I’m quite pleased with myself that the Daily Mail didn’t get to that headline first.
That’s the impression of the Labour Party which could be garnered from a brief look at the news that their General Election Manifesto was leaked last night, a week ahead of schedule. Even though it was only a draft.
Our collective intuition regarding a leak is that it’s bad. It shows that you, whomever the pronoun may be referring to, are unstable and fragile. Often, what is leaked is news that something, or someone, doesn’t want in the public domain. The threat of leaks has become ingrained within the political consciousness over the past few years, beginning with the establishment of WikiLeaks, and reaching its peak last year with the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee. When Ordinary Joe sees that there’s been a political leak of some kind, his automatic assumption is that it’s bad news.
That’s been the default line of thinking within much of the media’s reporting of the Labour Leak – much to my surprise. Besides a dislike of the policies, what damage does a leaked manifesto really do? At its heart, all that happens is that policies which were going to be announced anyway get to be announced a little earlier, with much greater media fanfare. What could have been an eyeroll (there’s little in the manifesto which Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t spoken about over the past few years), which often accompanies manifestos, was instead a burst of excitement and buzz. As soon as something becomes a leak, it’s interesting. There’s a bigger story than the leak itself.
Who leaked it?
Now that the draft is out in the public domain, and that Labour have said there were only “tweaks” made for the final manifesto, it doesn’t really matter. However, I have a hunch that this isn’t really indicative of a chaotic Labour PR department, as the press would have you believe.
By leaking the manifesto, the media has been entirely focused on one thing: policy. Funnily enough, policy has been what Jeremy Corbyn and his allies have been pushing for well over a month now. Since he became leader, Corbyn has argued that the press should stop focusing on him and start focusing on the policies. By leaking the manifesto, Corbyn’s team have ensured that the political conversation is dominated by the one thing which they have wanted to be dominating, in a way which allows them to gauge public opinion and make any last-minute adjustments before the real thing gets unveiled.
Of course, there are drawbacks to this. When you leak something, part of the debate is inevitably going to be pondering who did the leaking, and why. There’s also the intensely negative reception which the right-wing media – the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail – have laid out to bare, dubbing it a return to the 1970’s. Sure, those headlines were written back in September 2015 in anticipation of the general election, and would be slapped on the front page regardless of what was in the manifesto, but it’s nonetheless a problem. And, as I said at the beginning, there’s still the general perception that having a leak is pretty shit. It doesn’t help that the public’s general perception of Labour is that they too are pretty shit.
The big question now is – is policy enough to shift the election in Labour’s favour? With only four weeks to go, after eighteen months of gaffes and negative coverage, it’s unlikely, to say the least. Instead, Labour can pin their hopes to the general public being receptive enough to the policies (as they have done before) that they chip into Theresa May’s expected Tory landslide. Better yet, the Tories could steal a few, as they did with Ed Miliband’s energy bills cap; on one hand, it means your policy is stolen, but on the other, it shows that you’re right. And you’re shifting the national conversation.
That being said, today’s Politics Live Blog in the Guardian had one entry which piqued my interest. After the manifesto leak, Betfair had a flurry of bets being placed on Labour forming a majority on June 8th, and on them becoming the largest party – enough to significantly shorten the odds, from 189/1 at the start of the week to 49/1 this morning, and from 47/1 to 27/1, respectively. If the polls are somehow wrong, then June 8th, 2017, will mark the biggest UK political upset since 1945. Bigger than Brexit, which the polls, by-and-large, didn’t fail to predict.