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Labour's manifesto policies are popular but they won't determine who wins the election

The public vote based on leadership and economic management - where the Conservatives poll best.

Since becoming Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn has been intermittently criticised by supporters and opponents for a shortage of radical policies. But by any measure, his party's draft manifesto provides them. It includes pledges to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and the energy grid, build 100,000 new council homes a year, abolish tuition fees, invest £250bn in infrastructure, spend £6bn a year more on the NHS, £1.6bn a year more on social care, raise the minimum wage to £10 and restore collective bargaining.

Though Corbyn has been accused by the Daily Mail of seeking to "drag us back to the 1970s", polling has long shown such policies to be popular. A 2015 YouGov poll, for instance, found that 58 per cent support renationalising the railways, water companies and other utilities (with 17 per cent opposed), 61 per cent support increasing the minimum wage to £10 (with 19 per cent opposed) and 52 per cent support increasing the top rate of tax to 60 per cent (with 23 per cent opposed). There is also majority support for policies such as rent controls (59 per cent), abolishing zero-hour contracts (64 per cent) and introducing universal free school meals (53 per cent).

But as Ed Miliband can testify, popular policies alone don't win elections. Labour currently trails the Conservatives by 18 points, a gap that its manifesto will struggle to close. Voting intention is rarely determined by individual issues but by the public's collective impression of a party and its leader. It is in this area, under Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and, now, Corbyn, that Labour has long struggled. Theresa May presently outpolls Corbyn as the public's preferred PM by 49 per cent to 21 per cent. On the most important issue for voters (Brexit - chosen by 64  per cent), the Tories lead Labour by 39 per cent to 12 per cent. And though the public like Corbyn's policies in isolation, they worry about the economic consequences of Labour's programme. 40 per cent believe the Tories would best manage the economy, compared to just 17 per cent for the opposition. As the Conservatives found in the past, support for Labour policies often falls when they are explicitly identified with the party. A further problem for Corbyn is that while the public lean left on some issues, they lean right on others, such as immigration and welfare, where the Tories lead Labour.

The 2015 election was proof that leadership and economic credibility trump policy. Though Miliband's programme appeared popular, the Tories' fundamental advantages gave them the edge: Cameron was rated as the best prime minister and George Osborne as the best chancellor.

For Labour, the 2017 election risks proving a more gory sequel. In 1983, the party's manifesto - dubbed the "longest suicide note in history" by the late Gerald Kaufman MP - was 39 pages. This year's draft is a fate-tempting 39 pages. Under Michael Foot, the party won 209 seats and 27.6 per cent of the vote (its lowest share since 1918). It is a mark of Labour's woes that most in the party would now gratefully accept that result.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear