The shadow cabinet watched Ed Miliband launch the campaign. Photo: Twitter
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What we learned from the Labour election campaign launch

The Labour party launched its campaign today: what did we find out?

Ed Miliband launched Labour’s general election campaign at the top of the Orbit tower in the Olympic Park. Following his speech, the shadow cabinet marched onto their battle bus (a safe One Nation grey this time) to the cheering of supporters.

There wasn’t a slew of unexpected announcements – the manifesto launch is in April – but the launch revealed more than expected.

 

A cap on profit-making from NHS contracts

This was the biggest new announcement of the day. After an NHS nurse called Agnes introduced Ed Miliband to the stage as “the next prime minister”, Miliband went big on the subject that he has made central to his election campaign: protecting the health service from “privatisation”.

He announced that private companies making a profit from the health service (via outsourced NHS contracts) would be capped. All contracts over the value of £500,000 will be subject to a five per cent cap.

This is more meat on Labour’s message that it will reverse the government’s NHS reforms, but for ardent party supporters who worship the health service, it does muddy the water a little even acknowledging that any private money at all will be allowed in.

 

Hope at last

In the leaders’ televised Q&As last night, one studio audience member told Miliband that he "sounds gloomy a lot of the time". And this has for a while been one of the Labour leader’s problems. His demeanour and rhetoric has often been quite pessimistic. One of the difficulties of being in opposition, of course, is that negative messages about the government are necessary, but often Miliband hasn’t conveyed enough hope for the future.

That all changed today. Perhaps it was the memories of London 2012 (I’m sure they were piping Chariots of Fire through the 455-step Orbit stairwell), but it was more likely a presentation thing, as George has written. Miliband was full of hope:

“Giving hope back to our young people and restoring the promise of Britain.”

 

Back to Blighty

One of the most-used words in Miliband’s campaign launch speech (read the whole text below) today was “Britain”. “Britain can do better than this” – a conference speech slogan from a couple of years ago that didn’t work so well when plastered as a headline above a picture of Miliband’s face – was resurrected. This could well be a response to the battle Labour is fighting against the SNP in Scotland.

 

Still “addressing” immigration

As Stephen mentioned in his reaction to Miliband’s Q&A last night, Labour’s message on immigration – not particularly fleshed out – seems to be all for rightwing press-pleasing rhetoric. Miliband did a bit more of this today:

 

Our fourth pledge is on immigration.

We need controls on immigration.

That’s why people who come here will have to wait for at least two years until they can claim benefits.

And we will call time on employers who don’t pay the minimum wage, gang-masters that exploit migrant labour, recruitment agencies that only advertise abroad.

This Labour Party will never cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, but we are a party that believes in rules which protect working people.

It’s odd to talk about “controls on immigration” when your policy (a sound one) is actually about addressing labour market skulduggery.

 

The “fight” began a while ago

Lots of classic campaign battle imagery from Miliband today – his enduring message to the supporters was: “We can win this fight”.

But it’s clear Labour’s fight began a long time ago. Almost all of Miliband’s aides and the party’s senior press officers were at the launch, and they looked exhausted.

Even journalists, not usually sympathetic to press officers chivvying them out of the way, were commenting on how knackered some of the party’s team looked. Maybe it was just in contrast to a buoyant Miliband, and purposeful-looking, fresh-faced shadow cabinet, but it’s clear the party is working to the bone to win this election.

 

Read the speech:

We are here today to launch our campaign in the tightest general election for a generation.

And what an amazing place to do it.

The site of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The place where all of the United Kingdom - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - came together and showed the world what we can do.

That incredible summer was our country at its best.

And what was at the heart of those games?

A spirit of optimism.

A belief that Britain can do better.

And that same spirit is at the heart of our election campaign.

It is that spirit that is going to drive us on in the next few weeks.

Because we know Britain can do better than this.

The worst record on living standards since the 1920s.

The Tories say: this is as good as it gets.

We say: Britain can do better than this.

Five million people paid less than the living wage.

The Tories say: this is as good as it gets.

We say: Britain can do better than this.

Tax breaks for the richest, tax rises for everyone else.

The Tories say: this is as good as it gets.

We say: Britain can do better than this.

The health service going backwards and the threat of deeper cuts still to come.

The Tories say: this as good as it gets.

