Ayesha Hazarika: Corbyn manifesto only just stops short of free swimming pool for all

I had just finished my stand-up show about politics, State of the Nation, last week at the Soho theatre when one of the audience members '“ none other than London Mayor Sadiq Khan '“ said to me 'you better check out Twitter'.

BBC Cameraman Giles Wooltorton is helped by ambulance staff after reportedly being hit by Jeremy Corbyn's vehicle. Picture: Neil P Mockford/Getty Images
BBC Cameraman Giles Wooltorton is helped by ambulance staff after reportedly being hit by Jeremy Corbyn's vehicle. Picture: Neil P Mockford/Getty Images

The Labour manifesto had been leaked. Of course it had. This is the era of the Labour Party being non-stop comedy gold. When the manifesto was agreed at what’s known as the Clause Five meeting the next day, a cameraman’s foot was run over by the Labour leader’s car and then his boss, Len McCluskey fell down some stairs. And it didn’t matter.

The leak of a manifesto and that kind of physical comedy would finish off most serious people in politics. The level of panic and trauma that a strong and stable press operation would have experienced would probably have paralysed them. Not Team Corbyn. They laugh in the face of that kind of Thick of It chaos. They have to these days. It’s their stock in trade.

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And rather impressively, they kind of made it work for them. Once people stopped laughing they started looking at the leaked policy ideas and they were in shock and awe of how bold they were and we’ve been talking about little else for a week.

The Labour manifesto is genuinely fascinating. It’s either a socialist wet dream or the Daily Mail’s biggest nightmare. A wish list that screams old time religion for many of the left. All the goodies you could ask for and then some.

Renationalise rail, mail and jail (ok that last bit’s not quite true). More money for services. A fat cat levy. Making the top five per cent pay more. Free childcare. There is something for everyone. It stops short at offering every household a free swimming pool and a pony, but only just. This is the manifesto the left have been waiting for since 1983. And to be fair, you would have to have a heart of stone to argue against pretty much anything in it. It’s all good stuff.

Now the snoring boring snoring question is how do you pay for all this bounty and actually make it happen and will the public care enough about that bit? The bold political calculation Team Corbyn is making is that they won’t. They hope that the “many not the few” will hear all the good stuff in their hyper partisan Facebook and Twitter echo chambers, absolutely love it and share the gospel. They will also bank on the fact that Corbyn fans will dismiss any scrutiny or questions about numbers from the evil mainstream media as Blairite/Tory/anti-Corbyn bias.

And they are also hoping that people will rise up against austerity and register a protest vote like they did with Brexit. It’s highly apt that the manifesto is being billed as “a programme of hope”.

I have been critical of Corbyn’s leadership on many occasion, but I have to say I think he and his team have done the right thing with their manifesto. After 30 years dedicated to a set of left-wing beliefs and a project, it would have been disappointing for everyone to have seen a Corbyn manifesto which was timid and triangulated its way around the big issues – something which recent Labour manifestos were guilty of.

I suspect there is much in this document that Ed Miliband wished he could have put in his 2015 prospectus. That was a called A Better Plan for a Better Future (who has a worse plan for a worse future?) and apart from the energy price freeze and the poor Ed Stone, no-one can really remember that much about it. And that’s often the curse of manifestos. They are the centrepiece of the short election campaign but the policy promises are often so dull and woolly, no-one cares and it makes them switch off even more – especially as they sound good until you read the small print.

Take Theresa May’s announcement of a year off to look after your sick relatives. On the face of it, sounds great, progressive and the right thing to do. Look at the detail and it’s unpaid. So basically, Mrs May is asking low-paid older women (who would be doing most of the care) to take a year off with no pay to care for older people because the state is struggling. Hmmmmm. Not so good any more.

I have no doubt that Corbyn’s manifesto ideas will be hugely popular and people will admire the clarity of the politics. People often complain that all parties are the same, but thanks to this manifesto, that is clearly not the case. There is a clear choice at this election about political philosophy – it’s old school but it’s there.

But policies and manifestos aren’t enough. People do care about leadership and that is what the Conservatives are banking on. They know that May outperforms Corbyn in the polls but that the party’s brand is still pretty unpopular with the public, which is the opposite of Labour. But Team Corbyn are not phased by that. To quote The West Wing, they have decided to let “Corbyn be Corbyn” and that is to be applauded. People want to see some authenticity in politics and Corbyn has that in spades. He is playing this election exactly the way he wants to – for better or for worse – and he looks like he is loving every moment, unlike Theresa May.

For all his faults, he has made this election exciting. Corbyn’s Labour is now a proper real time left-wing political experiment and we will know the results in the early hours of 9 June. His will be the success but if it goes wrong, his will be the failure.