The Mystery of Labour's Two-Ton U.K. Election Debacle Solved

  • Stone cost about 8,000 pounds and was destroyed after election
  • Mocked monolith was supposed to symbolize party's seriousness

In the months since the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party suffered an unexpectedly crushing defeat at the hands of voters, a mystery has persisted: The fate of the stone slab used in one of the election campaign’s most ill-conceived stunts. It may now have been solved.

On May 2, the party’s then leader, Ed Miliband, stood in a car park in Hastings, on England’s south coast, and unveiled an eight-foot-six-inch limestone monolith, weighing two tons, with his six election pledges carved on it. The idea was that, if he won, the stone would be placed in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence. It would, Miliband said, be “a reminder of our duty to keep Labour’s promises.”

Ed Miliband unveils Labour Party pledges carved into a stone plinth

Photographer: Stefan Rousseau/AP Photo

The news headlines were dominated by the birth of Princess Charlotte that morning, so Labour didn’t release the pictures until the next day. The reception wasn’t good. Instead of being seen as a solid metaphor, the slab, quickly dubbed the “Ed Stone,” was mocked as a stunt. The stone disappeared, and hasn’t been seen since. It was reported to be in storage in a garage in south London.

When Labour’s election spending details were released on Wednesday, there were no details about the stone. The party said this was an “administrative error.”

Broken Up

But according to two party officials speaking on condition of anonymity, the Ed Stone is no more. They said it was broken up soon after the election. They also revealed that, after spending Wednesday afternoon frantically searching for the missing invoice, officials had learned the cost of the stone was just under 8,000 pounds ($11,300), rather than the 30,000 pounds that newspapers estimated at the time.

The unveiling was troubled from the start. Those behind the stunt hadn’t realized the stone’s chief quality -- its mass -- would be a problem. Miliband was supposed to reveal it inside a school hall, but the floor wasn’t strong enough to support it, forcing him to pose for pictures outside, against a gray sky.

Construction Site

Even in the car park, there was a danger of damage to the ground, meaning the slab needed a special weight-distributing frame that appeared in the background of the pictures and gave the scene the air of a construction site.

Miliband also had to circle the school in his bus while the party negotiated with the local Green Party candidate, Jake Bowers, who had got into the school grounds with his horse and cart and refused to move out of the shot. He only did after he was promised a meeting with the Labour leader, according to “Why the Tories Won,” a book about the election by Tim Ross.

Ross’s book says that Prime Minister David Cameron, on a campaign visit to Nuneaton, central England, had to be shown photographs to prove the stunt wasn’t a joke. “They can’t actually have done this, can they?” he asked staff.

Party officials struggled to persuade any photographers to go to Hastings to capture the stunt. In retrospect, they might wish they hadn’t succeeded.

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