Uncut review: Labour’s Spring rally was a tale of two Britains

by Jonathan Todd

On Saturday, I met a friend for coffee and took my son swimming. Normal life, that simple, that complicated. Labour’s Spring Rally came in-between. This made the coffee and swim seem Damascus living: normal life accompanied by artillery’s distant thud.

There is not one nation but two Britain’s. The Britain of my coffee and swim. The Britain of the rally. Here the artillery is loud. War has been waged against the country by the government . “Britain can’t afford another five years of Tory government,” Shaun Dooley, the actor and one of Ed Miliband’s warm-up acts, implored.

“If we go on at this rate, the nation must be ruined,” Adam Smith was told by a student following a reversal for British troops in the American revolution. “There’s a great deal of ruin in a nation,” retorted Smith. It would take more than a prime minister as second rate as David Cameron to ruin us.

In rally Britain, however, all is at stake. We might be ruined. Or milk and honey might flow. A country where the next generation can do better than the last. Where the NHS has time to care. And working families have higher living standards.

Miliband is an ideas man. Like his father. And some of his closest advisers. Riffs of ideas emanate from Labour’s pledge card, unveiled at the rally. But people struggle with abstract ideas. As the Conservatives found with the Big Society.

There was nothing abstract about Labour’s 1997 pledge card. It was a retail offer to key voters with funding mechanisms attached. While such offers can be widely believed, mass belief can also be secured by other mechanisms.

People can believe in people who believe in ideas. More often than they believe in abstract ideas. They believe, for example, in the idea of Gandhi more than they believe in nonviolent civil disobedience and certainly more than they believe in the reality of Gandhi’s sometimes controversial life. It is not that man who now has a Parliament Square statute. It is the idea of him.

There is a statue of Harry Leslie Smith in Parliament Square in rally Britain. It is there to underscore the idea that the Tories exist to take us back to the 1930s. “Do you see,” the rally’s compère asked Smith, “any parallels between then and now?” As if what we were supposed to feel wasn’t already obvious.

But – like an advert for Barclays Digital Eagles – no emotional lever is too obvious to not be pulled in rally Britain. Jermain Jackman – “2014 winner of The Voice and proud Labour member”, we were told – began things with music. Ed Balls, in the front row, was quickest to his feet with applause after his songs.  In addition to Dooley, Jackson and Smith, we heard from Norman Pickavance, a former HR director at Morrisons, who reviewed zero hours contracts for Miliband (and found them to be bad); a graduate who claimed her employment prospects are better in war torn Ukraine than in the UK (which is sad – if a little hard to believe); a 19 year-old diabetic with cystic fibrosis who’d also had a double lung transplant and delays in NHS treatment (which is really very sad indeed); a cleaner who’d benefitted from Birmingham’s Labour council paying her the living wage (which is great – but not quite on the pledge card); and Simon Franks, a businessman and “proud Labour member” – the repeated emphasis on proud verging suspicious – who offered EU views out of kilter with those of the British Chamber of Commerce.

The vibe veered into the revivalist. The language resolutely state socialist. The cliché tombola was powered up like a Labour Party PPC selection. But selections are about preaching to the converted. General elections are about reaching beyond.

After watching Miliband in December give the speech that launched his first pledge, I had more confidence that he would seek to do this than I did coming away from the rally. That December speech, which saw Miliband more fluent in the language of fiscal credibility than he has been before or since, came after the Autumn Statement, which has allowed Miliband to repeatedly argue that George Osborne plans “to cut the state back to the size it was in the 1930s, before we had the NHS”. In rally Britain, evidence to justify Smith’s statute. Elsewhere, notwithstanding the tremendous growth in GDP since the 1930s, an Osborne error that he’ll likely find means of correcting in this week’s Budget.

With this rug pulled from beneath us, we might wonder upon what the Labour campaign will stand. Not tailored political retail but abstract ideas. Minus a Gandhi for these ideas: a believer in them likely to compel mass support. As the electorate faces this, there is a greater probability than there should be that what appears ruin to rally Britain will be chosen.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut    

Tags: , , , , ,

5 Responses to “Uncut review: Labour’s Spring rally was a tale of two Britains”

  1. paul barker says:

    The tone of Labour campaigning now reminds me of Kinnock during his “I warn you not to be poor” period; with an added dose of 1983 Foot.

  2. Madasafish says:

    This article wanders from one subject to another.

    Sorry butEd Miliband’s speeches are better than this..

  3. BenM says:

    Say what you like about Labour’s campaign, a glance at the pathetic excuse that passes for the Tory one allows some quiet relief.

    Relentlessly negative, headed up by a spiv, reliant not on any policy but on hiding behind the discredited rightwing press as it smears Ed on a daily basis.

    The Tory offering is laughably threadbare, intellectually bankrupt, and upon any examination wildly unpopular. No one wants any more discredited Free Schools. No one but the ideologically lost wants Tory austerity into perpetuity. No one outside a wild eyed minority of phobes really cares about Europe (if that 2017 referendum really was a killer pledge the Tories would be a shoo in).

    Labour might not have the most charismatic candidate on offer – not by a long shot. But its platform outshines the Tories with consummate ease.

  4. Tafia says:

    BenM – “Say what you like about Labour’s campaign, a glance at the pathetic excuse that passes for the Tory one allows some quiet relief.”

    You want to have a real think about what you have just said there. A deeply unpopular government, offering more of the same and with a supposedly pathetic campaign. The opposition must be light years ahead in the polls. Ohh. Hang on……………..

    Then there’s the other little conundrum. Labour claim the overwhelming bulk of UKIP voters come from the tories. But lets be generous – lets redistribute it two thirds Tory, one third Labour. Oh dear.

    So that’s the reality. Labour are a f***ing shambles, their campaign is laughable, Unite are preparing to go to war over candidate selection and Blair is interfering. They are unable to break clear of an absolutely atrocious government (largely because they have nothing better to offer). And if it wasn’t for UKIP, the tories would be on course for a healthy majority.

    You write ridiculous comments without actually thinking about what you are saying.

    (PS The tories haven;t started their campaign proper yet – just a couple of opening shots across the bow. It will start after Thursday’s budget, when cuts to income tax at the lower end and cuts to NI will basically mean Labour will have to re-write their spending plans or pledge to put them back up).

    Have a read of Miliband’s pledge card. Noticed anything? None of it is quantifiable and people want quantifiable defined answers, not abstract ideas that can’t actually be measured and are duplicitous in what they say (such as the immigration pledge, which on closer detail doesn’t include EU migrants etc etc etc etc).

    People are not stupid. Now Labour has set their stall out people will ask hard questions and will – quite rightly – expect hard and defined answers with quotas, figures, money etc etc. Not ideas.

    Another – an NHS with time to care. What exactly does that mean? An extra 5 minutes? An extra 10? As much time as the patient feels like irrespective of impact elsewhere? In addition, we have devolution. The Secretary of State for Health only controls NHS England’s budget and how they spend it (less Greater Manchester). Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Greater Manchester decide themselves what they will do and how and how much of their overall settlement they will give to Health – not Westminster (hence why the Welsh Government – despite being given an increased inflation busting settlement cut health spending 6% and allocated the resources elsewhere).

  5. Frederick James says:

    What Tafia said!

    BenM: (1) Define “spiv”; (2) Show how that definition applies to Cameron; (3) Explain how you can accuse others of smearing in the same sentence without [what passes for] your brain exploding. You are a card, BenM!

Leave a Reply