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Who leaked Labour’s manifesto?

Both allies and opponents of Jeremy Corbyn had plausible motives for releasing the document.

By Stephen Bush

Labour’s ruling executive meets with the Shadow Cabinet and representatives from the party’s NPF at noon today to debate, amend and approve the contents of the party’s election manifesto at the party’s Clause V meeting, but somehow the contents have been leaked to the press.

“Corbyn’s plan to nationalise rail, mail and energy firms” is the Guardian‘s splash, while the Mirror goes for the slightly more succinct “Corbyn will nationalise Energy, Rail and Mail” as theirs. “Labour plans return to state ownership” is the Times‘ splash. “Corbyn’s manifesto to take Britain back to 1970s” is the Telegraph‘s take, while the Mail opts for “Labour manifesto to drag us back to 1970s”.

It doesn’t make the frontpages elsewhere but it’s covered in all the papers, and copies have reached the BBC and ITV as well.  (My snap analysis of the main proposals can be read here. Guido Fawkes has uploaded the full text here.)

Although it is only a proposal, the expectation is that the leadership will get its way on the overwhelming majority of its policies. There is only one area likely to be substantially different by the end of the day: the “Global Britain” section. Defence is more of a theological issue than a policy one for many in Labour, and it is of course tricky for Unite and the GMB, both of whom represent workers in the defence industry. Labour candidates are spooked about the damage that security could do them on the doorstep and are making representations to Nia Griffith, the shadow defence secretary to water down that section. Other than that, what has leaked today is likely to be an almost word-for-word copy of the final manifesto.

Who can have leaked it? Former Corbyn press officer turned outrider Matt Zarb-Cousin has accused Labour party staff at Southside of leaking the manifesto. It’s true that Corbynites are still a distinct minority within Labour HQ, where most staff voted for Yvette Cooper and Tom Watson in 2015 and Owen Smith in 2016. It’s true, too, that, particularly in Jeremy Corbyn’s first year in charge, a number of damaging leaks did come out of party HQ. One Corbynsceptic Shadow Cabinet minister went so far as to tell me that that HQ was “riding for a fall”, while another Corbyn-critical staffer said that colleagues were “inviting a purge”.

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But it’s also true that access to the full manifesto has been sharply reduced due to fear of leaks, with Shadow Cabinet members and trade union officials only seeing the sections that were relevant to them.

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Members of the Clause V meeting haven’t received their copies of the manifesto yet and won’t until 10am. In 2015, paper copies were numbered and watermarked to avoid leaks. It’s fair to say that Southside is not exactly viewed as friendly territory by the leader’s office so it would be surprising if they were more relaxed about security than Ed Miliband’s team were.

And the leak has probably guaranteed more widespread coverage than a conventional press release or launch would have done, and gives Labour a second bite of the apple when the real thing comes out.

Just because they’re out to get you, doesn’t mean that you didn’t on this occasion leak it to secure a bigger splash than it would otherwise have got. Who really leaked it? You pays your money and you makes your choice.

But the row over “who leaked it?” speaks to the uncomfortable truth of the general election: that while an optimistic minority around Corbyn believe that they might actually get to implement this manifesto, Corbynsceptics and the bulk of Corbynite officials think this election is merely the overture to the real battle: a knife fight over whatever’s left of the Labour party.