In 2015, Labour endured its worst election defeat since 1987. Its manifesto, however, is enjoying more of an afterlife than this fate suggested. The Conservatives’ 2017 prospectus, as I wrote earlier, has several intellectual antecedents: Burke, Beveridge and Blue Labour. But it also bears unmistakable traces of the 2015 manifesto assembled by Ed Miliband’s team (including Blue Labourite Jonathan Rutherford, Resolution Foundation director Torsten Bell and New Economics Foundation chief executive Marc Stears).
Market interventionism was the red thread running through that document and it resurfaces in Theresa May’s programme. Miliband’s signature energy price freeze is echoed with a promise of a “safeguard tariff cap” to protect “energy customers from unacceptable rises”. Like Labour, the Conservatives also promise worker representation on company boards, a higher minimum wage and a new generation of council housing.
The party’s fiscal plans owe more to Ed Balls than George Osborne, promising only to eliminate the deficit by 2025 (a full decade later than Osborne aimed to) and leaving room to borrow for investment. The Tories have also adopted Labour’s proposed ban on letting agent fees and its means-testing of the Winter Fuel Allowance (in an enhanced form).
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. Under Jeremy Corbyn, all the signs suggest that pattern is being repeated. Until a Labour leader is regarded as a future prime minister, and the party is trusted to manage the economy, Nixon will continue to go to China.