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“For the many, not the few”: The Labour Party manifesto and the attitudes that lie behind it

When the Labour Party’s manifesto was released, it was greeted with delight by some (the Daily Mirror described it as “Labour’s most exciting programme for decades) but with horror by others.

Indeed, many of the more Conservative-leaning papers strongly attacked the manifesto, calling it a “plan to bankrupt the UK(Daily Mail) and aneconomically illiterate mix of special interest promises” (Daily Telegraph).

Critics of the Labour Party (and even some of its friends) point out that it is unlikely to be in a position, after June’s general election, to deliver any of its promises. But does that mean the content of the manifesto and the attitudes behind that content will disappear?

Populus’s research would suggest not, considering the views of many Labour MPs (as well the views of some of their Conservative counterparts who seem more willing than ever to intervene in markets, if the proposed energy price cap is anything to go by).

Indeed, our research over the past few years has consistently shown how the attitudes of the Parliamentary Labour Party, in particular, seemed likely to result in interventionist and even radical (in some eyes) policies.

See, for example, the high proportion of Labour MPs who agreed with the following statements in November and December 2016:

  • 88% of Labour MPs agreed “Britain would be a fairer and better country if big businesses made a bit less profit and spent more on being socially responsible, gave more to local communities and charities and paid better wages to their lowest paid staff”

 

  • 78% of Labour MPs agreed “My constituents are angry at the behaviour of big businesses and it’s right that I respond to that”

 

  • 73% of Labour MPs agreed “Big businesses are far too focused on short-term profit to enrich shareholders and earn big bonuses for senior executives, and they place much too little importance on their social responsibilities”

 

Clearly, in late 2016 (and these results echo research conducted in years prior) there was anger at big businesses and a desire to force business behaviour to change.

This is backed up by Labour MPs’ responses to a question in which we asked them to indicate whether they agreed with one statement at one end of a scale or the (roughly) opposing statement.

See below:

Labour’s criticism of big businesses can also be seen in their views towards railways.

In a similar survey of MPs in March 2017, 97% of Labour MPs agreed that the UK’s rail model required a radical overhaul. When asked to choose from a number of alternatives to the current rail franchising model, three-quarters (75%) of Labour MPs said they supported renationalising the railway as existing franchisee contracts came to an end (no Conservatives interviewed said the same).

Other research back in November 2016 showed 68% of Labour MPs said they distrusted (whether a lot or somewhat) energy companies to conduct themselves responsibly, so we shouldn’t be too surprised at Labour’s announcement of its desire to nationalise the railways and energy systems.

Yes, it would be a surprise if Jeremy Corbyn was to lead the Labour Party into government in June and, yes, it may even be likely that there will be a new Labour leader in place by the end of the year.

What does seem to be the case, however, is that the Parliamentary Labour Party will continue to view ‘big business’ as something to be tamed.

And, when the views of the public are explored (see our report, “On Warning”: why businesses must improve their reputations), one can see why parliamentarians would see the value in taking a critical view of big business: only 18% of the public say they feel positively about big businesses; 15% say the same of multinational corporations; and 68% support compulsory worker representation on the boards of businesses in the UK with more than 500 employees.

The criticism of big businesses within Labour (as well as within other political parties) is, therefore, likely to remain, and debates will continue to be had around the role of business and how interventionist government should be.

Especially, considering Theresa May claims to be promising “the greatest expansion of workers’ rights” of any Conservative government.

Businesses need to be prepared for the scrutiny of their behaviour to continue, even if Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership comes to an end.

 

Notes:

  • Populus interviewed 100 MPs in November and December 2016. Results were weighted to be representative of the party political composition of the House of Commons. Of these 100 MPs, 41 were Labour MPs.
  • Populus also interviewed 100 MPs in March 2017. Results were weighted to be representative of the party political composition of the House of Commons. Of these 100 MPs, 40 were Labour MPs.
  • Populus interviewed 2,028 GB adults (18+) online between 7 and 8 September 2016. For details, see: http://www.populus.co.uk/2016/12/on-warning-why-businesses-must-improve-their-reputations/
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