Paris Gourtsoyannis: Is the 'true cost of Labour' £1.2tn - or is that Tory 'fake news'?

Chancellor Sajid Javid wanted this weekends election attack line to be signed off by civil servants at the Treasury, but he was blocked by producing an official government dossier on the true cost of Labour by the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill. Picture: AFP
Chancellor Sajid Javid wanted this weekends election attack line to be signed off by civil servants at the Treasury, but he was blocked by producing an official government dossier on the true cost of Labour by the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill. Picture: AFP
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The Labour Party manifesto would cost how much? £1.2 trillion is the price tag slapped on it by the Conservative Party - but is the figure all that it seems?

Chancellor Sajid Javid wanted this weekend’s election attack line to be signed off by civil servants at the Treasury, but he was blocked by producing an official government dossier on the ‘true cost of Labour’ by the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill.

Instead, the Tories published their own document yesterday. Half of the Conservative figure (£611bn over five years) is taken from spending commitments in Labour’s own 2017 manifesto, most if not all of which are expected to be carried over into this year’s effort.

But the Tory dossier doesn’t acknowledge that Labour unveiled plans to increase corporation tax and income taxes on the top 5% of earners, which the opposition said would cover increases in day-to-day spending. Two years ago, Labour said its tax plans would bring in £48.6bn per year; the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested a lower sum of £41bn.

Much of Labour’s additional capital spending in the 2017 manifesto is listed by the Tories as ‘uncosted’, but the opposition acknowledged the need to borrow up to £25bn more per year to pay for extra infrastructure investment - a figure which, curiously, isn’t far off Javid’s own borrowing plans in an election where both parties are pledging to turn on the spending taps.

The rest of the £1.2tn figure comes from what the Tories say are new Labour commitments since 2017, but there are two problems here. One is that Javid’s dossier has a new Labour government rushing these in on day one - for instance, moving to a 32-hour working week in a single parliament. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said this would be phased in over a decade.

The other problem is that some of the policies costed by the Tories are taken from motions passed at the most recent Labour conference, at Brighton in September. Members of the shadow cabinet have cast doubt on these aspirations appearing in the upcoming manifesto.

For instance, an ambitious call for Labour to make the UK economy carbon neutral by 2030 is assumed by Javid to mean all 36,800 offshore oil industry workers lose their jobs, with a Labour government paying their salaries for a year while they retrain at a cost of £1.7bn. A conference motion calling for the abolition of private schools - something Labour has already backed away from - is costed at £35bn.

McDonnell says the Tory dossier is "fake news" and promises that Labour will put out a fully costed manifesto. The party’s national executive meets on Saturday to sign it off.

Ironically, we could be talking about the real ‘true cost of Labour’ for a while before we know the ‘true cost of the Tories’. The i reports this morning that the Conservative manifesto might not be unveiled until the last two weeks of the campaign, with policies ‘drip fed’ until then.