It’s the man, not the manifesto

by Nick Laitner

Ah, manifesto week. The week when the election campaign really gets going. The week when political communications machines are at their slickest. The week when your shadow Chancellor admits on the Today programme that your policies are uncosted and you’ve recently welcomed a communist to run your election campaign.

As with so much, Labour is certainly doing it differently this year. The bulk of Labour’s manifesto was leaked last week, which unintentionally gave the party its best 48 hours of coverage of the campaign so far, as the media dissected its plans for rail and energy nationalisation, scrapping tuition fees, and increasing NHS funding. These policies poll well in isolation – although less so when attached to the Labour Party brand – and the leak garnered more coverage than a standard manifesto launch would have achieved alone.

But, while today’s launch felt rather reheated, there were some new specifics. Most importantly, Labour is pledging nationalisation of the water industry too, and Jeremy’s magical money tree is going to be rooted in tax increases for high earners, and watered by Paul Mason’s assurances of fiscal responsibility.

Yet sadly for Labour, however popular these policies may or may not be, the manifesto will be largely irrelevant. This is an election being fought on leadership and competence, the terms set by Theresa May to guarantee her a knockout victory. More pertinent than John McDonnell’s policy wish list are a set of polls – such as the regional data released yesterday by YouGov – which shows Labour losing significant ground to the Tories in every part of the country.

Labour’s campaign itself is dysfunctional, with reports from Labour election HQ in Victoria suggesting that Corbyn’s team and the Party’s own staff are barely on speaking terms. The acrimony over last week’s leak has only served to entrench this divide.

And amidst this crisis, what of Jeremy? The leader appears serene and unruffled, popping up in safe Labour or comfortable Conservative seats to preach to his choir. There are two theories, not mutually exclusive, to explain this odd pattern of electioneering: either he’s not wanted in the marginals, for obvious reasons, or he’s whipping up his base of support in preparation for another leadership election after 8 June.

So questions of manifesto costings or implementations are only relevant in the fairytale world inhabited by the Corbynite cultists, and to journalists desperate to puff up this election into a proper contest.

For now, the most significant question the Labour Party faces is rather more existential. After it loses the election, what next?

Nick Laitner is a Managing Director at MHP Communications