Fascinating insight into the labour campaign, vote labour and win a microwave has to go on 2020 posters!
Miliband was so distraught that he shut himself in his hotel room, where a series of people, including his wife Justine, joined him and tried to offer some reassurance – pointing out that the omission had not featured prominently in the BBC political editor Nick Robinson’s report on the Six O’Clock News.
But Miliband knew the story of his “forgetting the deficit” would prove devastating. “He was really upset,” the speech writer recalled. “He pushes himself very hard – he was very, very angry with himself even before he knew it was going to be the main story out of the speech. We tried to cheer him up, but even then he was too upset. He did not come to the celebratory party, he just did not want to come out of his room.”
On 15 May, a week before the vote, Miliband met with David Axelrod – Barack Obama’s chief campaign adviser, who had signed on as a consultant to the Labour campaign for an astronomical fee – at Corrigan’s, an upscale Mayfair restaurant. During the meal, Beales was fielding calls from Miliband, who was still asking him to think of a slogan for the remaining week of the European election campaign; Axelrod was appalled by the low quality of the ideas being discussed, which he derisively characterised as “Vote Labour and win a microwave”.
At 9.55pm on election night, in Labour party headquarters at Brewers Green in Westminster, the party felt that it had charted a clear, if perilous, path to power. The battle that night would be whether the Liberal Democrats would choose to partner with Labour or the Conservatives.
Then 10 o’clock struck. “There were two TV screens – one on Sky, one on the BBC,” a senior campaign aide said. The first words came in, announcing that the exit poll had found the Tories would be the largest party. “Yep, I was expecting that. Anything else would be a surprise,” the aide recalled thinking at the time. “Then the seats came up. Total silence. The shock was just awful. That exit poll will be seared in my brain for ever.” Bell and Livermore stared at each other in disbelief, as the whole room put their hands to their mouths in shock.
Harriet Harman was waiting outside Millbank TV studios to give her initial reaction. None of the scripts she had been given anticipated this disaster. Miliband’s senior advisers huddled for the next hour, trying to decipher the stated results.
“For the exit poll seat projections to be right, Labour had to be wiped out in Scotland, the Liberal Democrats would have to be wiped out in their Tory marginals and we would have to done really badly in the English marginals,” the campaign aide recalled. “We thought we might hold seven to 10 seats in Scotland, we had no intelligence on the Tory-Lib Dem marginals and throughout the day we had good reports in the English marginals. We thought that surely one of these three must be wrong. It was a form of collective denial.”