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‘Change’: Starmer unveils manifesto

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What would Labour do in power? This is the question Sir Keir Starmer tried to answer this morning as he appeared in Manchester for the launch of his party’s manifesto. Given Labour is currently over 20 points ahead in the polls and on course for a super-majority, this 136-page document (with no less than 33 photos of Starmer) is by far the most important of the manifestos to be published this week. Ahead of Starmer’s entrance, a song by Dua Lipa (the pop star is a Labour supporter) played in the background while a string of speakers, from Iceland boss Richard Walker to Nathaniel Dye, who has terminal cancer and blames NHS waiting lists for his illness escalating unnoticed, talked of the need for a Labour government.

Starmer is betting that he doesn’t need to tell voters any more before polling day to secure his arrival into 10 Downing Street.

In his speech, Keir Starmer made no apologies for publishing a document that contains little new policy. ‘Where’s the surprise?’ he asked. ‘If you want politics as pantomime, I hear Clacton is nice at this time of year’. That reference to Nigel Farage points to how Starmer wants to pitch his party’s slim policy document and message discipline as a welcome antidote to the other party’s big claims. Starmer repeatedly returned to the theme of stability with Labour as opposed to chaos with the Tories – promising ‘a return to the serious business of rebuilding our country’.

So, what of the various manifesto promises? Starmer centred on the economy in his speech – and said his focus would be growth. He pointed to the pre-trailed manifesto pledge of a triple lock tax guarantee that a Labour government would not raise income tax, national insurance or VAT. This appears to pave the way to other taxes – such as capital gains tax – being raised. As it stands, the document promises tax rises of £8 billion – but Starmer was keen to argue this won’t involve working people. In a sign that fiscal responsibility has come first, the BBC’s Ben Chu estimates that the fiscal size of the manifesto adds up to 0.2 per cent of GDP in 2028/9 – in contrast the Labour 2019 manifesto came to 3.2 per cent of GDP.

On other pledges, the document includes a pledge to bring down net migration but does not specify a figure. As for the old plan to abolish the House of Lords, the document suggests this is a long term aim but that the focus is to reform the House of Lords – by axing hereditary peers and mandating retirement at the age of 80. On ethics, it says Starmer will continue in his mission to clean up politics by founding the ethics and propriety commission – however, there appears to have been a watering down of the ban on second jobs. It suggests there will be a ban on ‘paid advisory or consultancy roles’ as an immediate step.

Starmer said that in effect not much had changed in terms of his plans since he set out his five missions over a year ago. The argument goes that the ‘plan stands because it is the right plan’. It’s why the more interesting element today is what has been left out of the manifesto – rather than anything new being added. In the Q&A session, Starmer was asked whether the public knew enough about his plan. He is betting that he doesn’t actually need to tell them any more before polling day to secure his arrival into 10 Downing Street. But his rhetoric on growth as the solution to today’s problems could come back to haunt him once in office.