Composite image via Wikimedia Commons/Chris McAndrew and Open Clip Art Library/johnny_automatic
Boris Johnson apparently didn’t want this general election – even though he’s been angling for it for a few weeks. How we’ve ended up with a winter election depends on how far you trace this all back. It’s partly been ushered in by the Conservative Party losing their majority in 2017, meaning when they refused to compromise they couldn’t get a Brexit deal through Parliament. Similarly, more recently when Boris Johnson managed to get a majority of MPs to give initial sign off on his Brexit plans, when they refused to let him rush it through parliament with little-to-no oversight, he claimed they were blocking Brexit. And so, after opposition MPs made sure Johnson couldn’t take us out of the EU with no deal, we’ve ended up with an election.
Yesterday, Labour launched their manifesto, marking another milestone in the election process. The problems facing the country after nearly a decade of austerity are evident: rising inequality, homelessness more than doubled, women of colour suffering the most under cuts to public services, and climate breakdown continuing apace. In light of this, what are Labour offering?
This election is all about climate, not Brexit. Not in the sense that climate change is necessarily going to be the primary reason people choose which party they vote for, but because we’re running out of time. People and the planet can’t afford another five years or more of a government that doesn’t prioritise the climate.
“This election is all about climate, not Brexit”
Right at the front of the Labour manifesto and threaded throughout, climate breakdown is present in their package of policies and vision for what a fairer future might look like. If the Conservative government has spent the past decade making the problem worse – or only tinkering around the edges – this is a plan for the “real change” Labour’s manifesto title promises. From investing in developing renewable energy – in turn ending the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels – which will create a million new jobs in the process, to a new clean air act. Though not quite as strong as the commitment activists lobbied for, this is all part of a pledge to reduce the UK’s emissions by a “substantial majority” when we hit 2030. This is a watering down of the party’s conference motion that targeted net-zero emissions by 2030.
Everywhere you look, things are getting worse: the public services many of us rely on in our day-to-day lives are falling to pieces, house prices are outrageously expensive , children are going to school hungry and support for disabled people has been decimated. Labour are proposing massive investment in the health service and our public services, to build council houses, scrapping tuition fees and importantly updating the Equality Act to introduce “disability leave from work, recorded and paid separately from sick leave”. These proposals could fundamentally transform the lives of millions of people for the better.
Where the Conservative Party are wedded to the “hostile environment” that they’ve spread throughout almost every corner of society – so committed to it that, despite the Windrush scandal, hostile environment policies are still in place continuing to shape and destroy people’s lives – Labour have promised to end it. The disappointing commitment in the 2017 manifesto to deny migrant communities to recourse public funds is nowhere to be found in the Labour party’s plans two and a half years later.
For people seeking refuge, Labour have said they’ll work to resume search and rescue in the Mediterranean and to restore the safe, legal routes. People are risking and losing their lives trying to cross borders – so far this year it’s estimated that 1091 people have died in the Mediterranean – and these plans, if put into action, would fundamentally change that.
“Given that Labour is a member-led party, there’s the promise and hope that grassroots movements can create space for further changes”
Labour’s pledges on immigration are not all as bold as other parts of their manifesto; they still talk about “undercutting wages” in their section on immigration and speak of a migration system catered to the economic needs of the country, in turn reproducing unhelpful narratives about immigration that doesn’t remedy the dehumanisation that I’ve found in my research has been reproduced for decades. But there is scope for real, meaningful change on immigration that could have a huge positive impact on the many people forced to try and navigate their way through the UK’s cold, costly and unfair system. And given that Labour is a member-led party, there’s the promise and hope that grassroots movements can create space for further changes.
For years our most prominent politicians have refused to engage with Britain’s colonial past in much meaningful detail. Take Tony Blair, who during his time as Prime Minister declared: “I value and honour our history enormously. The fact that we had an Empire – about which ‘a lot of rubbish [is] talked’ – should be cause of neither apology nor hand wringing”. Over two decades later, Labour are promising to carry out an audit into Britain’s colonial legacy and create an Emancipation Educational Trust to educate people on migration and colonialism. This, they say, would “address the legacy of slavery and teach how it interrupted a rich and powerful black history which is also British history.” This kind of understanding of the UK’s past and present is integral to make sense of histories of racism and exploitation that have been central to this country’s “development”.
There’s plenty more on their international policies list – a formal apology for Britain’s role in the Amritsar massacre (something David Cameron wouldn’t do); allowing the people of the Chagos Islands and their descendants – expelled from their home by a Labour government nearly sixty years ago in order for the US to create a military base – the right to return to their lands; upholding the human rights of the people of West Papua; and recognising the rights of the people of Western Sahara.
This is just a snapshot of some of the policies and ideas in the party’s 104-page manifesto. The difference between this and what we know of the Tory plans so far – their manifesto is expected to be released in the following few days – is huge. One thing is clear: politicians across the spectrum have been diagnosing the many problems in the UK and globally for years; many of them were caused by policy and the same old plans aren’t going to fix it. Only major, transformational change will do.