Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour's manifesto is more Keynesian than Marxist

The party's policies would be regarded as mainstream in most European countries.

A hundred and thirty four years after his death, Karl Marx's spectre has haunted Britain's election. Challenged by Andrew Marr on whether he was a Marxist, John McDonnell cautiously replied: "I believe there's a lot to learn from reading [Das] Kapital". There is no doubt that McDonnell is the most left-wing shadow chancellor in history. As I reported last year, as recently as 2006, he named "Marx, Lenin and Trotsky" as his "most significant" intellectual influences (Jeremy Corbyn has modestly stated that he has "not read as much of Marx as I should have done").

But though the shadow chancellor can reasonably be labelled a Marxist, Labour's 2017 election manifesto, which was published today, cannot. Its proposals owe more to the post-war Keynesian consensus than they do to the Communist Manifesto. The document promises to renationalise the railways (as private franchises expire), the energy system, the water system and the Royal Mail - a clean break with Thatcherism. But in many European countries it remains the norm for such utilities to be in public hands. Unlike the socialists of the past, Labour is not proposing to nationalise the "commanding heights" of the economy or the top 200 companies, still less abolish private property.

The party has pledged to raise the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent on earnings over £123,000 (and to reduce the 45p threshold from £150,000 to £80,000 - targeting the top 5 per cent of earners). But this remains below the top rate of 60 per cent which endured for nine years of Margaret Thatcher's reign (1979-88). Corporation tax would rise from 19 per cent to 26 per cent, a rate seen as recently as 2011, and far below the US's 39 per cent and France's 33 per cent. The party only promises to "consider" a land value tax.

What of Labour's pledge to invest £250bn in infrastructure? The total, as is rarely noted, is spread across a decade and would be funded by borrowing at the cheap rates the UK has long failed to take advantage of. Annual investment would rise from 2 per cent of GDP (£40bn) to 3 per cent (£65bn) - the level achieved before George Osborne's 2010 spending cuts. Such a programme would help redress Britain's historic underspending on infrastructure, stimulate growth, improve productivity and raise living standards.

Unsurprisingly, as I noted following last week's leak, most of its proposals are 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).

Though Labour's 128-page manifesto will be dismissed by some as the new "longest suicide note in history", don't be surprised if it enjoys something of an afterlife. The party's next leader will face pressure to embrace many of its policies (which also include building a million new homes, creating a National Education Service and providing £5bn a year for the NHS and £2.1bn for social care). The Conservatives have already shown themselves adept at magpie politics, borrowing an energy price cap, a higher minimum wage and worker representation on company boards from Labour's 2015 manifesto. After all, as Oscar Wilde observed, "talent borrows, genius steals".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

CREDIT: GETTY
Show Hide image

Barb Jungr’s diary: Apart-hotels, scattered families and bringing the Liver Birds back to Liverpool

My Liver Birds reboot, set in the present day with new music and a new story, is coming to life at the Royal Court Theatre.

For the last three years I’ve been writing a musical. Based on Carla Lane and Myra Taylor’s Liver Birds characters Beryl and Sandra, but set in the present day with new music and a new story, it is coming to life at the Royal Court Theatre – in Liverpool, appropriately. Amazingly, the sun shines as the train ambles into Lime Street, where Ken Dodd’s statue has recently been customised with a feather duster tickling stick and some garlands of orange and lime green. Outside the station, composer Mike Lindup and I buy a Big Issue. We have a scene opening Act Two with a Big Issue seller and we are superstitious. We check into our “apart-hotel”. Apart-hotel is a new word and means a hotel room with a kitchen area you will never, ever use.

At the theatre everyone hugs as though their lives depend on it; we are all aware we are heading into a battle the outcome of which is unknown. There will be no more hugging after this point till opening night as stress levels increase day by day. I buy chocolate on the way back as there’s a fridge in my apart-hotel and I ought to use it for something.