We say: Britain can do better than this.

So as we go out to fight this election, just remember:

They’re the pessimists.

We’re the optimists.

Because we know Britain can do better than this.

And what did we see last night?

We saw a rattled Prime Minister, running from his record.

And we heard a Prime Minister living in a different world.

Asked about the soaring use of food banks?

He says it’s not because of the bedroom tax or falling living standards or payday lenders.

It’s because of more effective advertising by the government.

Asked about the explosion of zero hours contracts?

He says it’s not because of the growth of low-paid insecure work on his watch.

It’s really because people want zero hours contracts.

But then he says, oh no, he couldn’t live on a zero hours contract.

I say, if it’s not good enough for you, Prime Minister, it’s not good enough for the people of Britain.

And this election is not simply a choice between two different parties and two different leaders.

But two different visions of our country.

That Tory vision that says Britain succeeds when only a few at the top do well, with tax cuts for the very wealthiest and insecurity for everyone else.

Or

A Labour vision based on the idea that Britain only succeeds when working people succeed.

That’s why this election matters so much.

And this vision runs through each of our five election pledges.

Our first pledge is to build a strong economic foundation.

We will cut the deficit every year.

Balancing the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament.

That will mean common sense spending reductions, with departmental budgets falling outside protected areas.

But we will always protect key departments like education and health.

And we will never, ever adopt extreme Tory spending plans that would lead to the disintegration of our public services.

And as part of that plan to reduce the deficit, and unlike this government, we will have fair tax changes.

Reversing David Cameron’s millionaires’ tax cut.

And clamping down on tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Because in a fair society there should never be one rule for the rich and powerful and another for everyone else.

There should be one rule for all.

Our second pledge is for higher living standards for working families.

Because Britain can’t succeed when working people are struggling, week after week, month after month.

That’s something the Tories just don’t understand.

That’s why we will deliver an £8 minimum wage.

25 hours free childcare for three and four year olds.

An energy price freeze so prices can only fall and cannot rise.

And a ban on those exploitative zero hours contracts.

By law under a Labour government, if you work regular hours you will get a regular contract.

Our third pledge is focused on the bedrock of security for working families, our National Health Service.

We need to rescue our NHS from this government, and we will.

Just think about how far backwards the NHS has gone in the last five years.

People waiting longer and longer to see a GP.

Ambulances lining up outside hospitals, because Accident and Emergency is full.

Even a treatment tent erected in a hospital car park.

For all the promises, for all the air-brushed posters, David Cameron has broken his solemn vow to the British people when it comes to our National Health Service.

And that is before their plan for the next few years.

Cuts even deeper than any we have seen in this last five.

Well, that’s not the future I believe in.

That’s not the future you believe in.

And that’s not the future this Labour Party will ever allow.

So we will turn around our NHS.

With a Labour government there will be a new double-lock to protect our National Health Service.

Guaranteeing proper funding.

And stopping its privatisation.

It starts with funding.

You can’t protect the NHS if you can’t show where the money will come from.

And we’re showing where the money is coming from for our plan.

We will have a Mansion Tax on properties worth over £2 million.

A levy on the tobacco companies.

And we will close those tax loopholes exploited by hedge funds.

And we will use that money for 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more doctors, 5,000 new care workers, and 3,000 more midwives.

Joining up services from home to hospital.

And, friends, we will do something else too.

We will repeal their terrible Health and Social Care Act.

And let me tell you why.

Their Act effectively forces the competitive tendering of services.

A third of all contracts have gone to private providers since it was passed.

This doesn’t fit the values of our NHS.

And it doesn’t serve the future of our NHS either.

Privatisation of the NHS is no longer simply out of step with our principles, it is out of step with the needs of the time.

If the task of health care in the future is integrating services, bringing them together, the last thing we need is to fragment and privatise.

Because it sets hospital against hospital, service against service.

Privatisation cannot meet the needs of 21st century healthcare.

We’re going to restore the right principles to our National Health Service.

With the next Labour government:

We’ll scrap David Cameron’s market framework for the NHS and stop the tide of privatisation.                                                                     

The NHS will be the preferred provider.

No company working with the NHS will be able to profit by cherry picking: rejecting patients with the more complex and expensive needs for their own advantage.

And, for the first time, we will cap the profits that private health companies can make from our National Health Service.

The standard rule will be a five per cent cap.

Because the money we pay for our health care should be invested for patient care not for excess profits for private firms.

So here is where Labour stands on the NHS:

It’s time to put patients before profits and stop the privatisation.

It’s time to invest in more doctors, nurses, midwives and care-workers, with a funded plan.

It’s time to rescue the NHS from David Cameron.

Our fourth pledge is on immigration.

We need controls on immigration.

That’s why people who come here will have to wait for at least two years until they can claim benefits.

And we will call time on employers who don’t pay the minimum wage, gang-masters that exploit migrant labour, recruitment agencies that only advertise abroad.

This Labour Party will never cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, but we are a party that believes in rules which protect working people.

Our fifth and final pledge is to our young people.

There is nothing worse about this government than the way they have made the young bear so much of the burden of hard times.

For the first time in our memory, so many young people think they’re going to have a harder life than their parents.

So at every stage of life the next Labour government will improve chances for the young.

Smaller class sizes for five, six and seven year olds.

An apprenticeship for every school leaver who gets the grades.

And tuition fees reduced to £6,000.

Investing in our future, investing in the next generation.

Giving hope back to young people and restoring the Promise of Britain.

So we offer: a strong economic foundation.

Higher living standards.

An NHS with time to care.

Controls on immigration.

And the next generation doing better than the last.

These are our pledges to the British people.

And, friends, the last few weeks have shown more than ever why it is so important that we have this better plan.

We now know what is on offer from David Cameron.

Low pay carries on because he thinks that’s the way Britain succeeds.

Insecurity at work persists because that’s the way he thinks Britain prospers.

Young people carry on being mired in debt because he thinks there’s no alternative.

And on top of all this, he plans bigger, deeper, worse cuts to public services.

That’s the wrong future for working families.

That’s the wrong future for Britain.

So that is the choice.

A Tory government that looks out only for a few.

Or a Labour government that will stand up for working families in every part of our country.

I know this election is going to be tough.

Like so many races here during the Olympics, it may come down to the wire.

Neck and neck.

I know our opponents will throw everything they have our way.

I know they’re desperate to hang on to power.

But we know we can win this fight on behalf of the British people.

We know we must stand up for working families.

We know we must change Britain.

Hard work rewarded.

Young people with hope again.

Exploitative zero hours contracts banned.

The health service rescued.

Time called on tax avoidance.

The richest paying their fair share.

The bedroom tax abolished.

That’s the difference between a Labour government and a Tory government.

Fairness.

Social justice.

Equality.

A better plan.

A better future.

Let’s go out and win it together.

Let’s go out and change our country.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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“I'm very much out on my ear”: what it's like becoming an ex-MP

Returning to normal life isn't that simple.

The week after June's snap election, Theresa May faced the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. Her eagerness to appease those angered by the loss of the party's majority worked wonders, with Boris Johnson describing her performance as “stonking”.

It helped that she acknowledged the personal cost of the election for MPs who had lost their seats. The Guardian quotes one MP as saying: “The party is going to help them, some of them are in dire financial situations. She did say sorry, several times. She apologised for colleagues losing their seats, for making the call about the early election.”

Elections are based on numbers: swing; votes; majority; seats – but there is a human toll to losing. Jobless overnight, often without experience directly applicable to another career, many ex-MPs struggle in the weeks following defeat.

While May was referring to her Conservative peers, losing a seat is an experience also familiar to Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. The former MP for Richmond Park made headlines by overturning Zac Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority in the December 2016 by-election – only to lose the seat by 45 votes six months later.

“I don't get any money at all,” she says. “I got paid up to 8 June and then nothing. I don't qualify for loss of office allowance or statutory redundancy because I wasn't there for long enough. You have to have been there for at least two years.”

Olney, who intends to look for a new job after the summer holidays, describes herself as a “little bit cheated” by the snap election. “I was expecting – especially when we had a Fixed-term Parliaments Act – that parliament was going to last until 2020. So to suddenly find that it's changed means that you don't qualify for anything.”

Even if her situation isn’t “dire” as was alluded to by May and the 1922 Committee, she still finds herself without financial security.

“For me personally, it does mean being without any money at all,” says Olney, who left her job in accountancy to stand as an MP. “I have a mortgage to pay and children to feed and I'm lucky that I've got my husband and he's earning and we've got savings to live off, but I'm very much out on my ear unexpectedly. It's not quite the terms you sign up to, but equally you have to accept that it's not a normal employment either.”

Returning to “normal employment” is not always a painless process. Dr Edmund Marshall, Labour MP for Goole from 1971 until the seat’s abolition in 1983, describes a “widespread suspicion” from potential employers that ex-MPs would be seeking to re-enter parliament at the earliest opportunity.

He also bemoans the nature of the career change itself. “An ex-MP has, in the nature of that role, been a generalist – especially if he or she had long service in parliament – and so is in a weak position when applying for any specialised job, for which there will usually be many other applicants with more up-to-date relevant experience,” says Dr Marshall, who went into lecturing and Church of England policy after leaving parliament.

Another downside for Olney is that the legitimate scrutiny MPs are exposed to will continue even after leaving the Commons. “Every single thing I've done has been under scrutiny and has been reported negatively, even though there's very little to say,” she says. “I'm pretty squeaky clean – I have no skeletons in my closet. Anything people could use, they would. So anything I do from now on would be treated the same. It's one thing to be under that scrutiny when you're running for public office, but it's entirely another when you're just trying to earn a living.”

Most of the “relentless” criticism that she has faced on Twitter has faded, but she remains sceptical of the reaction to a new position. “It might well be that I could take a job and people just won't notice or care,” she says, “but it's been my experience ever since I got selected that anything I did was criticised, so I would expect that to continue I guess.”

When it comes to jobs, Olney remains unsure of her direction, describing herself as being at a “crossroads”. “I'm conscious I might face criticism for anything I might do that uses my political experience,” she explains. “Given that I'm now just a private individual trying to earn a salary, I don't want to have to answer for that.” She laughs: “But I think equally my political experience sits rather strangely on my accountant's CV.”

Olney’s defeat on 8 June left more than just one career affected. She describes the “frustration” of having to lay off her newly appointed staff. “I think one of the things I didn't realise – and I wonder if most people don't realise about being an MP – is you're pretty much almost like a sole trader, and you have to set up everything from scratch,” she says. “You have to hire your own staff and you have to find your own office premises. There's a lot of work involved in doing all of that, and I was only just getting to the end of that set-up phase.

“And then all of a sudden, a general election comes along and having just hired all these staff, the next thing I'm doing is sending them all redundancy letters.

“So that for me was a huge frustration that we never really got started, never really got going, never really got to do all the things that I would have liked to get done.”

Despite saying that there was a lack of support for the transition period after her by-election win, Olney says that, from her experience, the infrastructure for leaving parliament is “pretty good”.

Yet as Olney has experienced, the financial support from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has been cut back following the expenses scandal of 2009. Many MPs, if they have not served long enough to receive a pension, rely on IPSA’s payout to tide them over until re-employment. In 2015, this was capped at £33,530, made up of one month’s pay for every year in parliament. Now, the figure is capped at £29,340, and is calculated from both the number of years served and the former MP’s age.

And then there's actually finding a new job. Keith Best, the Conservative MP for Anglesey (renamed Ynys Môn in 1983) between 1979 to 1987, claims to have made “over 400 applications” after a conviction for fraud forced him to leave parliament.

Dr Marshall recalls a similar, if less extreme, application process. “In 1983, it took me six months to find good, alternative employment,” he says. “I made an application for 56 specific, advertised jobs, and was interviewed for 14 of them. In the end I was offered two good posts, so at least at that stage I was able to make a choice!

“I think the good rate of getting interviews, 25 per cent, was because the selectors were curious to see what an ex-MP looked like. So that curiosity factor is a small advantage that the ex-MP has.”

Meanwhile, Michael Meadowcroft, Liberal MP for Leeds from 1983 to 1987, describes having “survived through journalism”, writing for a number of different outlets before eventually chairing the Electoral Reform Committee.

While the experience of former MPs appears largely consistent across party lines, two former Labour MPs argue that Conservative politicians face advantages when it comes to gaining re-employment. Tony McWalter held Hemel Hempstead for Labour from the seat’s creation in 1997 until 2005. He cites “two advantages” for former Tory MPs.

“On the one hand,” he says, “their party thinks that to be an MP is not a full-time job, so frequently they keep paid positions while they are MPs without incurring the wrath of their constituency members. This makes the transition to being a former MP much smoother.

“Secondly, many Conservative MPs have close friendships with those who run companies, and that in turn means there are likely to be people in positions of considerable [influence] to whom they can turn when the electoral axe falls.”

Dr Marshall agrees it is easier for Conservatives, but attributes this to political bias rather than connections. “All ex-MPs, when job-hunting, are likely to encounter some party political prejudice among the selectorate,” he says, “but I think this poses particular difficulty for Labour ex-MPs, because the Tories probably have a majority among the selectorate. For instance, it appears easier for ex-Tory MPs to land positions on boards of directors.”

Keith Best and his 400 unsuccessful applications may disagree.

Yet losing a seat is not all doom and gloom. Sir Hugh Bayley, the former Labour MP for York Central, writes of the personal and professional opportunities afforded by stepping down in 2015 after 23 years’ service. “My wife, Fenella Jeffers, had had enough of a spouse who was rarely at home, and focused mainly on politics even when there,” he explains. 

“Fenella was born abroad, in Nevis in the Caribbean, and said she was going home, to live there much of the time. We decided it was her turn to set the ground rules for our lives.

“I now spend a few months a year in Nevis. I draw a parliamentary pension but work (pro bono) as a member of the UK/Europe Board of the International Rescue Committee (the New York-based humanitarian NGO led by David Miliband), and (paid, part-time) as a lay member of the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

“Fenella spends a few months a year in the UK so we spend roughly half our time together, which is far more than we did when I was an MP, and it is allowing us to rebuild the relationship which nearly collapsed because of the pressure of all those years when I was in Parliament.”

Olney echoes those sentiments. Speaking over the phone before going to play football with her son, she says: “The up-side of only having been there six months is that I had a normal life before, and it's been an opportunity to reconnect with that normal life, so spending more time with my children.

“It's been an opportunity to catch up with people and rediscover some of the other things I used to do before I became an MP.”

And yet, the call to the Commons is persistent. When asked if it was in her plans to re-stand for election, Olney was emphatic. “Yes. Yes, absolutely it is. It definitely is.” Referring to Goldsmith, she says: “He had a majority of 23,000 two years ago and now he's got a majority of 45. That's just the momentum that we've got going on here locally and I don't want to spoil that, I want to get over the line next time.

“For me, it's not so much personal. I am now out of work, but I will find another job reasonably easily and I will get back the life I had before. I just don't feel Zac Goldsmith is the best person to represent this constituency and I'm just really annoyed he's our MP again.”

Olney’s point that being an MP is no “normal employment” was also part of the appeal for her predecessors. “It is an absolutely marvellous job,” writes McWalter over email, emphasis his own. “You might be able to help, not dozens of people who are victims of injustice or callous indifference, but thousands of them.

“You will get opportunities to expand your knowledge to be able to do the job, and I found my placements with police service and with the Royal Navy during my time in parliament of extraordinary value.

“You will find the job has dazzling variety, so you need to become knowledgeable about a huge range of matters – from war to warts, and you have to employ the knowledge so gained to improve the lot sometimes of people throughout the country.

“Just to serve on a select committee, [as] I did [on] Northern Ireland at a crucial time, and then science and technology, is to be faced with challenges every bit as demanding as those faced by those who stay in the academic world.

“Most people who have been Members of Parliament have found the experience wonderful. It is sad, however, that the skills you acquire are redundant the moment you lose your seat. Those who seek to get into Parliament are often rational and altruistic, for they are applying for one of the best jobs you could do. But it would be a service to our democracy if their offer to serve were to be put into proper context."

McWalter does realise that not every aspect of the job, and the consequences of losing it, are positive. “Some have to pay for their time of service by having a quality of life a lot worse than they had before they were successful in an election,” he says. “That is the price to be paid by many, and the subsequent strains on mental health, on marriage, and on financial security, are sometimes such that those who are the family and friends of former MPs wish they had never been elected.”

Best concluded on a similar note: “Being an MP these days is so risky that I fear that it will deter many, if not in their own interests at least in those of their families.”

Nevertheless, for many MPs, working in the Commons is not a career that can be simply left behind. For them, the price of entry – and exit – is worth it.