Ian Swanson: Manifestos get down to election nitty gritty at last

Jeremy Corbyn at the launch in Bradford of the Labour Party manifesto. Picture: PA

Jeremy Corbyn at the launch in Bradford of the Labour Party manifesto. Picture: PA

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At last, some policies. All parties were taken by surprise when Theresa May called the snap election and the lack of warning means they have had to work fast to pull together their policy platforms.

But now they are each unveiling their programmes and telling voters what they would do if they were entrusted with power for the next five years.

It can only be hoped the publication of the rival manifestos over the next few days will offer some relief from the monotony of the mind-numbing mantra about “strong and stable government”.

Labour was first off the blocks yesterday with its policy package which detractors were eager to compare to the party’s 1983 manifesto, famously dubbed the longest suicide note in history.

But polls have found many of the proposals – which first surfaced when the manifesto was leaked last week – are very popular. Renationalising the railways is backed by 52 per cent and opposed by 22 per cent; people ­support taking Royal Mail back into public ownership by 50 per cent to 25 and the energy industry by 49 to 24.

A ban on zero-hour contracts gets 71 per cent approval and increasing income tax for those on £80,000-plus is backed by 65 per cent.

Jeremy Corbyn also promised more money for the NHS, education, childcare and housing, more police and firefighters and to scrap tuition fees.

On Scotland, the manifesto restates Labour’s opposition to a second independence referendum; proposes a Scottish Investment Bank with £20 billion for small businesses and local projects; and promises HS2 would be extended to Scotland.

Some commentators have said the Tories’ manifesto, expected by the end of the week, may prove rather thinner on policies, although the party has already boasted about introducing more rights for workers, including the right to up to 12 months’ unpaid leave to care for a family member.

Mrs May called it “the greatest expansion in workers’ rights by any Conservative government in history”, only for the GMB union to observe that wouldn’t be difficult.

The union went on to say that if the Prime Minister really wanted to improve the lot of workers she should end the public sector pay pinch, give workers equal rights from the day they start work and commit to a real living wage which people can live on without having to claim benefits. The Tory manifesto is likely to include strong opposition to independence, though it will be interesting to see if it goes as far as ruling out another referendum. To make such a commitment for a five-year term would be going much further than the repeated “Now is not the time” position Mrs May has adopted so far.

The Tories, however, want the election to focus more on leadership than policies because they believe Mrs May is their number one asset - even though they refuse a head-to-head TV debate between her and Mr Corbyn.

Of course, the party leaders are an important factor in any election - and apart from the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, they have all changed since the last general election just two years ago.

But voters need to know what those leaders are planning to do. Electing anyone without a clear idea of the policies they will pursue is potentially very dangerous.

Let’s hope for plenty of detail and debate over the next three weeks to ensure an informed election.