20 years on, how does Labour's leaked manifesto compare with Tony Blair's in 1997?

20 years on, how does Labour's leaked manifesto compare with Tony Blair's in 1997?

Tony Blair won the general election in 1997

Thursday, May 11, 2017

This year's general election comes 20 years after Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, promising a more moderate Labour party which could be trusted on the economy.

Today's version of the Labour party, on the face of it, couldn't be more different. Jeremy Corbyn purports to return Labour to its roots, the sort of firebrand socialism which was anathema to Blair and his inner circle. 

But are the policies put forward by Corbyn today really that different from those of Blair two decades ago? Does Labour's latest manifesto, leaked earlier today, mark a complete reversal of Blair's document back in 1997 - or is in fact more moderate and pragmatic than some critics are suggesting?

We've taken a look at the two documents, and outlined the key policies below. The analysis throws up some interesting results, to say the least...



What Blair said:

New Labour pledged to cut class sizes, increase spending and review the examination system, with the aim of ensuring that the 11-plus exam would not return.

What Corbyn says:

Corbyn wants to cut class sizes, increase quality across the board and review the examination system, with the aim of improving the efficiency of key stage one and two Sats.

But Corbyn goes further than Blair did. He wants to create a National Education Service which is free at the point of use and available for people of all ages. It is hoped this will have as much of an impact as the NHS has done (Blair did take a small step in this direction by proposing a University for Industry, which would help adults access education and use new technology). 


What Blair said:

In 1997 Blair and his policy team pledged to get a firm grip of immigration, saying applications should be dealt with fairly and quickly as well as properly enforcing immigration laws. The manifesto also pledged a crackdown on fraudulent asylum seeker claims.

What Corbyn says: 

The Labour document, written in the aftermath of Brexit and a huge influx of immigrants over recent years, is framed in a far different context from its 1997 antecedent.

Nonetheless, it pledges to implement fair rules and reasonable management of migration, echoing the statement espoused by Blair's policy wonks. But on the other hand it makes a positive commitment to migrant workers, claiming our economy needs foreign-born workers.

It also admits that currently housing arrangements for refugees aren't fit and will be reviewed, and promises the creation of a migrant fund to ease pressure on public services, whereas the 1997 manifesto talks little about refugees' quality of life. 

Tax and business

What Blair said:

One of the headline soundbites from Blair's manifesto was a pledge not to increase the basic or top rate of income tax.

In a promise which resonated with working people, the Labour document said "reducing the high marginal rates at the bottom end of the earning scale - often 70 or 80 per cent - is not only fair but desirable to encourage employment."

Blair's team also pledged to help small business by slashing red tape, clamping down on late payment of debt, and establishing regional development agencies, which would help channel investment into smaller companies.

What Corbyn says:

Unlike Blair, Corbyn is committed to raising the top rate of income tax on top earners by an as-yet undisclosed amount. However his Labour party promise that 95% of people will face no increase at all, echoing Blair's pledge to help those "at the bottom end of the earning scale."

Labour also pledges to help small business by creating regional development banks and establishing new laws to punish firms guilty of late payment. Sounds familiar...


What Blair said:

In 1997 Blair's manifesto promised to safeguard the basic principles of the NHS, which then - like now - was a major policy battleground.

The New Labour blueprint pledged to spend money on frontline care and get rid of unnecessary admin costs, reduce patient waiting times, and end all waiting for cancer surgery.

What Corbyn says:

In 2017 Labour again wants to raise funding for the NHS with the top-end income tax hike, as well as a levy on private medical insurance and halving management consultant fees. It claims this will free up more than £6 billion of extra annual funding.

Like Blair, Corbyn pledges to cut waiting times, but the Labour document gives a clear target - it wants to guarantee access to treatments within 18 weeks.

The 2017 manifesto also pledges to protect the rights of NHS workers from the EU, which was not mentioned in the 1997 manifesto - although this might be due to the huge increase in immigration over the last 20 years and the fallout from Brexit.

Nationalisation of key services

What Blair said:

Labour was critical of rail privatisation in its 1997 manifesto, saying "it has made fortunes for a few, but has been a poor deal for the taxpayer." However it veered away from Labour's historical commitment to nationalisation, saying "our task will be to improve the situation as we find it, not as we wish it to be."

What Corbyn says:

Labour's approach to nationalisation today is very different. Not only does it pledge to restore the railways to public ownership, it also promises to renationalise the Post Office and the energy sector. Corbyn's policy team would certainly agree with Blair's "poor deal" sentiment, but they want to tackle the perceived problem. Head on.

European Union 

What Blair said:

Brexit wasn't even a twinkle in Britain's eye back in 1997 (alright, it might have been a glimmer in the pupil of Nigel Farage), but nonetheless Blair's manifesto touched on the prospect of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, claiming that an empty chair for the UK at Europe's negotiating table would be disastrous.

What Corbyn says:

Although framed in a completely different context, Corbyn's policy on Europe echoes Blair's in its desire to maintain a close working relationship with the EU. The Labour manifesto also pledges to protect Britain's membership of the single market, and hold constructive negotiations that prioritise jobs and living standards.