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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"Labour are as pro-Brexit as the Tories": what do Sinn Fein's MPs really want from Westminster?

Its seven MPs are much less sympathetic to Corbyn's party than popularly imagined, and won't ever take their seats.

Should the Conservative minority government fall, what is Jeremy Corbyn’s route to power? The counterfactual as popularly understood goes like this: Corbyn would pick up the phone to his old pal Gerry Adams and convince Sinn Fein’s seven MPs to abandon the habit of a century and take their seats.

There are countless reasons why this would never happen, most of them obvious. One is more surprising. Despite Corbyn’s longstanding links with the republican cause, the Labour party is not all that popular among a new intake, which is preoccupied with one thing above all else: Brexit.

No wonder. Sinn Fein’s long game is an all-Ireland one, and the party believe the UK’s departure from the EU will hasten reunification. In the meantime, however, its priority is a Brexit deal that gives Northern Ireland – where 56 per cent of voters backed remain – designated status within the EU.

Pioneered by the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party as an antidote to Brexit, designated status would allow the six counties in the North to continue to enjoy the EU’s four freedoms. But the idea is anathema to unionists and the UK government, and Sinn Fein sees little evidence that the Westminster establishment will make it work – not even Labour.

“They are as pro-Brexit as the Conservatives are,” says Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy. “We’re anti-Brexit. We want to see the right of the people in the North who voted to remain in Europe respected.”

Simmering resentment over what the party perceives to have been broken promises on Tony Blair’s part – especially over legal protection for the Irish language, a key stumbling block obstructing the resumption of power-sharing – makes the already implausible deal even less likely.

“The Irish language act was something that Blair agreed to,” says Molloy. “So when people talk about us taking our seats, they don’t realise we would be backing a Labour government that wouldn’t be living up to its commitments either, and would be just as pro-Brexit as the Conservatives are."

That criticism may well surprise a lay audience whose working assumption is that Adams and Corbyn work hand in glove. But it is perhaps the best illustration of Sinn Fein’s parliamentary priorities: its seven MPs will not in any circumstances take their seats but use their Westminster presence to lobby ministers and MPs of all stripes while running constituency offices at home (they are unsalaried, but claim expenses).

Crucially, its MPs believe abstentionism strengthens, rather than weakens their negotiating hand: by their logic other parties need not and do not fear them given the fact they do not have voting power.

They will use their leverage to agitate for special status above all else. “Special status is the biggest issue that we are lobbying for,” says Molloy. “We feel that is the best way of securing and retaining EU membership. But if we get a referendum on Irish unity and the people vote for that, then the North will automatically join the EU.”

But that wasn’t always the received wisdom. That assurance was in fact secured by Mark Durkan, the former deputy first minister and SDLP MP beaten by Sinn Fein last week, after an exchange with Brexit secretary David Davis at the leaving the EU select committee. The defeat of the three SDLP MPs – two of them by Sinn Fein – means there will be no Irish nationalist voice in the commons while Brexit is negotiated.

Surely that’s bad news for Northern Irish voters? “I don’t think it is,” says Molloy. “The fact we took two seats off the SDLP this time proves abstentionism works. It shows they didn’t deliver by attending. We have a mandate for abstentionism. The people have now rejected attendance at Westminster, and rejected Westminster itself. We’ve never been tempted to take our seats at all. It is very important we live by our mandate.”

If they did, however, they would cut the Conservatives’ and Democratic Unionist Party’s working majority from 13 to a much more precarious six. But Molloy believes any alliance will be a fundamentally weak one and that all his party need do is wait. “I think it’ll be short-lived,” he says. “Every past arrangement between the British government and unionist parties has always ended in tears.”

But if the DUP get its way – the party has signed a confidence and supply deal which delivers extra cash for Northern Ireland – then it need not. Arlene Foster has spoken of her party’s desire to secure a good deal for the entire country. Unsurprisingly, however, Sinn Fein does not buy the conciliatory rhetoric.

“They’ve never really tried to get a good deal for everybody,” says Michelle Gildernew, who won the hyper-marginal of Fermanagh and South Tyrone back from the Ulster Unionists last week. “The assembly and executive [which Sinn Fein and the DUP ran together] weren’t working for a lot of groups – whether that was the LGBT community, the Irish language community, or women...they might say they’re going to work for everybody, but we’ll judge them by their actions, not their words.”

Molloy agrees, and expresses concern that local politicians won’t be able to scrutinise new spending. “The executive needs to be up and running to implement that, and to ensure a fair distribution. If there’s new money coming into the North, we welcome that, but it has to be done through the executive.”

On current evidence, the call for local ministers to scrutinise the Conservatives’ deal with the DUP is wishful thinking – Northern Ireland has been without an executive since February, when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister and triggered a snap election.

The talks since have been defined by intransigence and sluggishness. James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland secretary, has had to postpone the talks deadline on four separate occasions, and has been criticised by nationalists for his perceived closeness to the DUP.

The final deadline for the restoration of an executive is 29 June 2017. Sinn Fein has called for Brokenshire to recuse himself in favour of a neutral chair. “His hands are tied now, completely,” says Molloy. “The Conservative party were always questionable on where they stood – they’ve always been unionists. The issue now is whether they can act neutrally as a guarantor to the Good Friday Agreement.”

He believes that question is already settled. “Legally, they have to act to ensure that nothing happens to damage that agreement – but we’ve already breached it through Brexit. There was no consultation. The people of the North voted to remain and it hasn’t been recognised. It totally undermines the consent principle.”

Just how they and Brokenshire interpret that principle – the part of the Good Friday Agreement that specifies the constitutional status of the North can only change by consent of its people – will be key to whether they can achieve their ultimate goal: Irish unity.

Molloy and Gildernew say the fact that 11 of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies voted to remain in the EU is enough for Brokenshire to call one within the next five years (though polling consistently shows that a clear majority of the province’s electorate, including a substantial minority of nationalists, would vote to stay in the UK). They are confident they can win, though, failing that, Molloy envisages it as the first in several referenda on unification.

But beneath the optimism lies the knowledge that the British government are unlikely to heed their calls. And, willingly absent from the Westminster chamber, they say the UK government’s discussions about Brexit are illegitimate. They see their real powerbase as elsewhere: in Dublin’s Dail Eireann, where Sinn Fein is the third largest party, and the chancelleries of Europe.

“That’s where most of the negotiation will actually happen,” says Molloy. “The EU27 will make the decisions. They won’t be made in Westminster, because the British have already set out what they’re doing: they’re leaving.”

But with seven MPs already lobbying ministers and a united Ireland unlikely to happen in the immediate future, Sinn Fein itself won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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