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Labour U-turns On Major Policy Pledges

The Labour Party is no longer going ahead with several of its major policy pledges.

According to Labour insiders, the party is not planning to abolish the House of Lords. This comes after concerns from senior peers over the idea.

The original plan, suggested by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was that the House of Lords would be replaced by “a second chamber that is smaller, offers the taxpayer better value for money, and is reflective of the regions and nations with elected representatives rather than appointees.”

One party insider has said: “We’re not going to go around saying the House of Lords is crap, let’s get rid of it … We need to look at how it combines with reform more generally. We don’t want to be picking on one group of people, it’s about the overall system.”

Instead of radical reform or overhaul, it is expected that more moderate changes will be made to the upper house such as removing the remaining 91 hereditary peers allowed to sit in the Lords. 

Another limited reform is likely to be a strengthening of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which could act to block new peers and restrict the size of the chamber. The current size of the House of Lords is 784 people.

This comes after the Conservative Government has faced significant defeats by the House of Lords, who have frustrated the passing of housing legislation that would cut red tape around new housing developments. The House of Lords has also recently frustrated the passing of the Rwanda Bill, a piece of legislation that could allow the UK to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda.

The Labour Party may therefore be beginning to see the House of Lords as an asset against the Conservative Party. This will especially be the case if Labour leader Keir Starmer can flood the upper chamber with Labour peers should he win this year’s General Election.

Last year it was reported by The Times that Labour did want to expand the House of Lords, despite publicly saying that it should be abolished and replaced with a smaller chamber. According to the report, Labour was planning to appoint dozens of Labour peers to further the agenda of Starmer. This is despite the Labour leader previously describing the House of Lords as “indefensible”.

This apparent policy U-turn is part of a stripped-down general election manifesto, designed to be “bombproof” against Conservative attacks.

This has upset many on the Labour Left who want Keir Starmer to offer a more radical and transformative agenda. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, for example, has criticised Starmer, urging him to “stick to his guns”.

According to The Observer, it is understood that as well as reversing plans to abolish the House of Lords, the Labour Party is also no longer seeking to create a new national care service in its first term. More moderate plans will instead include a new pay agreement for care workers and reform to tackle the issues of recruitment and retention.

In addition, Labour has said that it won’t be able to spend £28 billion per year on green investment, blaming the Conservatives for “crashing the economy” and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s plans to “max out” the country’s credit card. Instead, Labour’s green prosperity plan will be cut by half as the party pursues an ultra-cautious strategy going into the next election.

This has also angered many on the British Left, with veteran left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell urging Starmer to be more radical and less complacent.

“They have to because our problem is going to be turnout”, he said. “We’ve got to overcome this issue now where people think “well Labour are going to win naturally anyway”.

McDonnell has a point. Every time Labour U-turns on a major pledge it makes them look weak and reinforces the perception that Starmer is a “flip-flopper”. Since becoming leader, Starmer has U-turned on numerous other issues, including support for EU free movement, renationalizing key industries, scrapping university tuition fees, raising income tax for top earners, and ending outsourcing in the NHS. After a while this just starts to look dishonest.

Some would argue, however, that Starmer has repaired the party’s image since becoming leader in 2019. To win the next election, Labour has to present themselves as a safe pair of hands, and that means no large tax increases or spending pledges, no wide-reaching reforms.

There is evidence that this ultra-cautious strategy is working. According to YouGov, Labour is currently polling at 44 per cent, with the Conservative Party at 23 per cent.

Labour has been consistently ahead of the Conservatives since the start of 2022, but the current large gap opened up between the parties as a result of perceived economic mismanagement under former Prime Minister Lizz Truss. So, Labour’s massive lead in the polls could also be due to the Conservative Party’s unpopularity more than Labour’s popularity.

According to BBC economics editor Faisal Islam, Labour is prioritising attacking the Government over the rise in mortgage rates as their central election strategy, versus defending an economic strategy of borrowing to invest in a green Industrial Revolution. Whether or not this is a good strategy or not is up for debate. One problem with it is that it won’t appeal to voters who don’t have a mortgage.

Additionally, the mortgage rate spike which occurred two years ago may not be voters’ biggest concern by the time of the election. According to YouGov, the three biggest issues for British voters are the economy, health, and immigration.

Since October last year, however, the economy and health have been declining in priority while immigration has increased in priority. What this means for Labour is that to win the next election they will need to be prepared to campaign on all three of those issues. Yes, voters are angry about economic mismanagement, but it is not the most important issue for everyone.

With the General Election happening this year, Labour is hoping to write a bulletproof manifesto that can withstand Conservative attacks, but in scrapping their most progressive pledges they risk alienating their core left-wing voters. Whether this makes any difference to the outcome of this year’s election remains to be seen.

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