The "EdStone" was a large stone tablet which was commissioned by the Labour Party during the 2015 United Kingdom general election. The stone was 2.6 metres (8 ft 6 in) tall and featured six election pledges carved into it, together with the Labour logo, and a copy of signature of the party leader Ed Miliband. It was much mocked; for example, John Rentoul, Tony Blair's biographer, described it as the "most absurd, ugly, embarrassing, childish, silly, patronising, ridiculous gimmick I have ever seen".
Unveiling and reaction
The tablet was produced by stoneCIRCLE, a Basingstoke-based stonemasonry company; the firm signed a confidentiality clause. It was rumoured to have cost £30,000, but invoices later showed the cost was £7,614.
The tablet was unveiled on 3 May 2015, in a car park in the marginal constituency of Hastings and Rye, which Labour hoped to take from the Conservative Party. The purpose of the stone was to illustrate Labour's commitment to its promises, contrasting this with the failure of the Liberal Democrats to keep their 2010 election campaign pledge to abolish tuition fees.
The six pledges written on the stone were:
- A strong economic foundation
- Higher living standards for working families
- An NHS with the time to care
- Controls on immigration
- A country where the next generation can do better than the last
- Homes to buy and action on rents
The stone became a source of near universal ridicule. It was unfavourably compared to the stone tablets in the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, and to a cemetery headstone. In a matter of hours Twitter users had declared it the "EdStone".
Then Mayor of London Boris Johnson (now Prime Minister) called it "some weird commie slab", whilst shadow transport minister Michael Dugher later admitted it was a "12ft, granite, marble, cock-up" – though the tablet was actually limestone. Dan Hodges reported that while watching Miliband unveil the tablet on television, a Labour press officer "started screaming. He stood in the office, just screaming over and over again at the screen. It was so bad they thought he was having a breakdown". A party adviser said after the election that "The only reason it got through 10 planning meetings was because we were all distracted, looking for a way to punch through on the SNP". By the evening it had also been called the "heaviest suicide note in history", a reference to a famous description of Labour's unpopular 1983 manifesto, dubbed "the longest suicide note in history".
Lucy Powell, the Labour campaign's vice-chair, was widely thought to have committed a gaffe about the stone, when she said on Radio 5 Live: "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". This was particularly damaging as the whole point of the stone had been to underline the seriousness of Miliband's commitment.
Election aftermath and location
Labour reportedly had two plans for its break-up and destruction if the party lost the election: Throw the rubble away, or sell Berlin Wall-like chunks to party members to raise money. After Labour performed worse than expected, and the Conservatives won a surprise overall majority, the location of the stone became the subject of widespread speculation. Labour officials refused to disclose its location, for which various newspapers offered rewards. The Daily Telegraph contacted 50 masonry firms in an attempt to find it, whilst the Daily Mail offered a reward of a case of champagne for its location, and The Sun set up a hotline for information.
The disappearance of the EdStone led to joking comparisons in the media with the Ark of the Covenant as portrayed in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the Ark is stored in secret in a large warehouse, its location undisclosed.
As of 15 May 2015 the EdStone was allegedly in storage inside a garage in South London. "There are claims it has been destroyed", The Guardian reported in early June 2015, "but even Miliband's close advisers cannot confirm its fate." In January 2016 two party officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Bloomberg News that the stone had been destroyed in the weeks following 7 May 2015, putting an end to eight months of speculation about its whereabouts.
In May 2017, it was revealed that the EdStone had become a decoration in the Ivy Chelsea Garden restaurant on King's Road in West London. The restaurant's owners said that it had been bought two years earlier in a charity auction because it would be "fun" to have an "iconic image of the election" in the garden. Steve Vanhinsbergh, co-owner of stoneCIRCLE doubted this was the authentic stone, for practical reasons and the fact that he was "99% sure" it had been demolished.
Initial enquiries aimed to determine why spending incurred on the stone tablet was missing from the Labour Party's campaign spending return. It was established that these payments, totalling £7,614, were missing from the party's return and the Electoral Commission launched an investigation which uncovered other undeclared expenses. The Commission concluded that the party's spending return was incomplete, as it omitted 74 payments totalling £123,748, along with 33 separate invoices totalling £34,392. The registered treasurer of the party, Iain McNicol committed two offences under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Labour party was fined £20,000. At the time, this was the largest fine the Commission had imposed since it began operations in 2001.
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