Today’s Labour manifesto has been torn to pieces by most of the media. It is an uncosted wish list of hard-left policies which has further wounded Labour’s credibility as a party of government.
Labour’s retreat from the political mainstream under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell has also created an historic opportunity for Theresa May to make a major ideological land grab, but Labour’s decline did not begin with Corbyn or today’s manifesto. The rot set in during Ed Miliband's tenure as leader.
In a landmark conference speech in 2012, Miliband outlined a vision for the Labour party inspired by the philosopher Lord Gasman and his Blue Labour concept. Lord Glasman argued that the Labour party had to move on from the economic and cultural liberalism of the New Labour years. Instead, Labour needed a communitarian ideology which curbed both the economic and the cultural excesses of globalisation.
Miliband embraced the economic narrative of Blue Labour by promising to tackle the inequalities which he believed undermined social cohesion. However, he neglected to address the more socially conservative aspects of the Blue Labour project, particularly the relationship between national identity, immigration and the European Union. This left Labour’s working-class base vulnerable to UKIP’s populist message.
Nigel Farage spoke to the concerns of working-class Labour voters and won them over while most Labour politicians like Miliband took them for granted. Some openly scorned people for their attachment to national identity, the most memorable example being when Emily Thornberry, the then Shadow Attorney General, posted a dismissive tweet during the 2014 Rochester by-election about a house with England flags on display.
Instead of learning from these mistakes after the 2015 election defeat, Labour has doubled down on an internationalist socialism which alienates working-class voters by twice picking Corbyn as its leader. Miliband’s leadership was a missed opportunity to return the Labour party to its roots as a party of civic patriotism and ethical socialism.
The SNP has already demolished Labour in Scotland. Labour’s grip has weakened in its Northern and Midlands heartlands where many working-class Labour voters broke the habit of a lifetime by voting for UKIP. May is now ruthlessly exploiting this weakness.
As well as embracing Brexit and promising to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands”, May is also adopting the economic elements of Milibandism. A cap on energy prices, a new generation of council housing, and an expansion of workers’ rights have been announced over the past few weeks. Nick Timothy, the Downing Street Chief of Staff, has had conversations about policy development with Lord Glasman.
If May wins seats across the North and the Midlands, then the parliamentary party will be transformed. New Conservative MPs will be representing left-leaning seats which had been held by Labour for decades and support May’s new vision for a more interventionist Tory economic policy.
Miliband's failure to reform the Labour party has made him the accidental architect of May’s new Conservatism and Labour's likely defeat next month. Corbyn’s manifesto is just the final nail in the coffin for the Labour’s historic role as Britain’s workers' party.