‘Labour’s manifesto is more ambitious than the Ming vase strategy suggests’

George Dibb
Keir Starmer with shadow cabinet colleagues Jonathan Reynolds and Rachel Reeves.
Keir Starmer with shadow cabinet colleagues Jonathan Reynolds and Rachel Reeves.

For all the talk of Labour’s safety-first approach and Keir Starmer’s ‘Ming vase’ strategy, the 2024 manifesto launched on Thursday commits the party to seriously ambitious economic and environmental targets.

To hit those targets, the manifesto outlines plans to reinvigorate the state’s capacity to intervene in the economy in the service of growth and to steer it towards societal goals, much in the style of Joe Biden. What remains in doubt is how the party will implement these plans given the implied downward trajectory of government spending on services and public investment.

Labour has made big commitments – but delivery is key

At the heart of Labour’s manifesto are its five missions. The economic mission contains the hefty pledge to “secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country”. The clean energy mission promises to “deliver security with cheaper, zero-carbon electricity by 2030”.

Don’t let anyone tell you that these are not big commitments. Our GDP is currently growing at a rate of (checks notes) 0%. Green investment is not high enough, and the government has rolled back targets for our net-zero transition. Turning this situation around and achieving these missions would be utterly transformative – hardly a cautious approach.

READ MORE: Labour manifesto launch: Live updates, reaction and analysis

If it does form the next government, Labour must deliver on these ambitions swiftly – no easy task for a party that hasn’t seen ministerial office for 14 years. After all, if a growth lever existed, it would surely have already been pulled by now.

Achieving this will take resources (as well as luck), and where this manifesto is cautious is on where those resources are to come from.

Robert Shrimsley set out this week in the FT the case for Labour to move fast in power and to transform Britain for the better, or lose big to the radical right. One commenter on Labour’s own launch livestream put it just as well in fewer words: “You better give us our lives back or you’re out.”

Lack of novelty in the manifesto disguises the scale of aspiration

So what of the party’s policies to get there? The ideas in the manifesto might have all been announced before, or even had their ambitions chipped away at over the last 12 months, but their lack of novelty disguises the scale of Labour’s aspiration.

A proper industrial strategy, backed up with a council embedded in legislation to stop its goals from being tampered with. New institutions with budgets in the billions of pounds, such as GB Energy and a National Wealth Fund, taking stakes in the British economy and building out a new net-zero economy. Serious shifts towards devolution, giving cities and regions the powers to shape their own local economies and a ‘New Deal for Working People’ to ensure the benefits are shared more equally.

These are progressive ideas with the potential to reshape the British economy with a more active and strategic state in the driving seat.

If these policies had been kept under wraps until today, Labour’s manifesto would be being talked about as an attempt to import strategic-state Bidenomics to the UK.

Instead, with all of these ideas out in the open for months if not years, Labour has made these ideas appear like the epitome of safety-first moderation. As a consequence, bewildered journalists appear uncertain whether to portray Starmer as a Blairite centrist or, as the Daily Mail front page cried this week, a one-party-state socialist.

Critics have a point about Labour’s plans on tax and spending

Some will no doubt criticise Labour’s manifesto for being not ambitious enough, for being too Panglossian about the City, for not raising taxes further or for leaning too close to the government’s unfeasible future spending plans, and to some, those critics have a point.

Labour’s windfall tax on North Sea fossil fuel extractors and private equity billionaires draws a distinction between the types of businesses a Labour government does and does not want to support, but it is the most cautious distinction conceivable. The manifesto proposed laser-targeted tax rises but makes no pledges to reform major taxes to make them fairer, such as IPPR’s proposal to equalise tax on income from wealth with income from work.

READ MORE: ‘Labour’s health policies show a little-noticed radicalism’

Equally, Labour’s commitments on net zero are ambitious in their substance, but the money committed remains far short of the levels needed for a truly just transition.

The party proposes to raise day-to-day spending and investment, but not enough to offset the harsh cuts already baked in for after the election that no one really believes are feasible. These cuts to public investment put the UK’s growth potential at risk.

The first term is crucial – voters won’t wait patiently for change

Labour now occupies a pro-business position and has received the support of a notable section of the private sector. That position was previously vacated by Boris Johnson who first reportedly proclaimed “fuck business” and then devoted his slot at the CBI conference to Peppa Pig World. The position was subsequently fire-bombed by Liz Truss and the economic turmoil of the mini-Budget.

But Labour has moved into the space while maintaining a policy base of empowering workers’ rights, taxing private equity and growing the power of the state.

A historically large majority may give Labour the appearance of a party that is going to spend a decade or more in power, but there’s no guarantee that will be the case unless they deliver on their promises.

To do this, they’ll have to go beyond the rhetoric of the manifesto and noticeably improve people’s lives. This means solving the challenges set out above, most prominently finding the funding to not just reverse the government’s cuts but increase spending and investment over a first term.

Why a first term? Because as the anticipated swing from Johnson in 2019 to Starmer in 2024 shows, voters don’t have the patience to wait ten years to see these promises delivered.

Find out more through our wider 2024 Labour party manifesto coverage so far…


READ MORE: Labour manifesto launch: Live updates, reaction and analysis

READ MORE: Full manifesto costs breakdown – and how tax and borrowing fund it

READ MORE: The key manifesto policy priorities in brief


READ MORE: Fabians: ‘This a substantial core offer, not the limit of Labour ambition’

READ MORE: ‘No surprises, but fear not: Labour manifesto is the start, not the end’

READ MORE: ‘What GB energy will do and why we desperately need it’

READ MORE: ‘Labour’s health policies show a little-noticed radicalism’

READ MORE: GMB calls manifesto ‘vision of hope’ but Unite says ‘not enough’

READ MORE: IFS: Manifesto doesn’t raise enough cash to fund ‘genuine change’

READ MORE: Watch as Starmer heckled by protestor with ‘youth deserve better’ banner


READ MORE: Labour vows to protect green belt despite housebuilding drive

READ MORE: Manifesto commits to Brexit and being ‘confident’ outside EU

READ MORE: Labour to legislate on New Deal within 100 days – key policies breakdown 

READ MORE: Labour to give 16-year-olds right to vote

READ MORE: Starmer says ‘manifesto for wealth creation’ will kickstart growth

READ MORE: What are the manifesto’s NHS and health policies?

Read more of our 2024 general election coverage here.

If you have anything to share that we should be looking into or publishing about this or any other topic involving Labour or about the election, on record or strictly anonymously, contact us at [email protected]

Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for a briefing everything Labour, every weekday morning. 

If you can help sustain our work too through a monthly donation, become one of our supporters here.

And if you or your organisation might be interested in partnering with us on sponsored events or content, email [email protected].

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…