Another in a long line of examples of Labour’s ineptitude, late last night the party’s manifesto was leaked a week early. This does not look good for a party riven by internal division and in an election fight against a Conservative Party running on its promise of a “strong and stable leadership”.
But is it is simple as that? Was this yet another failure of party discipline stemming from a weak leadership? Or is something else going on?
Conspiracy theories fall into three broad camps:
- Corbyn’s opponents leaked the document to make the leadership look weak;
- Corbyn’s allies leaked the document ahead of Labour’s Article 5 meeting which decides which policies end up in the final manifesto to generate some positive publicity, making it harder for Corbyn’s opponents to dilute the contents;
- Corbyn’s allies leaked the document with the intention of blaming it on his opponents to make it look as though Corbyn’s campaign was sabotaged by elements within the party, absolving Corbyn of blame in the likely event of a Labour loss and allowing him to keep control of the party.
Taking the first option, there is no doubt that the leaked manifesto makes Corbyn’s leadership look out of control. However, was the leak really necessary to achieve this? The prevailing narrative is already that Corbyn is a weak leader, unable to inspire party discipline. This belief is, after all, the foundation of the Conservative’s whole election campaign. The Labour Party’s right wing would be better served leaving Corbyn to fail on his own account and certainly avoid any suspicion of sabotage that could sure up Corbyn’s position as leader in the event of defeat. Corbyn, and Labour’s left wing, need to own the defeat so that his opponents can make a convincing case to depose him after the election.
The second theory that it was one of Corbyn’s allies who leaked the draft manifesto looks unlikely on the surface – leaking a document surely plays into the narrative that Corbyn has no control over his party and is therefore incapable of running a country. However, the leaked document does confer some advantages. Firstly, Labour is absolutely dominating the news cycle. The Conservative’s commitment today to increase defence spending will now pass largely under the radar and the Conservative’s campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, may feel compelled to take a risk and execute his signature “dead cat” manoeuvre which, if ill-judged, could play into Labour’s hands. Secondly, Labour now has a full set of visible policies, giving them something specific to talk about and campaign on. And finally, if the perception does take hold that Corbyn was responsible for the leak, it could ironically make him look more like a competent political operator. He has been subject to criticism in the past that, while he is a principled politician, he has absolutely no political nous. Anything to undermine that characterisation would be a positive.
The final theory is the most Machiavellian. While Corbyn’s campaign team are trying to project positivity and optimism, they must know that a crushing defeat is the most likely election outcome. For Corbyn and his team, this would be a disaster – not just because they would lose an election – but because it would likely cause the Labour Party to lurch to the right in the same way it did after Michael Foot’s historic loss in 1983. If Corbyn is to secure a left wing legacy in the Labour Party, which was the reason he ran for leader in the first place, a defeat at this election cannot be attributable to the left wing content of the manifesto; suggesting that the party was sabotaged from within might be a way to do this. Of course, building the internal sabotage narrative around the leak of a left wing document doesn’t necessarily neatly fit into this logic as it places the left wing issue front and centre, but such is the nature of conspiracy theories.
It is likely we will never know who leaked Labour’s draft manifesto or their reasons for doing so. It is easy to try to apply the logic of the actual outcomes of the act to the logic of the perpetrator in their decision making, but of course they could not possibly have known exactly what effect the leak could have and will have. And, wild speculation aside, it is always possible that the leak was a complete accident and there was no malicious or cynical intent from either side. What is important now is whether the Labour Party capitalises on their domination of the news cycle, or whether the Conservatives can wrest back control and continue to perpetuate their “strong and stable” message.