The Indiependent, 3rd June 2015
Dear Ed Miliband, Shabana Mahmood, Gloria de Piero, Louise Magee, Lucy Powell, Patrick Henegan, Ian McNichol, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Ben Nolan and all of the other members of the Labour campaign team who have asked me to donate money to the party at this election,
I signed up to the Labour Party mailing list because I was interested in the work that Labour does. I would probably consider myself a left-winger and I would vote for Labour if I was 18 next week. After a few emails in late 2013, in which you told me about some of the campaigning in and out of the House that Labour does, the emails took on a different tone. Over the last three weeks, you have emailed me almost every day asking me to donate money to Labour’s campaign effort.
I don’t have a problem with that. As you pointed out in an email, “David Cameron has donations pouring in from a small group of multimillionaires”, and Labour relies on “donations from tens of thousands of passionate voters”. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but I accept that the Tories have vastly more funding and so some begging could be forgiven.
Sadly, I’m a student, and I can’t really afford to be one of your “generous donors”. Perhaps if I was a firebrand Labour activist I might have done, but really I’m a liberal disillusioned with the Lib Dems – someone who feels Labour’s position is more socially fair. I ignored your emails asking for donations (every day), but I didn’t unsubscribe because I wanted to stay in touch with the party at supporters’ level.
On 25th April, I received an email from the now-oft-ignored firstname.lastname@example.org. It asked me, in a somewhat accusatory tone, why I hadn’t already donated, before inviting me to take a survey to explain myself. It was officious, it was presumptuous, it angered me.
But still, I stayed signed up to the list. I enjoyed the occasional emails that weren’t asking me for cash; I got the news about your cap on tuition fees before Miliband announced it on stage. I enjoyed the feeling that whilst I wasn’t supporting Labour financially, I was one of the “2370 people called Tony” in their campaign.
This morning, Ed Miliband unveiled an eight-foot statue with some of his election pledges carved into it. Now, I resent the Labour Party that continually asked me for money and complained of their relative poverty. Here’s why:
First, this election’s challenge for Labour has always been to dispel the Tories’ unfounded criticism that you ruined the economy in 2008. The first page of the Labour manifesto introduces the ‘Budget Responsibility Lock’, deliberately placed to send the message that Labour is prioritising fiscal prudence and to counter the accusations of profligacy. Today’s ugly monolith shows that not only are you willing to spend large amounts of money on an essentially useless campaign tool, you’ll do it with the money you begged from supporters who trusted your ‘responsible’ attitude to financing. Miliband has opened himself up to right-wing critics and the tabloid papers, who will question his ability to run the exchequer if he can’t be sensible about his own campaign funds. This is a huge step back for Labour in the economic battleground that the Tories have managed to establish.
Secondly, the stone itself offers nothing of value to voters. Read back your ‘manifesto commitments’. “A strong economic foundation” is meaningless rhetoric, and gives no idea of substantive policy. It is also laughably ironic. “Higher living standards for working families” harnesses Labour’s obsession with workers, who make up most of the electorate and families, who have no real bearing on policy but sound attractive to those with children. Shameless. What on Earth is “time to care” in the NHS? It’s a fudge, designed to be easy to evade if Labour don’t achieve their targets on waiting times. “A country where the next generation can do better than the last” is poorly-phrased, policy-unspecific and so reminiscent of the needless grandstanding of which Miliband has been so often accused.
Thirdly, the points on it are so obviously general and broadbrush that they show Labour have no real commitment to keeping them. In 2010, Nick Clegg stood with a commitment poster which promised he wouldn’t raise tuition fees, and he did. But he set his policy ‘in stone’; he was specific and he was bold. Labour this morning was spineless in its inability to commit to anything, and in doing so has done nothing to set policy ‘in stone’.
Today has eroded my own trust in the Labour party’s campaign and political nouse. I believe that the ideological direction of Miliband’s Labour is the right one. I believe they provide a fairer alternative to the Tories and a more credible alternative to the Lib Dems. But I cannot now defend the party to the many people who claim they are economically incompetent. Not when I know that my own money was so nearly wasted on a rock of fanciful and woolly promises.