Ed Miliband during the press conference to announce his resignation as Labour leader. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Will Labour abandon Miliband's policies or just his strategy?

The leadership candidates have so far focused on tone and presentation. 

The decisive nature of Labour's election defeat means that several leadership candidates have sharply distanced themselves from Ed Miliband's approach. Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall have denounced his failure to appeal to Conservative voters, his lack of interest in public service reform and his refusal to concede that the last government mishandled the public finances. But what is notable is that no candidate (the others being Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper) has so far rejected any of Miliband's policies. Rather, the focus has been on strategy (reaching out to a broader electorate), tone (more optimistic) and presentation (just better). 

This contrasts with Miliband's campaign launch in 2010, which saw him condemn the Iraq war, Labour's relaxed attitude to inequality and its light-touch market regulation. This may change as the contest progresses. Policies such as a 50p tax rate and a mansion tax may be rejected as anti-aspirational. Others such as an energy price freeze and creating two "challenger banks" may be abandoned as unworkable. But whoever wins the contest, more of Miliband's programme may endure than some expect. 

Ben Bradshaw, the Blairite MP for Exeter, who is considering standing for the deputy leadership (he impressively tripled his majority), told me: 

I’m very optimistic. Fundamentally, we’re not in as bad a place as we were in the 1980s. In spite of this disastrous result our manifesto was rather good. It was not, to quote Gerald Kaufman, the second longest suicide note in history. We don’t have mad politics or mad policies, we just had the wrong political strategy and the wrong messaging and the wrong approach.

We had very poor communication. It took more than three years for Ed to appoint a broadcasting officer. It was almost as if communicating through the main medium through which the public experience their politicians was considered not very important or a bit irrelevant ... It’s supremely important.

Unlike in the 1980s, when Labour abandoned mass nationalisation and unilateral nuclear disarmament to make itself electable, few in the party believe that its salvation lies in policy. None of the individual measures proposed by Miliband polled poorly. Indeed, most polled remarkably well. The question that candidates need to ask themselves is whether individually popular policies resulted in a collective product that repelled voters. But this is partly a matter of emphasis. The Tories didn't abandon their right-wing policies on immigration and the EU, they simply ensured that they weren't the focus of their campaign (as they disastrously were in 2001 and 2005). Similarly, Labour may choose to downplay Miliband's left-leaning measures, rather than ditching them altogether. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.