Donald Macintyre's Sketch: To the top of the UK's tallest structure? Hell, yes!


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It wasn’t immediately clear why we had to be at the top of the “UK’s tallest sculpture” the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a fashionable £22m Anish Kapoor confection in red steel resembling a giant’s helter-skelter after a playful mauling by King Kong.

Once, journalists trooped into some drab room at Transport House and interrogated Harold Wilson on the balance of payments through a haze of pipe smoke. These days it’s all about hip locations, panoramic views and the joyous faces of activists. (And there aren’t many questions).  

Labour was launching 376 feet above the Olympic Park on polling day minus (only) 41! And since, like Christmas seasons, each campaign starts earlier than the last one this was not a moment too soon.  “Friends, look,” Ed Miliband  told the party workers, “the fight starts here. We’ve got to strain every sinew, every fibre of our being.” Suddenly, the thought of another month and 10 days of this seemed strangely daunting.

But not for Ed. Had he not gone mano-a-mano with  Paxman and lived? This was Ed “hell, yes: I’m tough enough” Miliband, who had stood up to the “leader of the free world” and stopped him going to war.

Harriet Harman recalled that on Thursday “we saw Ed Miliband with his spirit, determination and above all GUTS.”  Then Agnes Brown, a pleasantly soft-spoken care worker and the only emissary with a speaking part from that distant planet, the real world, introduced him. A task made no easier by the cheers for the simultaneous arrival of the man himself. Not quite the cult of personality, though  the Shadow Cabinet gazing intently at the leader and clapping in (most of)  the right places did have a cheeky hint  of Politburo about it.

On Thursday night, he said,  “We saw a rattled Prime Minister running from his record.” (Politicians love alliteration) Since one poll had put Cameron ahead, how did he rate his own performance? “I’ll “leave the scores on the doors to other people.” Was the subtext: “Hey, you think I’m some kind of ivory-tower North London socialist intellectual. Well, I used to watch The Generation Game too.”

But it all went off without notable hitches. The leader announced his cap on the profits of private NHS contractors and “cherry-picking” patients needing the most lucrative treatment – both policies with impeccable expert endorsement.

Spiralling down the 400 steps to beat the crush at the lifts, though, you wondered  whether an election campaign will  one day  begin somewhere  more mundane – a council estate say. Or would that be,  like, too post-ironic?