In 2015, Labour endured its worst general election defeat since 1987. Its manifesto, however, is enjoying more of an afterlife than this fate suggested. In advance of today’s Autumn Statement, the government has announced that it will ban letting agent fees. The policy was first proposed in Labour’s manifesto (p.46) and rejected at the time by the Conservatives who warned that it would “lead to higher rents”. But Philip Hammond will confirm today that the charges will be ended.
The announcement continues a pattern of political plagiarism. Shortly after the 2015 election, George Osborne announced a significantly higher minimum wage (as promised by Labour) and rebranded it “the Living Wage” (a measure long championed by Ed Miliband). In another nod to the opposition, Osborne abolished permanent non-dom tax status. The subsequent abandonment of tax credit cuts further aligned him with his opponents.
After regime change at No.10, other Labour policies were resurrected. Theresa May promised worker representation on boards and abandoned Osborne’s target of an overall budget surplus. In its manifesto, Labour similarly pledged only to eliminate the current deficit, leaving room to borrow to invest. The government is currently consulting on how best to achieve employee representation, having ruled out “the direct appointment of workers or trade union representatives” (though Downing Street denies any U-turn).
For Labour, the lesson is a salutary one. Though many of its policies had widespread appeal (not least to government ministers), the public did not trust it to implement them. Since then, it has suffered the worst poll ratings of any opposition on record. Until this changes, Labour should be prepared for plenty more policies to be pilfered. As Oscar Wilde observed: “talent borrows, genius steals”.