What ever happened to the notorious ‘Ed Stone’?

Former Labour leader’s ill-advised attempt to immortalise his 2015 election pledges has had an intriguing afterlife, becoming a much sought-after relic of Westminster kitsch

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 10 June 2022 13:29 BST
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The rise and fall of Ed Miliband

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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“And the Lord said unto Miliband, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.” (Ed-xodus 24:12).

And so it came to pass that, five days before the May 2015 general election, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband did stand in a car park in the marginal constituency of Hastings and Rye and unveil a towering monument bearing forth The Word.

Which is to say, a handful of vague manifesto pledges.

Resembling one of the eerie monoliths from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as much as the Decalogue brandished by Moses on Mount Sinai, Mr Miliand’s prop was a two-tonne slab of Portuguese moleanos limestone looming eight feet tall.

Its lettering was engraved by Baskingstoke firm stoneCIRCLE at a cost of £7,1614, considerably less than the £30,000 reported at the time, and promised: “A Better Plan. A Better Future.”

Beneath that legend, the values the monolith bore – reportedly approved by no fewer than 10 planning meetings attended by swathes of expensive public relations professionals who, quite frankly, should have known better – were as follows:

  1. A strong economic foundation
  2. Higher living standards for working families
  3. An NHS with the time to care
  4. Controls on immigration
  5. A country where the next generation can do better than the last
  6. Homes to buy and action on rent

“They’re carved in stone because they won’t be abandoned after the general election,” the future shadow secretary of state for climate change explained.

“I want the British people to remember these pledges, to remind us of these pledges, to insist on these pledges.”

Oh, they remembered all right.

Quickly dubbed the “Ed Stone” by media wags, the prop was met with immediate and widespread ridicule.

Blustering Telegraph columnist and sometime London mayor Boris Johnson called it a “weird commie slab” and proclaimed: “Let us consign Milibandias and his tombstone to the bafflement of future archaeologists. Let it go down as the last act of a desperate candidate, and the heaviest suicide note in history.”

Even The Independent’s own John Rentoul told ITV News in exasperation that the idea was “incredibly stupid”.

”Serious grown adults sat in meetings and approved this,” he fumed. “The thinking behind it was ‘people don’t believe us, so we’re going to carve them on a stone and then people will believe us’.”

Making matters worse, Lucy Powell, the vice-chair of Labour’s campaign gave an interview to BBC Radio 5 Live in which she dismissed the stunt outright by saying, “I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the fact that he’s carved them in stone means he’s absolutely not going to break them or anything like that”, therein fatally undermining the whole point of the venture.

On 7 May, David Cameron’s austerity-minded Conservatives duly swept to victory, winning 331 seats to Labour’s 232 and drawing a line under their interesting experiment in coalition government with the Liberal Democrats to go solo, opening the door to Brexit and all the howling horrors that have ensued ever since.

The opposition did not even win Hastings, site of the miraculous unveiling, where incumbent MP Amber Rudd not only beat challenger Sarah Owen but actually increased her majority.

Tabloid glee at Mr Miliband’s ungainly assault on a bacon sandwich might also have played a hand in his defeat, as might his occasionally robotic speechmaking but, for some, it was the “Ed Stone” that was his undoing, a monument to cluelessness and ineptitude from a party whose judgement, on this evidence, could clearly not be trusted with administering the public purse.

Had Mr Miliband won, the monolith would reportedly have stood in Downing Street’s Rose Garden, Westminster Council permitting, as a daily reminder to the new prime minister of his promises to the electorate.

Now that he had lost, the folly was an embarrassment that needed to be disposed of as quickly and quietly as possible.

Among gloating Tories, it found itself a highly-prized holy relic, with Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft reportedly having a £100,000 bid for it spurned by the party while The Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail all worked hard to track it down, the red-top opening a hotline to tipsters and The Mail promising a case of champagne to anyone who could provide relevant information leading to its capture.

The People’s History Museum in Manchester also made inquiries with a view to presenting it a cherished exhibit, only to be likewise rebuffed.

Curator Chris Burgess told ITV: “This was a moment when the Labour Party wanted to appear solid, grounded, that they were serious and clearly they hadn’t quite projected that to the public widely and the stone was a symbol of perhaps that failure to project that message.”

It was The Guardian that eventually located it in a warehouse in Woolwich, South London, owned by one Paye Stonework & Masonry Ltd.

Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour’s pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings during general election campaigning on 2 May 2015
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour’s pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings during general election campaigning on 2 May 2015 (PA)

The newspaper was reliably informed by Tom Harris, former Labour MP for Glasgow South, that the Ed Stone had been destroyed: “My understanding is that more than one person, each with a sledgehammer, were involved. I also understand it was carried out in anger and panic.”

Two anonymous party officials subsequently told Bloomberg in January 2016 that it was indeed no more.

The following October, the Electoral Commission investigated Labour over a failure to declare £150,000 in campaign expenses, its treasurer ultimately concluding that the party had committed two offences and fined it accordingly.

That probe revealed the true cost of the stone, much cheaper than first thought, but appeared to close the book on the matter for good.

Until, that is, television adventurer Ben Fogle stepped out for lunch at The Ivy Chelsea Garden on the King’s Road in West London on 10 May 2017 and rediscovered it, to his astonishment, in the shrubbery of the exclusive eaterie’s outdoor dining area.

“Look at what I just discovered in a hidden, overgrown corner of Chelsea. Do you want it back Jeremy Corbyn?” tweeted Mr Fogle, rather presumptuously offering it to Mr Miliband’s successor.

Political journalists Jack Evans and Katy Balls likewise noticed it.

Invited to explain, a spokesperson for the restaurant’s owners Caprice Holdings, chaired by wealthy Conservative donor Richard Caring, said: “We bought the stone a couple of years ago at a charity auction.

“We thought it would be fun to have Ed’s Stone, which was such an iconic image of the election, and put it outside in the garden. So many people comment on it and it was an opportunity too good to pass up.”

A shock second coming of (appropriately) near-Biblical proportions, one man who was not convinced that this really was the fabled monument and not a replica was Steve Vanhinsbergh, co-owner of stoneCIRCLE, the masonry that built the original.

“I’m 99 per cent sure it’s smashed,” he told The Telegraph. “It was not returned here, but I know it was smashed because I know the man who smashed it.

“The original was too big – it was three metres tall. You could not lift it without a crane. It was 400kg. You have to handle it like a pane of glass. It will fold up. Like with all marble and stone, you have to treat it very carefully.”

The Independent reached out to The Ivy Chelsea Garden for an update, only to be told the stone is no longer there (but precious little else, despite pestering), at which point the trail sadly ran cold.

Wherever the Ed Stone lies now, in storage or in fragments, the memory of this Maltese Falcon of British political kitsch lives on as a rather quaint reminder of a simpler time, a naive gesture of commitment unfairly maligned given the age of mendacity and double standards that has followed in its wake under Mr Johnson’s premiership.

An even more laughable artefact from the same cultural moment is surely Mr Cameron’s Facebook post from 4 May 2015 in which he declared: “Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband.”

You can hang that one in the Tate.

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