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Thu, 18 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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Keir Starmer Pledges To End "Pantomime" Politics As He Sets Out Safety First Labour Manifesto

Labour leader Keir Starmer in Manchester setting out his party's manifesto

6 min read

Labour leader Keir Starmer put "growth" at the heart of a General Election manifesto containing no major surprises as he looks to further strengthen his position in the race to Downing Street.

Speaking at the Co-operative Headquarters in Manchester city centre on Thursday, three weeks from polling day, Starmer looked to solidify Labour’s massive lead in the opinion polls and reassure undecided voters he would not commit to unfunded spending commitments.

The manifesto — an A5 document of more than 100 pages with the word Change emblazoned on it — set out Labour’s vision centred on achieving economic growth. The party also vowed to cut crime, reduce NHS waiting lists, liberalise planning rules and improve the UK’s energy security. 

The document didn't contain any major new policy announcements, however, re-emphasising the "first steps" for power set out by Starmer in May.

Angela Rayner, the party's deputy leader, was the first speaker on Thursday morning, claiming the party would  “end the chaos” of the last 14 years of Conservative government. She was followed by a host of speakers including Iceland CEO Richard Walker, a former Tory donor who recently switched to Labour, and a mix of voters, including one man who was living with terminal cancer.

Here is what we learned from the Labour manifesto.

No Surprises

There were no new policies within the Labour manifesto other than those which had previously been announced.

Starmer rejected calls for surprise policies, sometimes described as "rabbits", saying he wanted to provide certainty and put an end to "pantomime" politics.

"If you want politics as pantomime, I hear Clacton is nice this time of year," Starmer said, referring to Reform UK leader Nigel Farage who is standing in the Essex constituency. “Britain needs stability not chaos,” he added. “I’m running as a candidate to be Prime Minister, not to run the circus.”

Unlike Rishi Sunak's Tories, who have announced numerous new policy pledges since the General Election campaign got underway, Labour has taken a markedly more cautious approach. This reflects the party's desire to protect its lead in the opinion polls and avoid the risk of avoidable errors. 

Labour policies like setting up a publicly-owned energy company called GB Energy, recruiting 6,500 teachers, and creating 100,000 childcare places had been announced prior to today's launch.

Tax rises, but not for "working people"

Labour re-affirmed its commitment to raise certain taxes to help reduce NHS waiting lists and increase the number of school teachers.

Within its manifesto, Labour committed to raising £7billion worth of tax rises which included tightening non-dom status, adding VAT and business rates to private schools, and taxing overseas property investments.

Prior to the manifesto launch, Starmer had ruled out increasing income tax, national insurance and VAT as part of an overall pledge to not raise taxes for "working people". But during the Sky News debate in Grimsby on Wednesday, the Labour leader did not rule out reforming council tax or hiking capital gains tax when asked.

The Tories have focused their attack lines on critiquing Labour’s taxation plans, which has historically been a weak point for the party in previous elections. Conservative figures believe the tax dividing line could help them mitigate what looks like almost certain defeat to Labour on 4 July. The Tories, however, have been widely criticised for using a highly-contested figure in doing so.

House building push

Labour had committed to building 1.5million homes at the party's conference in October 2023. Starmer subsequently said he was a self-declared YIMBY, an acronym which stands for 'Yes In My Backyard' which is used by voters and activists who are pro-development and in favour of increasing housing supply.

Starmer’s big mission has been to “deliver economic stability” and increase growth in the UK economy. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham told PoliticsHome on Wednesday he wanted to see growth on every other page of the manifesto. The party will hope that by making it easier to build homes and infrastructure in the UK this will lead to higher growth and more tax receipts. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer with Labour's Manchester mayor Andy Burnham at the party's manifesto launch (Alamy)

Politicians are under great pressure to build more homes for first-time buyers. Centre for Cities, a think tank, estimates there is a deficit of more than four million homes in the UK, which in turn has made property increasingly expensive to purchase and rent.

Owning your own home has historically been seen as a Conservative party principle, but years of failure to boost house building has presented an opportunity for Labour to make the issue its own.

No "Return To Austerity", but questions over how

Starmer was asked whether there would be further cuts to public services if Labour could not grow the economy quickly enough. The Labour leader dismissed these claims and said there would be no return to austerity, which characterised the formative years of the coalition government.

“We are not going to return to austerity,” he said. “I ran a public service for five years, the Crown Prosecution Service, I lived through austerity, I am never going to allow a Labour government to do that to our public services. Never.” 

Starmer said if economic growth would reach the rates of the Labour government he would have “billions of pounds” to spend.

However, when Tony Blair came to power in 1997 the Labour Party inherited an economy which was growing at three per cent a year. The latest economic figures suggested economic growth had flatlined in the last quarter. Meanwhile debt to GDP ratio is almost at 100 per cent and taxes are at a 70 year high.

Labour figures have been under pressure to explain how they will avoid cuts to parts of the public sector like prisons, courts and local councils, pencilled in by the Conservative government, without raising tax and borrowing.

Lords reform, but not abolition

Starmer promised an overhaul of the House of Lords. This would include introducing an upper age limit of 80, reforming the appointments process to ensure quality and improve national and regional balance of peers who are appointed, and toughening participation requirements.

PoliticsHome reported this week that one effect of Labour’s age limit policy, so far overlooked, is that it would disproportionately impact the party's own group of peers, potentially requiring leader Starmer as prime minister to appoint even more new peers than otherwise necessary.

The impact would be uneven because the average age of Labour peers is currently 74 – seven years older than the average age of Conservative members, which is 67.

Starmer had previously supported abolishing the unelected Upper Chamber altogether, describing it is "indefensible". This did not make it into the manifesto, however.

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