One reason why it would have been good to have had a leadership contest last summer is that it would have offered a chance for leftie ideas to get a wider airing beyond the small group of people who follow left-wing politics closely. This would have meant that Labour had more of an idea about which ones really struck a chord with the public, and which ones are worth abandoning or at least not making a priority of.
This occurred to me again when reading the 'May manifesto' which John McDonnell has circulated. It claims that Labour can win back the support of the people by :
Introducing a fair tax system removing the low paid from taxation and ensuring the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share
Increasing the basic state pension, immediately restoring the link with earnings, lifting people off means tested benefits and providing free care for the elderly
Building council houses
Keeping post offices open
Not privatising public services
Paying public sector workers more
Abolishing student fees and bringing back grants for all students
Scrapping ID cards, 42 days detention and Trident
Giving trade unions more powers and temps and agency workers more rights
I'm sympathetic to each of those items, but this is more shopping list than manifesto. I have three particular concerns:
Firstly, a back of an envelope calculation adding up all of the above makes that a £15bn + tax cut for low paid workers (depending on what 'removing them from taxation' means - presumably they would still pay VAT, for example?) and extra spending of some £60 bn +, increasing significantly year on year. The government saves a bit from not renewing Trident and not bringing in ID cards, but those are mainly one off savings, which means tax rises on wealthy individuals and businesses of some £70 billion per year. That probably is more like their fair share of the overall national wealth, but I don't reckon they will see it like that, and I'm not particularly confident that it is possible to get that sort of money out of them.
Secondly, if there really is an extra £75 billion of revenue out there which could be raised from scrapping unpopular projects and from increased taxes on wealthy people and corporations, it seems a bit harsh that most of the poorest pensioners, children, disabled people and people who are out of work don't get to see any of it. Why prioritise relinking pensions to earnings, but not out of work benefits, for example, and why should the pensioner on £400/week get more than one on £120/week?
Thirdly, there isn't any common theme to these policies, beyond the fact that different lobby groups want them. The best manifestos are ones where the policies are linked by a common theme, and where together they add up to more than the sum of their parts.
These are just policy criticisms, there is a whole different debate about how to present these sorts of things and what thinking would be needed to answer critics, but the sad truth is that the rich and powerful don't even need to bother criticising this kind of thing because they don't have to worry that it will be enacted.
As a way to signal discontent with the policies of the current government, and as a wish list of policies which lefties would like to see taken up in one form or another, the May Manifesto is perfectly adequate. But it is not the kind of programme which is anywhere near being a viable alternative to the current set of policies of the government, and that is a great shame.