UK’s Labour promises radical change if it wins election

LONDON — Britain’s main opposition Labour Party was launching its detailed platform for Britain’s Dec. 12 election on Thursday as it tried to close an opinion-poll gap with the governing Conservatives.

The left-of-centre party is pledging higher public spending and a greater role for the state in housing, transport and the provision of utilities.

Labour, which has been in opposition since 2010, has shifted sharply to the left under leader Jeremy Corbyn after the centrist “New Labour” years of former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The party says Thursday’s election manifesto will include pledges to build 150,000 new homes a year for social rent and to create hundreds of thousands of “green jobs” to combat climate change by expanding renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions.

The party has also promised to part-privatize telecoms provider BT and bring free broadband internet access to every home and business in Britain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives accuse Labour of reckless spending and outmoded socialist ideas. But, in a major change of policy after years of public spending cuts, the Conservatives are also promising more money for infrastructure, health care and public services if they win the election.

Corbyn said his policies would be popular with the public, and compared himself to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose “New Deal” helped tackle the Great Depression.

Corbyn said Roosevelt “had to take on the rich and powerful in America to do it.”

“Over the next three weeks, the most powerful people in Britain and their supporters are going to tell you that everything in this manifesto is impossible,” Corbyn said before the launch.

“That it’s too much for you. Because they don’t want real change. Why would they? The system is working just fine for them. It’s rigged in their favour.”

Johnson pushed for the December election — taking place more than two years early — in the hope of breaking Britain’s political impasse over Brexit.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs. While Johnson’s Conservatives have a lead in most opinion polls, analysts say the election is unpredictable because Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties. For many voters, their identities as “leavers” or “remainers” are more important than party affiliation.

Johnson says that if voters give the Conservatives a majority he will get Parliament to ratify the divorce deal he agreed with the European Union and take the U.K. out of the bloc by the current deadline of Jan. 31.

Labour says it will negotiate a better deal, then hold a new referendum with a choice between leaving the EU on those terms or remaining.


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Jill Lawless, The Associated Press