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Labour’s radical manifesto

Jonathan Wright

Jonathan Wright - Fidelity Personal Investing

With less than three weeks until the general election, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what the parties are promising. This week the Labour Party launched its manifesto promising “real change” through a “green transformation” of the economy.

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Following a TV duel with Boris Johnson, where both leaders received a lukewarm response from voters, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will be hoping his radical plans to transform the UK “for the many, not the few” will strike a chord and address his current lag in the opinion polls.

It’s certainly a bold plan and, compared to previous elections, an unequivocal move to the left, including widespread nationalisations, higher taxes on big business and wealthier individuals and increased borrowing for investment in public services.

Overall, Labour is proposing to spend an extra £83bn a year and it claims to have fully funded this through higher taxation and borrowing.

A “green industrial revolution” is a key pledge. The manifesto promises to address climate change with a range of measures that will aim to transform the UK economy into one “low in carbon, rich in good jobs, radically fairer and more democratic.”

So far so good, but how would this be achieved?

One of the most eye-catching revenue-raisers, for UK investors whose pensions and other investments are often quite heavily exposed to the large energy weighting in the FTSE 100, is a new windfall tax on oil and gas companies. This could raise more than £11bn.

This will be aimed at UK-based oil and gas companies that have extracted oil and gas from the North Sea, as the party believes the government has not collected as much tax per barrel as other countries such as Norway and the Netherlands. The money raised would be used to retrain workers in the oil and gas industry into greener jobs.

In this era of low interest rates, oil and gas companies such as BP and Shell feature heavily in equity income funds as they both offer a dividend yield of around 6%. Further taxes on this sector are likely to impact this high level of income.

Investors in the water companies, railways, Royal Mail, National Grid and BT should also take note that a Labour government would trigger the start of a new wave of nationalisations. While some voters may be questioning how they would raise the cash to buy back these companies, shareholders will be questioning at what share price the purchase would be struck and whether it’s below market value or not.

Companies will also be hit with Labour’s plans to raise corporation tax from 19% to 26% by 2022. This would raise £23.7bn within five years, according to the funding document released with the Labour manifesto.

Other policies of interest to investors include changes to capital gains tax (CGT), so gains are taxed at the same level as income tax. This is a serious concern for any with extensive unrealised gains, as these are currently taxed at either 10% or 20%, depending on the investor’s income (property is taxed more highly at 18% and 28%). Aligning CGT with income tax bands would mean many investors face a potential 40% or even 45% tax charge at today’s income tax rates. Given that Labour has also promised to raise the top two rates to 45% and 50%, the hike is even more pronounced.

Those with second homes would face a new tax, while the extra inheritance tax threshold announced by George Osborne in the 2015 Summer Budget would be scrapped.

On a more positive note, for those approaching retirement, a Labour government would abandon the Tories’ plan to raise the State Pension Age, leaving it at 66. For those still working, within a decade Labour promises to reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across the economy, “with no loss of pay, funded by productivity increases”. We would also benefit from free broadband for all, thanks to a part-nationalisation of BT.

All in all, it’s a manifesto more radical than the party’s 2017 programme, showing a boldness to take on big business and raise taxes where it can.

It should also be borne in mind that the cost of Labour’s proposals could have implications for the bond market. The UK is heavily reliant on the ‘kindness of strangers’ when it comes to funding the Government’s budget deficit. It is likely that overseas investors would demand a higher yield to compensate them for the risk of default and/or rising inflation if the Government is able to crank up its spending as proposed.

Of course, voters will not just be focused on what a Labour government could mean for the economy and finance. Brexit and the possibility of a second referendum, as well as a referendum on Scotland’s independence will also feature in the mix. Labour has promised to renegotiate the Brexit agreement and then put it back to the country within six months with a straight choice between the new deal or staying in the EU.

While the Conservative Party has yet to publish its manifesto, Boris Johnson has already hinted that tax cuts, as well as “getting Brexit done” are his top priorities.

However you may feel about the forthcoming election, one thing we can all agree on is the fact that the parties can’t be accused of being timid with their policies. In this election voters will need to think beyond their traditional left or right leanings, to include whether they want to remain in the EU or leave, as well as how they might respond to climate change.

It’s not as easy a decision as perhaps it once was. And the complexity of the various decisions that voters will have to weigh up makes the outcome extremely uncertain, not least because polling at a national level is less meaningful than in earlier elections.

One thing is for certain. The identity of the next Prime Minister - which realistically is either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn - will make a very significant difference to investors.

More on the election

Important information: The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest. Investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. Reference to specific securities should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell these securities and is included for the purposes of illustration only. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to an authorised financial adviser.

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