First published by The Independent, 16th May 2017
Last week, I went to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak as part of his official election campaign launch in Greater Manchester. On the tiny Wythenshawe high street, where balloons outside a card shop urge voters to choose Labour, Corbyn and the incumbent MP Mike Kane stood on a bench to address the crowd. When Corbyn stepped down, people rushed forward to meet him.
Jeremy Corbyn seems at his most comfortable interacting with the public, unfiltered, permitted to be himself and to meet people one-on-one. He held countless babies, took selfies with schoolchildren, chatted to a woman in Spanish, met NHS staff and a local headteacher, and spent extra time with two disabled members of the public. His aides were having a tough time keeping him on schedule.
When I shook his hand, I told him that I work for a charity and freelance as a journalist, writing on politics and social justice issues. I expressed my disappointment that Labour (and particularly Corbyn himself) doesn’t get a fair hearing from many news outlets. He spoke in my ear: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.”
The unveiling of Labour’s manifesto today was a display of strength. Labour is promising a Britain that works for everyone, where whole swathes of society aren’t left behind. The transformative manifesto will take the financial burden from the shoulders of those who can least afford to carry it, and place it upon the top 5 per cent of earners and arrogantly tax-dodging corporations.
The Britain we currently live in is untenable for young people, university students, teachers, NHS workers, policemen, the disabled, people with long-term illnesses, people who can’t find work, first-time buyers, and those living in rented accommodation. Britain is working for a wealthy few, and Labour’s manifesto highlights the fact, often forgotten, that this is not inevitable.
At Bradford University, a huge cheer went up when Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees and end hospital parking charges. The scandal of zero hours contracts would be a thing of the past under Labour, as will NHS cuts and rises in VAT and income tax for 95 per cent of earners.
The manifesto is a document filled with long-overdue, common sense policies. It addresses the important questions that accompany the Brexit process, including concerns about the protection of jobs and hard-won workers’ rights. It puts children and young people first, promising to invest in them through a National Education Service rather than rely on the failed academies experiment or a ridiculous and divisive reintroduction of grammar schools.
In-work poverty is unacceptable. My partner and I both work two jobs and we struggle to make ends meet. We don’t indulge in avocado toast but finding enough for a deposit on a mortgage is sadly out of reach. The pledge to build one million new homes and introduce a £10 living wage by 2020 is crucial for young couples and for anyone working in poorly paid or part-time jobs, notably in care work and service industry roles.
Labour’s manifesto is much more than the “radical and responsible” soundbite. It’s actually an answer to the question of why, as one of the wealthiest and most developed nations on earth, are we constantly accepting second best?
Our antiquated approach to our railways, the Victorian cruelty of the bedroom tax, benefit sanctions and the increased use of food banks, and the swift disappearance of social housing are all symptoms of a wider inability to look forwards. European countries are laughing at Britain, enjoying efficient, cheap public transport while buying up our rail companies and charging rip-off prices for poor service. Britain should be leading the way, not lagging behind, weighted down by underinvestment, poverty and ingrained inequality.
If Labour’s manifesto and the promise of more public ownership will transport us to the 1970s, where do we currently live? 1870, perhaps? Labour’s vision for the future can heal the wounds inflicted by the last seven years of governance, where nurses cannot afford to buy food and ex-servicemen die sick and alone after their benefits are sanctioned.
Labour’s plan is costed and the policies are popular. It’s a manifesto of hope, and that’s what I’ll be voting for.