LONDON – Britain’s main opposition Labour Party appealed to voters Tuesday with promises to increase the minimum wage, boost spending on health, education and infrastructure, nationalize key industries — and pay for it all by raising taxes on high earners.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party has a “radical and responsible” program “for the many, not the few.”
Labour’s manifesto for Britain’s June 8 election was greeted by both supporters and opponents as a return to the party’s democratic socialist roots after the business-friendly “New Labour” years under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Labour has been in opposition since 2010, and has been wracked by feuding between centrists and left-wingers since the veteran socialist Corbyn was unexpectedly elected leader in 2015.
The party’s election platform includes promises to increase the minimum wage to 10 pounds ($12.89) an hour by 2020 from the current 7.50 pounds, nationalize railways, energy companies and the postal service, scrap university tuition fees and pump billions more into the National Health Service.
Corbyn said a Labour government would pay for increased spending by “asking the better-off and the big corporations to pay a little bit more.” The party would increase corporation tax, introduce a financial transactions levy and raise income tax for the top 5 percent of earners, adding a new top rate of 50 percent for people earning 123,000 pounds a year or more.
Corbyn and his allies hope the policies will speak to anxious voters who have seen living standards squeezed by flat-lining wages, cuts to government benefits and declining numbers of long-term jobs with secure pensions.
The governing Conservatives say Labour has an outdated economic vision that will stifle growth.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke said Corbyn “has made so many unfunded spending commitments it is clear that Labour would have to raise taxes dramatically because his sums don’t add up.”
Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election to try to boost her parliamentary majority ahead of divorce negotiations with the European Union. Opinion polls consistently give the Conservatives a big lead over Labour.
Labour said it will not try to overturn Britain’s decision to leave the EU, but will “negotiate a deal that preserves jobs and access to the single market” and maintains standards of workers’ rights established under the EU.
The unveiling of the parties’ manifestos — containing solid promises on which they can be held to account — is a centerpiece of every British election, involving a speech by the leader in a hall packed with supporters and festooned with party signs. The suspense around Labour’s policies was undermined when a draft version of the manifesto was leaked to the media last week.
Typically for such documents, it contains promises both sweeping and small — from four new holidays a year to the elimination of parking lot fees at hospitals.
It also says Labour supports keeping Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines — something Corbyn personally opposes.