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Here's why Labour doesn't need to explain how it'll pay for nationalisation

The party has provided costings for all but one aspect of its manifesto. Here's why.

Labour’s manifesto includes a significant expansion in the size of the state, with the water, energy, mail, rail and bus companies all set to be re-nationalised. (The energy companies will only be partially nationalised but that’s a topic for another time.)

What seems to be confusing a lot of people is that Labour has not included any of those nationalisations in its accompanying document explaining how the manifesto will be paid for.  Here’s why.

Under Labour’s fiscal rule, it has to balance day-to-day spending and aim for an operational surplus by 2022. That is to say, it can’t spend more on the regular functions of government than it takes in through tax. But it can borrow for infrastructure spending. To put it in real terms – Labour can’t spend money it doesn't have to pay doctors and nurses, or teachers. But it can borrow money - up to £250bn until 2027 - to build a new school or hospital.

Taking something into public ownership counts as infrastructure spend – just as Gordon Brown’s nationalising of the banks during the financial crisis  did – under Labour’s rule, which is why the party doesn’t need to provide a revenue stream to do so. Just as spending on a new hospital secures a capital asset, so does nationalising something.

The counter-argument is that infrastructure spending creates jobs and improves productivity, but nationalising something merely changes whether those jobs are private or public. The Labour leadership’s view – and the one that would be tested if they won – is that by putting these assets into state hands, you unlock higher productivity and better job growth. (And, in the case of water companies, you gain tax revenue, as Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, believes these companies are engaging in tax avoidance.)

And that’s why Labour hasn’t provided a cost for its renationalisation programme – and why, under its own fiscal rule, it doesn't need to.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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