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Manifestoes and the art of misleading

26 November 2019

Photo Workers.

With the publication of the Labour and Conservative manifestoes, it is at least clear what this grim election is now about – deciding on the least worst option. British workers – the overwhelming majority of our country – know this, and know, too, that salvation is not going to come from above. If we are to have a future as a class and as a country, we are going to have to fight for it not just during but more crucially after the election.

The Conservatives have an element of clarity on their side: vote for them and you get Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. Some were hoping for a promise to renegotiate aspects of it – fat chance.

But even so, there’s no certainty whatsoever about leaving. The so-called Withdrawal Agreement is essentially about the transition period. No one knows what final deal may emerge, if and when the transition period ends. 

‘Just wait: come summer the talk will once again be about cliff edges and crashing out.’

Johnson has promised it will end on 31 December 2020. Well, there’s still a ditch waiting for him to die in after the failure to get Brexit through the last parliament. What if the talks take a long time (highly likely)? Just wait: come the summer (perhaps earlier) the media will once again be full of talk about cliff edges and crashing out.

And even though his deal is an advance over Theresa May’s surrender agreement, it still falls a long way short of what 17.4 million people voted for in the referendum. They voted to leave, not carry on paying tribute to the EU.


Labour, meanwhile, presents a muddle where the only clear thing is that it will attempt to stay in the EU, or leave in terms that amount to staying in. Its central strategy is jaw-droppingly manipulative and anti-democratic: to present a referendum choice between staying fully in the EU or staying in the customs union and the single market but without having a say in their rules.

Jeremy Corbyn says he will stay neutral. Neutered is the right word. But to offer a referendum choice that excludes a clear leave would be outrageous. It would be no choice at all. The British people won’t stand for it.

The Labour manifesto is full of great promises, most of which would definitely be incapable of implementation should we stay in the EU, and which would probably be outlawed even in a looser customs union and single market association.

Take the idea of nationalising rail. As we have said, inside the EU no British government would be able to return the railways to public ownership and control. 

Then there’s the promise to require bidders for all public procurement contracts to recognise trade unions. That would be laughed out of court – the European Court of Justice, to be precise, which has already ruled that it is illegal to require holders of public contracts to pay the agreed union rate to their workers (without, that is, making the same requirement of private contracts, which no capitalist government will do).

Duplicity over Scotland

At 105 pages, the Labour manifesto isn’t going to be read by everyone. But it should be, if only for its mastery of the misleading formulation. Read closely what it says about a second Scottish “independence” referendum, which everyone knows would be the price for Labour’s only conceivable route to power.

“Labour believes that Scottish independence would be economically devastating and it would be the many not the few who would pay the price. Scotland needs the transformative investment coming from a Labour government, not another referendum and not independence.”

That’s clear, isn’t it? Scotland doesn’t need another independence referendum and Labour is against holding one. But read on:

“…That’s why in the early years [our emphasis] of a UK Labour government we will not agree to a Section 30 order request if it comes from the Scottish Government.” So it would agree, three years in, to re-running a “once-in a generation” vote that was held only five years ago.

Fishing betrayed

Arguably, the Labour manifesto is at its worst when it comes to fishing. This is what it says: “We will set maximum sustainable yields for all shared fish stocks, redistribute fish quotas along social and environmental criteria and, if people vote to leave the EU, require the majority of fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in UK ports.”

‘Labour needs reminding that we already voted to leave the EU.’

Labour needs reminding that we already voted to leave the EU, in 2016. What’s more, if we stay in the EU it is the EU that sets quotas, not the UK. And even if under Labour the UK were actually to leave the EU, there is nothing in its manifesto about rebuilding fishing communities by increasing the amount of fish that UK boats can catch – just a requirement that most of the fish caught under a UK quota be landed here. 

In other words, the status quo, because even now about half the fish (by weight) caught in UK waters is landed here. Landing is important to those who work in fish processing, but taking control of our fishing grounds is about much more (and the EU concept of quotas needs ditching anyway – as Fishing for Leave has spelled out). 

On fish the Conservative manifesto is just as much an object lesson in duplicity. It talks about taking control and leaving the Common Fisheries Policy, but nowhere does it talk about returning quotas to UK boats or stopping giant trawlers like the Margiris hoovering up our stocks.

No ifs, no buts

The Brexit Party holds to its simple principle that we must leave the EU cleanly. No ifs, no buts. But many voters do not have the option of voting for them, candidates having been withdrawn.

Those who want a true Brexit, as well as those who respect democracy and the result of the 2016 vote, will decide the best way of inching towards that outcome, looking at the situation where they live.

For workers, the key question for the future, as it has always been, is not whether they trust the politicians. It is whether they trust themselves.