Last week we learned who will be standing where, this week we’ve learned what they will be standing for. All manifestos, with the exception of the Conservatives, have now been launched, but Johnson and co have also been busy giving us a good idea of what Sunday’s launch will look like. With the pledges now all but out, we know where each party will be looking to gain ground over the next three weeks.
Despite this wave of announcements, Tuesday’s Johnson-Corbyn face-off was the week’s biggest headline grabber, even if it did just confirm much of what we already knew. Johnson was predictably forthright on Brexit but struggled to provide convincing answers to quickfire questions, while Corbyn, despite generally offering more assured responses, was hampered by his party’s vagueness on Brexit. Pollsters marginally ruled Johnson the winner (51-49), but the real story was CCHQ’s Twitter rebrand as a ‘fact checker’ of ‘Labour’s Lies’, which has been swiftly followed by the Conservatives setting up a website purporting to contain Labour’s manifesto. Not a particularly good look in an era of fake news and general mistrust in the establishment.
Also striking was the regularity with which each leader was subject to audience jeers; another indictment, if we needed one, of how toxic party politics has become.
In fact, Corbyn is embracing hostility from his adversaries. At Labour’s manifesto launch he laid down the gauntlet to the wealthy, even quoting Franklin Roosevelt to describe the party’s relationship with the rich “they are unanimous in their hate of me, and I welcome their hatred”.
The manifesto, titled “It’s Time for Real Change” is as radical as promised. It outlines a drastic reshaping of the British economy, but that is perhaps necessary if Labour is to court the marginal seats it needs to secure a majority. Large-scale nationalisation and a steep rise in corporation tax are easy wins with the traditional left of the party, even if they are notable in their scale. Pledges to create a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ will appeal to an increasingly environmentally conscious electorate, but they may encounter criticism for watering down a previous pledge to guarantee net-zero emissions by 2030.
Johnson, meanwhile, inadvertently announced he would raise the national insurance tax threshold to £12,500. While he also told a CBI audience of plans to shelve corporation tax cuts in favour of the NHS. Business could therefore be forgiven for feeling unloved, particularly following Corbyn’s declaration of war, and they will be hoping for more corporate-friendly pledges on Sunday.
The Lib Dems have also showed their hand, although no one really noticed. With the leaders debate and the Labour launch attracting the gazes of many, the party were already fighting a losing battle for meaningful airtime. However, the unrelenting PR struggles of Prince Andrew blew Wednesday’s “STOP BREXIT” manifesto reveal out the water, leaving Jo Swinson with limited time to develop a narrative in which Brexit isn’t the party’s be-all-and-end-all.
The week did mark the end of the Lib Dems attempt to paint Swinson as a future PM and lower their sights from achieving a majority to a focus on being King Makers, sensible given their ongoing collapse in the polls. The party’s identity struggles contrast starkly with Labour, who have a clear, albeit divisive, set of policies that many voters will feel they can associate with.
Heads now turn to Sunday’s Conservative manifesto launch, by which time all cards will be on the table and we may find ourselves looking at an election that is about the few, rather than the many.