Labour tots up Tory promises – but it's white noise to Supreme Leader | John Crace
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The more the Conservative campaign turns into the triumphal march of the zombie apocalypse, the more Labour’s resembles the night of the living dead. The odds against them are just too great. If it was revealed that Theresa May had axed her parents to death in a psychopathic rage, there’s a fair chance the Daily Mail would declare the double murder to be definitive proof of her strong and stable leadership and the Supreme Leader would be returned to power with an even bigger landslide majority on 8 June.
This should have been Labour’s big day. The chance to put some figures to the promises that the Tories hadn’t got round to costing in their manifesto and undermine their credibility. Only it turned out that no one was very interested. Costing a manifesto was something other parties were expected to do. The Tories were exempt because they were entitled to do what they liked. If they wanted to fleece dementia sufferers on the grounds that they probably wouldn’t remember they had been fleeced, then fair enough. They were the Tories. Their election. Their rules.
Only a few dozen people had bothered to turn up at the Institution of Engineering Technology in central London to hear John McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey treat the Tory manifesto with the gravitas that the Conservatives had seen no need to provide themselves. As the shadow chancellor and the shadow business secretary kicked away the tumbleweed on their way into the Turing lecture hall, they looked surprised – relieved even – that that so many had made the effort. Expectations really are that low.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s election manager, is normally one of life’s more upbeat souls but even he could barely conceal the resignation in his voice as he opened the press conference by presenting Labour’s new campaign poster. “It’s very punchy,” he said, as three boxing gloves flashed up on a screen under the caption ‘Triple Whammy for Pensioners’. A few people managed to force out a laugh. Out of sympathy more than anything else.
Then it was Long-Bailey’s turn. “Pensioners who have given their all in blood, sweat and tears have been kicked in the teeth,” she said, in the dull monotone of someone who was punch-drunk herself, before listing the Tory promises to end the triple lock, raise the pension age, means test winter fuel payments and prevent people being given carriage clocks on their retirement. “Over to you now, John,” she announced mid-breath, having lost the will to complete her sentence.
“I’m very angry,” McDonnell declared. He didn’t sound it. He sounded depressed, overcome with despair and existential ennui. But there was no turning back, so he pressed on. This was the worst decade for pay rises in … He paused to check his notes to make sure he was quoting the right figures … 200 years.
He got out his calculator. The Tories could come up with any old numbers and nobody cared, his had to be the right ones. Average households were £1,500 worse off than under the last Labour government. The Tories were going to put up VAT, income tax and national insurance contributions – or rather they hadn’t said they would freeze them which amounted to the same thing – and had made 60 uncosted pledges in their manifesto.
There was an awkward pause as McDonnell came to the end of his speech. No one quite had the heart to tell him that it didn’t matter how much he insisted the world was round, most of the people in Britain were still much happier believing it was flat. Even though 10 million pensioners were going to lose their winter fuel allowance, somehow it would be worth it if there was a Tory government.
“Labour is beginning to break through,” he said, in answer to a question, trying to find some positives somewhere. “There is underlying, subterranean movement in our direction.” Just not so as anyone but him had really noticed. It was time for McDonnell to reach out and come clean. He knew no one was listening to him. He accepted that. So how about if he handed out his 30 questions about the Tory manifesto to everyone in the room and see if they had any better luck in getting an answer?
“What’s that?” said the Supreme Leader, as she glanced towards the TV in her bunker.
“White noise,” replied one of her staff.