Leaked Labour Party manifesto signals shift in party's stance

Campaigners at the unveiling of an election poster for the Labour Party on Thursday. Some plans in Labour's draft manifesto include scrapping university tuition fees, renationalising some rail and energy companies, and increasing spending on health a
Campaigners at the unveiling of an election poster for the Labour Party on Thursday. Some plans in Labour's draft manifesto include scrapping university tuition fees, renationalising some rail and energy companies, and increasing spending on health and social care.PHOTO: REUTERS

Policies hint it has moved left from its centrist legacy

LONDON • After years of contesting Britain's political centre ground, the opposition Labour Party has agreed on what is likely to be its most left-wing election manifesto in more than three decades, complete with some eye-catching policies intended to shore up its core vote.

The document will be published next week, but a draft was widely leaked on Thursday as about 80 members of a Labour committee prepared to meet to discuss it.

The draft revealed plans to renationalise some rail and energy companies, scrap university tuition fees, and put in place big increases in spending on health and social care.

Later, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the manifesto had been approved in an amended form by a party committee, but he would not say which elements had been changed.

"Our manifesto will be an offer, and we believe the policies in it are very popular," Mr Corbyn said, adding that there had been unanimous agreement on a programme that would "transform the lives of many people in our society".

The leaked draft - initially published by the Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, BBC and other news outlets - suggested that Mr Corbyn, a left-wing politician, had decisively broken with the centrist legacy of most of his recent Labour predecessors, most notably that of former prime minister Tony Blair, who won three general elections.

Instead, Mr Corbyn's strategy contains echoes of United States Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ignited liberal passions in his unsuccessful race for the Democratic presidential nomination last year.

Labour's manifesto also serves the more prosaic function of shoring up the party's core vote as it approaches a difficult electoral contest on June 8.

Motivating those supporters, and achieving a decent election result, could be crucial for Mr Corbyn, who said he wants to stay on as party leader even if he loses, as pollsters predict.

A spokesman for Labour, when contacted by phone on Thursday, declined to authenticate the document, saying the party's policy was not to comment on leaks. But Mr Andrew Gwynne, Labour's national elections and campaign coordinator, when speaking to the BBC on Thursday morning, did not deny the document's authenticity.

Labour has not yet outlined how it would pay for its pledges, though Mr Gwynne said all costs would be accounted for when the final manifesto document is published next week.

Britons will vote on June 8 in a snap general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May. Mrs May wants to increase her slim parliamentary majority before negotiating Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, known as Brexit. According to surveys, her Conservative Party is well ahead of Labour.

The Conservatives and Labour's other opponents seized on the leak as evidence that the party lacked discipline.

"This is a total shambles," the Conservative Party said in a statement. "Jeremy Corbyn's plans to unleash chaos on Britain have been revealed. Jobs will be lost, families will be hit, and our economic security damaged for a generation if Jeremy Corbyn and the coalition of chaos are ever let anywhere near the keys to Downing Street."

Mr Tommy Sheppard, a lawmaker for the Scottish National Party, said in a statement: "The very fact that this draft manifesto has been leaked shows how divided and chaotic the Labour Party is.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Leaked Labour Party manifesto signals shift in party's stance'. Print Edition | Subscribe