Jeremy Corbyn has always insisted that Labour policy be decided by consultation and debate. With the leaking of a draft of the party’s manifesto, Labour has launched its most ambitious act of policy crowdsourcing.
As a pundit pointed out, leaking the manifesto is probably the surest way of getting the media to seriously read it. Media indifference isn’t just a problem for Corbyn’s Labour. In twenty-first century elections – fuelled by big data, algorithmically-matched messaging and fake news – the manifesto is an increasingly irrelevant form. In times that are less politically tribal and where information is more accessible and independently verifiable, the manifesto emerges as a relic of elections past. Sites like Vote for Policies provide more personalised spaces for the floating voter. Functioning as a kind e-harmony for politics, the site match-makes users to the policy areas of the seven main parties.
The best a manifesto can do is set a tone. Over the last few elections it has been striking how homogenous this tone has been across the Conservative-Labour divide. Labour’s 2015 document began by saying “This manifesto is inspired by you” – a statement that sounded more like a range of Boots bath-salts than a serious plan for government. The 2010 Conservative manifesto read like a Pinterest wall, mixing infographics with in-their-own-words testimonies by supporters like “Shaun, a youth worker from Hammersmith”.
It’s not about us, it’s about you. By leak-sharing its manifesto ahead of publication Labour, Labour is extending this logic. The socialist wishlist of nationalisation and ambitious spending has predictably riled the right wing press. But this is not where the Labour high command will be looking. As Buzzfeed’s Jim Waterson has recently shown, what goes viral and really makes an impact lies outside the Fleet Street newsroom. The views of bloggers such as Another Angry Voice and alt-left sites like the Canary are much closer to Corbyn’s politics than any Guardian columnist. For this community, plans to seize control over the railway and scrap tuition fees aren’t throwbacks but credible correctives to out of control capitalism. If any changes are applied to the final manifesto it will based on the feedback of alternative online voices and social media, not the Mail editorial.
None of this will have much bearing on the Conservative party. Its own wishlist manifesto requires no leaking. So far we’ve heard pledges of more support for foxhounds, the reintroduction of grammar schools and the need for clarity on the meaning of girls’ jobs and boys’ jobs. Strong and stable 1950s here we come.
Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do. He tweets @MarkBorkowski