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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue