Miliband’s message

What I learned from Ed Miliband at last night’s <em>New Statesman</em> party.

Ed Miliband was on fine form at the New Statesman party last night, although he looked, understandably enough, a little bleary-eyed. He quipped that only three publications had supported him: "the People, the New Statesman and the Caledonian Mercury".

In his speech, he reaffirmed some of the main messages of his campaign and his first days as leader, notably the need for humility and the need to engage with young voters. And he repeated his promise (borrowed from David Cameron) to "support the coalition when they do the right thing and oppose them when they do the wrong thing".

His call to build a modern, "21st-century social democracy" sounded wonderfully ambitious at a time when even Sweden, that centre-left utopia, has turned right. But Miliband is the leader with the best chance of winning over the voters required to do so. The psephological reality is that Labour has lost five million voters since 1997, only a million of whom went to the Tories. The rest defected to the Lib Dems, or the Greens, or stopped voting at all. It will not win them by playing the same old Blairite tunes.

It is for this reason, as Tim Montgomerie argues in today's Times (£), that the right is foolish to underestimate the man it calls "Red Ed". He identifies Matthew d'Ancona's declaration that "on Saturday, David Cameron won the next general election" as the silliest thing written in reaction to Miliband's victory.

Labour's new leader starts from a base of 258 seats, more than the Tories had in 1997, 2001 and 2005. He needs to win no more than 30 seats to evict the coalition from Downing Street. The latest YouGov poll puts Labour just a point behind the Tories and it is likely to take the lead at some point this week. It took three years and the fuel strikes for a single poll to put the William Hague-led Conservative Party ahead of Labour.

But, as things stand, the right shows every sign of ignoring Lao Tzu's injunction to "know thy enemy".

George Eaton is political editor of 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.