Labour's vision for building a New Britain
Finally, we're talking about policy. It took the leaking of Labour's manifesto late on Wednesday evening to get there — an event which many believe was a work of tactical genius from inside Jeremy Corbyn's office. I am reliably informed it was not, and a river of leaks from party headquarters has characterised the last two years, but nonetheless, the results were positive. The leak allowed headlines to be hogged by radical Labour policies like abolishing tuition fees, strengthening trade unions and nationalising the Big Six energy firms and the railways.
The speed of the leak meant a slightly confused reaction from hostile tabloids. The Mail accused Labour of going "back to the 1970s," right below a feature on how keeping "girls' jobs and boys' jobs" separate is better for everyone. The same Mail also claimed Labour spending plans would cost every family £4,000 — as if we all pay the same amount in tax. It was joined by the Sun in trying to blot out manifesto coverage with a story that Jeremy Corbyn had run over a TV cameraman (a police protection officer was driving the car.) As an attempt at rebuttal, it was all relatively dismal.
Meanwhile, the policies received far more coverage than they probably would have if not for the leak, and even long-time Corbyn critics like Polly Toynbee were gushing. Corbyn followed up the manifesto story with a bold defence and foreign policy speech at Chatham House on Friday morning. The only thing wrong with it is that this hasn't been done earlier — the right have been far too successful in framing the issue as a weak point for Corbyn's Labour. This could not be further from the truth.
Corbyn has been proven correct on the Iraq war and right on just about every foreign policy issue he has intervened in over the years, seeking diplomatic solutions when few others would have dared. As he put it in the speech: "I will not take lectures on foreign policy from a Conservative Party who stood by and would not even impose sanctions on the apartheid government in South Africa in the 1980s as they shot dead children in the streets."
Nor can the Conservatives claim to be the party of the armed forces in anything but rhetoric. There are 9,000-plus homeless veterans on the streets. It was under Labour that the Military Covenant (a contract between the forces and the state) was introduced and it was a Tory government, opposed by Labour, that torpedoed its own pledge to turn the covenant into law.
Sending under-equipped young troops into foreign wars that have delivered no discernible useful outcome is not being "pro-military." Shortly before the Chatham House speech, a former soldier approached Corbyn on the campaign trail to talk about his struggle accessing mental health services. "You're a star. I love you," the veteran told Corbyn.
At Chatham House, we didn't see a "terrorist sympathiser" or a tree-hugging pacifist hippie. We saw a grown-up with a mature, ethical approach to foreign policy, counter-posed to a directionless Tory administration selling arms to dictators, burning bridges with European neighbours and waiting on the whims of the Trump White House. And his approach withstood 40 minutes of quizzing from foreign policy specialists; more than Theresa May has subjected herself to.
But overall it is the home front, not world affairs, that will decide the outcome of our election. The other main announcement we heard, as the party's battle-bus rolled out of Manchester, was a proposed root-and-branch reform programme for education. It would be funded out of £20 billion of revenue raised from reversing Tory corporate tax cuts (those claiming Labour's corporate tax rise plans are draconian should remember that they would merely take us back to Britain in 2011.)
And the cost is far outweighed by the gain — both human and financial — of education reform. Slashing class sizes, investing in neglected schools and repairing damaged buildings and restoring funding for college students would ensure that children and young people get the best start possible. Proposals to restore student grants and remove fees on adult education courses for those looking to retrain or upskill would also ensure that education is genuinely for life.
The profound effect this would have on communities, on skill levels and on encouraging people to reach their potential cannot be underestimated. When Labour talks policy, it is universally popular. In a snap poll, 52 per cent supported railway renationalisation, 71 per cent supported abolishing zero-hours contracts — and so the list goes on. It's Corbyn's leadership that has got all of this popular policy on the table — no-one else had the will or ability to do so.
(This article was first published in Morning Star, London. The writer is a campaigner and communications worker. Views are strictly personal.)