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EXPLAINED: The key battle lines ahead of Labour’s crunch manifesto meeting

EXPLAINED: The key battle lines ahead of Labour’s crunch manifesto meeting
6 min read

As Labour's top team meets to sign off the party's 2019 election manifesto, PoliticsHome looks at the areas where reaching a consensus may not be so simple.

After depriving Theresa May of a majority in 2017, Jeremy Corbyn has promised Labour''s "most ambitious and radical campaign" yet this time around.

On Saturday, the leader must unite his team on the polarising issues of the day as the finishing touches are put to Labour's prospectus for the next five years.

How is the manifesto agreed?

The content of a Labour manifesto is debated and agreed upon by its National Executive Committee, relevant Shadow Cabinet members and senior trade union representatives at a ‘Clause V’ meeting.

The agenda and priorities are set by motions passed at Labour conference, which are then passed to the party’s national policy forum (NPF) for consideration ahead of the manifesto writing process.

Writing in Labour List, Councillor Alice Perry, who sits on Labour’s NEC, said of this year’s meeting: "Key discussions will take place behind the scenes ahead of the meeting to avoid any damaging confrontations, although I expect some healthy, friendly debate.

"I won’t see a draft of the manifesto until the meeting itself, when attendees are handed numbered copies. We return these copies when the meeting ends. We also hand our electronic devices over before we enter the room to ensure that there are no leaks.

"Important documents like the manifesto are often formally agreed by a vote at the end of the meeting on the whole document, rather than going through each policy line by line."

Where could the sticking points be?


Party policy is for Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn to open talks with the European Union to try and agree a “sensible” Brexit deal – one that would seek to include a customs agreement among other things – within three months, before putting it to a referendum alongside the option to Remain three months later.

While last year’s conference voted against Labour becoming an explicitly “Remain” party, there is pressure from both the left and centre of the party on the leader to be more resolutely pro-European out of fear that the party could shed votes to the Lib Dems, SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru.

Tension has arisen however between those figures and those on the frontbench who represent Leave seats and the powerful Unite leader Len McCluskey.

McCluskey told the Guardian on Wednesday: "I am calling on some members of the Shadow Cabinet who are passionate Remainers that they shouldn’t declare now which way they will campaign."

Top Shadow Cabinet figures such as Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell have already said they would campaign to stay in the bloc – rather than try and sell their own deal.

Free movement

Labour conference passed a motion pledging to extend free movement beyond the EU, a radical policy which has been criticised by the Tories - and Len McCluskey.

“We will have to see what’s in the manifesto, but I don’t think [what conference voted for] is a sensible approach and I will be expressing that view,” the union chief told The Guardian.

"It’s wrong in my view to have any greater free movement of labour unless you get stricter labour market regulation."

But in a direct challenge to the Unite boss, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott took to Twitter to declare: "The Labour Party is committed to maintaining & extending Freedom of Movement rights. But the Tories will remove those rights from the EU 3 Million. We will maintain them."

Shadow minister and Labour rising star Laura Pidcock this week told the BBC that Labour’s position on free movement would be “clearly defined” in the manifesto.

Squaring the McCluskey and Abbott positions will be one of the Clause V meetig's biggest challenges.

Green New Deal

How does a party which preaches urgency in tackling a "climate emergency" square that with considering itself the natural home of communities reliant on heavy industry?

Conference backed plans for a Green New Deal which would decarbonise Britain by 2030, nationalise the big six energy companies and guarantee unionised green jobs.

Shadow Cabinet ministers including Mr Corbyn have said “this election is our last chance to tackle the climate emergency.”

And Labour for a Green New Deal campaigner Lauren Townsend said: “Recent polls are clear: people want radical action on climate and they want it now. 

"In this climate election, there’s only one party that is capable of delivering a programme to decarbonise and upgrade the economy by 2030: the Labour Party.

"Labour’s green industrial revolution will tackle the climate crisis and build a fairer, more equal and more prosperous society in its place.”

The GMB union however, has consistently opposed the 2030 target, with general secretary, Tim Roache, saying: "The proposal to do it by 2030 threatens whole communities, threatens jobs, and frankly GMB members in communities right up and down the UK have heard it all before.

"This will mean that within a decade people’s petrol cars being confiscated. This will mean families can only take one flight every five years. Net zero carbon emissions by 2030 is utterly unachievable."

Four-day week

A split on plans to slash the average full-time working week to 32 hours surfaced this week over the issue of whether NHS workers will be included.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the BBC on Wednesday morning: "It’s not happening, there’s not a four-day week coming in the NHS... The idea that the NHS is going to go to a four-day week on 13 Dece,ber if Labour get in is just for the birds."

However speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine hours later the same morning, John McDonnell insisted health service staff would be covered by the policy.

He said: "NHS workers work long hours as it is under intense pressure and stress and as we grow our economy and we’re able to afford more investment in public services, we’ll be able to lift some of the pressure off them and give them a chance of a work-life balance that many of them haven’t got at the moment and deserve."

Scottish independence

The party faces a further constitutional headache from Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for another referendum on Scottish independence. The Scottish Labour party has struggled to revive its status north of the border as it finds itself squeezed in between a dominant SNP insistent on its mandate for another vote and a Conservative party asserting itself as the uncompromising voice of unionists, demanding that the 2014 ‘No’ vote is respected.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said in March: "My view is that the manifesto that we stand on at the next general election will contain a commitment that was contained in the 2017 manifesto which is that we will not agree to a second independence referendum.

"There's no appetite for it either - people want a Labour Government that will get on with the job of investing in public services, addressing inequality and tackling homelessness."

Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell have been less forthright however, as they face the prospect of having to rely on SNP support if they are to lead a minority government.

On Wednesday Mr Corbyn went from insisting there would be no Indyref2 in the first five-year term of a Labour government to later saying it would not be a priority in the "early years", as demanded by Ms Sturgeon.

Meanwhile Mr McDonnell told an Edinburgh Fringe event in August: "We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy.”

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