the intended idea was to castigate employers, it simply entrenched the idea of immigration as a problem. Rather than bringing British and migrant workers together, you know with that whole “workers of the world unite” idea, Corbyn’s framing of the argument keeps them pitted against each other.

If Brexit has shown us anything it’s that language matters in politics in how it transmits its message to people. Slogans such as “take back control” were attacks on multiculturalism and immigration, stoking white nationalism, even if the Leave campaign insisted it wasn’t about that. Likewise, Corbyn might insist it wasn’t about migrants, but his message sounded a lot like he was blaming freedom of movement for the suppression of wage growth in Britain.

Needless to say, Labour need a rethink on what kind of Brexit it pursues.