Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word: May is promising what she cannot deliver

Immigration pledges, manifesto matters and and Momentum’s marginals – Richard Angell has the last word on the week’s news

Drop the migration pledge

David Cameron is known for throwing red meat to his backbenchers. Time and again he put party management before the country. The referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union being the biggest. The dog whistle pledge for ‘tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands’ of net migration being his worst.

Why? And why ‘dog whistle’? Because he knew it was neither desirable, nor possible without massive consequences. If it had been otherwise Theresa May at the Home Office would have at least got immigration for those outside the EU – where she and parliament had total ‘control’ – down to under one hundred thousand. She did not. 

Amber Rudd, Karen Bradley and others have given the prime minister the room to review the decision. It is almost like they want the ‘strong and stable’ leader to u-turn. Who knew. 

So why should she take this opportunity? As I have written before: ‘We have no choice but to be pro-immigration in some form – both the ‘push’ factors and the ‘pull’ factors behind this are too strong … We are living through a period in history when brutal dictators kill their own populations, war displaces millions, and climate change and resulting floods, famine and disaster are only on the rise. Huge displacement is heading in our direction and there is little we can do to prevent this. Equally, the ‘pull’ factors – the reasons why people choose Britain – are things that few Britons would want to relinquish: a strong economy (compared to our neighbours), the dominance of English as the language of business and commerce, and a relatively low personal taxation rate for lower-paid workers.’ 

May is therefore promising, as her predecessor did, what she knows she cannot deliver. No wonder the public are so angry about their politicians, followed closely, by the issue of immigration. 

No debate

Question Time have confirmed that May and Jeremy Corbyn will appear one after another with a question time audience but the prime minister is still pathetically avoiding a head-to-head debate. 

Why is she not willing to have the debate that she has every week in the House of Commons is bizarre. She has triggered the national debate and is asking everyone to turn up on 8 June. Why she cannot turn up to debate Corbyn is wrong and does not reinforce her frame as ‘strong’ nor ‘stable’, just weak. 

Miliband without Balls 

So Corbyn’s manifesto is out there. Reports confirm that it is all the work of policy chief Andrew Fisher – infamous for recommending people vote for Class War not Labour’s Emily Benn in 2015 – and held by a very small number of people. He is clearly using the 2015 manifesto as it’s starting point – Ed Miliband’s third manifesto if you will. 

The reports scream of Miliband’s greatest hits without Ed Balls, and before that Alistair Darling, saying ‘we cannot afford it’. Every vested interest in the party given what they wanted – much of which I agree with, with the bill being picked up by everyone else. Mainly the ‘super rich’ on more the £80,000 per annum. 

What is not included, however, is the challenge to neoliberalism that we were promised or reform of the economy that Britain needs. It seems timid on that front. There is no analysis, let alone solutions proposed, to the asset earning society. Liz Kendall’s comprehensive essay on this for Progress has gone totally ignored. From all the bluster since Corbyn’s name appeared on the ballot, I expected it to be surpassed. There is no proposal to reform the economy, even Ed Miliband style. Now, I never expected them to engage with the special edition we did on predator capitalism – although James Meadway did tweet nice things about it. I expected even less for it to out-flank a hard-left leadership. Equally, considering Paul Mason’s book about the end of neoliberalism, their proximity to Yanis Varoufakis and John McDonnell events on the economy, I expected that something more fundamental would feature. 

In an text exchange with a close friend of mine that regularly calls people with my politics a ‘red Tory’, I asked for a definition. It was thus: ‘Someone who thinks all the spending on schools, hospitals and tax credits compensates for leaving behind a neoliberal economy and an unreformed banking system.’ Had this manifesto been authored by any other wing of the party, John McDonnell and his friend would be saying the same now. 

Regardless, Labour has a load of policies out there and the Tories have none. For that we are grateful and for once on the front foot. 

Momentum marginals

I for one welcome Momentum’s latest innovation and their desire to get people to marginal seats. Like the Momentum Carpool, it is both welcome and truly helpful. Yes, it is incomplete, but this election has been thrust upon all of us. We cannot wait. I applaud their efforts.

At the time of writing, the site sends people to 15 defensive marginals and only 12 targets to gain. My only question is political – if Corbyn is so popular and the polls are going to be so wrong, why are we defending more than they think we are even able to gain? 


Richard Angell is director of Progress

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Richard Angell

is director of Progress


  • I commend your criticism of Andrew Fisher for suggesting people did not vote for a Labour candidate. Waiting now for the criticism of a Mr Blair, A Mr Campbell and Lord Mandelson for their guidance to voters to vote against Labour candidates.
    I am sure a moderate, progressive centrist like you will be even handed in their criticism.

  • Why vote for a Tory-lite Labour candidate when you can vote for the real deal: a proper Tory?

  • After all the talk of being ‘radical’ and ‘breaking with the status quo’ I found the leak dull. I suppose I prefer ordinary to something wild and embarrassing.

    Nothing new. I see:

    1. Millibandism. Yep, Eds work is all over May and Corbyn’s manifesto.

    2. The unions renationalising shopping list. Trains makes sense in some areas, particularly Southern but Royal Mail? Not saying it’s a bad policy but I find it odd we’d prioritise snail mail and a dying medium while workers are heading into a crisis from Brexit and our response to the digital revolution so far. Gig economy anyone?

    3. Reshaping and relaunching old policy. Work on the tricky governance and other issues around a government owned investment bank was done during the coalition government. Big Society Bank anyone? I’d expect a Labour government to work with Coop and reset its priorities.

    No suicide notes and I’m very relieved. ‘For the many….’ I’ll have to see the full document before I’d agree with that.

    £80000 in London is an executive who can afford a 1 bed flat…. Not exactly loaded. Yes, tax fairly but it sends the wrong message by calling working people ‘rich’ rather than comfortable.

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