Ships in the night

There’s no point in being in Liverpool without running by the river, so I leap up (in geriatric fashion) and head out into the rain. You’d think, since I grew up in the north-west and cannot ever remember experiencing any period of consecutive sunny days here, that I’d have brought a waterproof jacket with me. I didn’t. It springs from optimism. Misplaced in this case, as it happens. I return soaking but with a coconut latte. Every cloud.

We have been in the theatre for seven hours. Everything has been delayed. The cast are amusing themselves by singing old television themes. They have just made short shrift of Bonanza and have moved on to The Magic Roundabout. We may all be going very slightly mad.

As hours dwindle away with nothing being achieved, Mike and I pop to the theatre next door to enjoy someone else’s musical. In this case, Sting’s. It’s wonderfully palate-cleansing and I finally manage to go to sleep with different ear worms about ships and men, rather than our own, about Liverpool and women.

Wood for the trees

This morning “tech” begins (during which every single move of the cast and set, plus lighting, costume, prop and sound cues must be decided and logged on a computer). Problems loom around every piece of scenery. Our smiles and patience wear thin.

By the end of the 12-hour session we know we have the most patient, professional cast in the known cosmos. I, on the other hand, am a lost cause. I fret and eat, nervously, doubting every decision, every line, every lyric. Wondering how easy it would be to start over, in forestry perhaps? There is a drug deal going on across the road in the street outside the hotel. My apart-hotel kitchen remains as new.

First preview

I slept like a log. (All those years of working with Julian Clary make it impossible not to add, “I woke up in the fireplace”.) At the crack of dawn we’re cutting scenes in the Royal Court café like hairdressers on coke. Today is ladies’ day at Aintree, which feels apropos; tonight we open Liver Birds Flying Home, here.

The spirit of Carla Lane, who died in 2016, always dances around our consciousness when we are writing. She was very good to us when we began this project, and she was incredibly important to my teenage self, gazing out for role models across the cobblestones.

I grew up in Rochdale, a first-generation Brit. My parents had come here after the war, and what family we had was scattered to the four winds, some lost for ever and some found much later on, after the Velvet Revolution. I had a coterie of non-related “aunties” who felt sorry for us. Ladies with blue rinses, wearing mothball-smelling fur coats in cold houses with Our Lady of Fátima statues lit by votive candles in every conceivable alcove. To this day, the smell of incense brings it all back. Yet the northern matriarchy is a tough breed and I’m happy to carry some of that legacy with pride.

Seeing the theatre fill with people is terrifying and exciting in equal measure. We’ve had to accept that the finale isn’t in tonight’s show because of lack of technical time. I’m far from thrilled. The show, however, has a life of its own and the actors surf every change with aplomb. The audience cheers, even without the finale. Nonetheless, I slouch home in despair. Is it too late to change my name?

Matinee day

The fire alarm is going off. I know that because I’m awake and it’s 4am. As I stand in reception among the pyjama-clad flotsam and jetsam of the apart-hotel, I suspect I’m not the only one thinking: if only they’d had alarms this annoyingly loud in Grenfell. I don’t go back to sleep. I rewrite the last scene and discuss remaining changes for the morning production meeting with my co-writer, George.

The Saturday afternoon performance (which now includes the finale) receives a standing ovation in the circle. The ratio of women to men in the audience is roughly five to one. In the evening performance it is 50/50, so I’m curious to see how Beryl and Sandra’s story plays to the chaps who’ve been dragged out on a Saturday night with their wives. In the pub after the show a man tells Lesley, the actress playing present-day Beryl, how moved he had been by what he’d seen and heard.

A few years ago I stood behind Miriam Margolyes as we were about to go on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in a Christmas show. She turned to me, saying, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” We agreed: “Because we can’t do anything else!” I suspect forestry is out of the question at this juncture. 

“Liver Birds Flying Home” is at the Royal Court, Liverpool, until 12 May.

Barb Jungr is an English singer, songwriter, composer and writer.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge