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.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.