Labour manifesto exclusive: inside Alexander and Miliband's "word of mouth" election

50,000 people sent manifesto details as close Labour duo puts pressure on Tories

In the half-hour following Labour's manifesto launch today some 50,000 people were sent an animated film with click throughs, Newstatesman.com has learned. The figure is in stark contrast to the mere 8000 copies of the manifesto the party sold in 2005.

This time round, the Labour manifesto has been designed to be "shared", in what the campaign coordinator Douglas Alexander describes as "the word of mouth election". The Cabinet was photographed with datasticks that will be distributed, including interactive multimedia presentations as well as a PDF of the document itself.

Alexander and Ed Miliband, the manifesto coordinator, have been the two key figures behind today's launch. They first met in 1990 in David Miliband's kitchen, and -- as well as making a number of trips together including this one with the New Statesman in Bangladesh and India -- together form what has been dubbed here, 'Next Labour'.

One who knows both men tells NS.com: Their shared theme that Labour should be defenders and reformer of the state runs through chapter after chapter of this manifesto." Alexander is fond of saying that it is "people who win elections, not posters" and today's manifesto launch has his "word of mouth" finger prints all over it.

Alexander was influenced by the Obama campaign's use of PDA handheld devices on which activists showed voters films on the doorstep. But no party anywhere in the world has launched a manifesto using a viral animated film.

Once again Labour's document is weighty -- 10 chapters covering all major policy areas -- and party insiders believe that "the standard has now been set for the Tories'
launch tomorrow". David Cameron was Michael Howard's manifesto coordinator in 2005, while Oliver Letwin has performed the role for Cameron this time.
Letwin's talk of a 'policy pyramid' drew criticism from Tory MPs at a Westminster briefing.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.