Thursday was rather odd. One week on from historically bad local election results, with national polls pointing to a similar disaster on June 8th, Betfair punters moved Labour’s odds in a positive direction. Granted, that improvement was extremely marginal and doesn’t even begin to signal a change in the likely general election result, but the numbers are noteworthy. Their odds for Most Seats fell from 46.0 to 29.0 and for an Overall Majority from 190.0 to 46.0.
More significantly, by accident or design, Labour enjoyed a decent news cycle. For once, the central topic was not Corbyn’s hopelessness or unelectability. The leak of their manifesto dominated headlines and was the main talking point on both Newsnight and Question Time. This is priceless publicity – the document will probably get more attention this weekend than Ed Miliband’s managed to during the entire 2015 campaign.
Besides predictable derision from the Tories – using all their favourite lines of attack about unfunded promises, misplaced idealism and the 1970s – the reaction was pretty positive. Labour reps on both those set-piece shows fared well. Diane Abbott was nowhere to be seen.
Love it or hate it, the most radical Labour manifesto in living memory is a great talking point. The principles are clear and the policies – on the surface at least – are popular. 71% support banning zero hours contracts. 52% renationalising the railways. 49% the energy industry. Abolishing tuition fees seems certain to sweep the education vote. Nationalising bus services will have local appeal.
None of that is going to change the course of this election and propel Jeremy Corbyn to Number 10 – it is far too late to change entrenched opinions – but it could mark a turning point. It is precisely what the crisis-ridden party needs. The warm response from a broad range of progressives, including plenty who are normally hostile to the current Labour leadership, reminds them that unity is possible.