THE BLOG

Accident Or Not, The Labour Manifesto Leak Could Change The Election Dynamic

11/05/2017 15:17
Anthony Devlin via Getty Images

Many might agree with the statement from Andrew Gwynne, Labour's election chief, that the leaking of the party's manifesto plans was 'not ideal'. To hostile observers it reinforced the impression of a party with poor internal discipline, racked by internecine warfare. "Total shambles" was the view the Conservatives rushed out. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

That, however, is a long-established perception which is unlikely to lose Labour many more votes. So the Tories combined this jibe with their standard strapline for this election: any other party would 'put the Brexit negotiations at risk'. This has been a very successful line for them so far in this campaign. The Conservatives have clearly tried to turn the election into a referendum, not about Brexit, but about Theresa May. This has included an avoidance of policy discussion as far as possible. Personality has certainly been part of the Tory campaign though, but mainly through focusing on Jeremy Corbyn's supposed failings, rather than on their leader, still less her team.

Now, for the first time, this leak provides an opportunity to change the dynamic of the campaign. It has shifted attention to where Labour want it, on the substance of their policies, rather than Corbyn's persona. In the process, the leak has created a story that has guaranteed those policies much more coverage, and more balanced reporting, than would otherwise have been the case. Labour's policies have been in a more speculative way, rather than simply condemned as the second longest suicide note in history, as would probably have happened with a more conventional release. There have, of course, still been some references to Gerald Kaufman's caustic remark about the 1983 Labour manifesto. But much of the coverage has drawn attention to the more modest nationalisation proposals of 2017. These are also probably more popular than those of 1983: indeed, Southern Rail passengers might well feel that re-nationalisation could hardly make things worse.

There are other potential benefits for Labour as well. Party figures have been swift to stress that what was leaked was not the actual manifesto. This guarantees coverage when the actual manifesto comes out from journalists pointing out where it differs from the leak. Furthermore, it gives Corbyn the chance both to set the agenda around those policies and to use them to unite his fractious party in support of a manifesto which differs more in degree than substance from that Ed Miliband fought on in 2015.

Finally, the manner of the leak may well force the Tories to respond. They might prefer to ignore it and concentrate on turning the election into a coronation. However, that the leak was partly to the Tories' most vociferous broadsheet supporter, the Daily Telegraph, might have been designed to ensure that the Conservatives at least had to engage with its content, rather than dismiss it out of hand. That the leak also went to the main newspaper of Labour's working-class supporters, a key group May has been trying to use the bread and circuses of Brexit to take from Corbyn, also looks astute. Accidental or not, the leak nonetheless looks inspired in all senses of the word. It remains to be seen, however, whether Labour can use the opportunity it has created to switch the narrative of this election onto their agenda.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS