Political commentators appear to be concluding that an election that focusses on Brexit will be better news for Boris Johnson and the Tories than for Labour.
The narrative goes that the Prime Minister’s conviction and ‘No Deal’ rhetoric will trump (no pun intended) Jeremy Corbyn’s more nuanced approach to the issue.
Although I can see why Labour may lose a proportion of votes to both Leave and Remain camps given the likely policy position they will take at the next General Election, I would argue strongly that a campaign dominated by the country’s future relationship with the EU is better fighting terrain for Corbyn than one that concentrates on the issues that usually exercise the minds of voters, such as the economy, domestic policies and, to a lesser extent nowadays, foreign affairs.
At the last election, lost by Labour but seen as a triumph by Corbynistas, Labour’s manifesto was barely scrutinized as the then Conservative leader delivered a masterclass in ‘how not to run a campaign’. From the ‘death tax’ to her avoiding live television debates with other party leaders, Theresa May’s performance was woeful.
It meant that few, if any, of Labour’s policies were properly scrutinised.
Here are a few that, if normal politics was resumed prior to an election, the official opposition may find it difficult to defend.
This week they confirmed that they will outlaw Zero Hours contracts. That wins a huge round of applause from everyone who is against the exploitation of workers, right?
Wrong! The first telephone caller into LBC on Tuesday morning was a part-time nurse who declared that he had been a Labour voter all his life, but if they took his zero hours contract away he would vote Tory – and the policy would have a hugely negative impact on the NHS as a whole.
Labour hasn’t factored in the positive aspects that zero- hour contracts can bring to employers and employees alike, and as is usually the case with Corbyn-inspired policies, the black and white view could come to bite them on the bum in ways that they haven’t factored in.
Next up, regulating private landlords. Now, as someone who sat on Labour Housing Groups executive board through the Eighties, I am not only aware of the misery Rackman-type landlords cause their unfortunate tenants, but I have been a long-time and consistent critic of such practices.
Nevertheless, Labour again overstretches in this policy area by suggesting there will be an option for private tenants to buy from private landlords at a discounted rate in a comparable scheme to that enjoyed by council tenants.
To treat privately owned assets the same as state assets is the politics of the mad house. Again, for every bad private landlord there are dozens of great ones who enjoy very good relationships with their tenants. A lot of them are middle class people who found that their savings were getting a return of 0.5% in a savings account and their pension provision wasn’t worth a carrot. Investing in property has been a necessary risk for them to take to provide themselves and their children with some security in the future. Do Labour not want these people’s votes anymore?
This is another great example of Corbyn-inspired thinking throwing the baby out with the bath water. Greater regulation of private tenancies and stricter rent regulation, particularly in London, yes. Basically, stealing house of people – not such a good idea.
Then we come to the biggie – tax. It appears that Labour plan to introduce a top rate of tax of 52%.
I could argue all the reasons why I know that is a vote loser – again mostly among the middle- class voters Labour needs to win, who will probably never earn enough to be subject to such a high tax rate, but they aspire to and actually think taking more than half of someone’s income from them is simply unfair. It’s a British ‘thing’ I think.
However, and more importantly for wannabe Chancellor John McDonnell, every independent study since the war has shown that once tax levels go beyond the 40% threshold, the country’s tax-take goes down.
Most successful entrepreneurs are happy to pay their fair share of tax. Even those who aren’t can’t be bothered to pay their accountants to spend hours finding clever ways to dodge a reasonable rate of tax. Go above 40% and that changes. At 52%, you can only imagine the amount of cash that HMRC will lose as those impacted decide ‘enough is enough’.
I could talk privatisation, defence, and a good number of other policy areas that, if put under the spotlight, may cause discomfort for Labour at a General Election.
If, however, as seems likely, the campaign is dominated by the Brexit debate, Mr. Corbyn will be happier than some seem to think.
And, if you’re like me, you may well vote Labour on the basis that five-years of Corbyn is better than a generation of ‘No Deal’ Brexit misery.