Although subsequent political events may have overshadowed our memories of the General Election 2015, one of its enduring images has to be of Mr Ed Miliband, then leader of the Labour Party, standing beside a limestone monolith eight and a half feet tall and weighing two tonnes, on which Labour’s six key election pledges had been carved. (Or perhaps we should say ‘graven’.) We all had the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen. How wrong we were.
The stone had been conceived by the Labour Party’s political stunt-masters with the aim of persuading a sceptical public that Miliband was serious about delivering his election pledges. “They’re carved in stone because they won’t be abandoned after the general election” Mr Miliband said, standing in front of the stone in a Hastings car park (picture).
The idea was that, had Labour won the election, the Downing Street Garden would have gained a new ornamental feature. But – of course – Labour lost, and the stone mysteriously vanished, just like the one in the Arthur C Clarke story. But in any case, as a political stunt it had gone off the rails from the start.
Its appearance had not been treated very seriously by the press, who had (predictably) concentrated on the stone rather than the message that the Party wished to convey, and spent many fruitless hours attempting to find out where it had come from and what it had cost. Some, in an act which serves as a measure of their desperation, even phoned the Geological Society.
All went quiet for a while until, later in the year, the People’s History Museum in Manchester, which hosts a Labour Party Archive, looked into acquiring the by now infamous ‘Ed Stone’, as it had been dubbed, for its collection – there to take its rightful place alongside Michael Foot’s donkey jacket and Keir Hardie’s cap. Labour party HQ denied all knowledge.
Where had it gone to? Bloomberg News was the first to break the story of the monolith’s ignominious fate. It had (according to two anonymous Party insiders) suffered the same fate as the Euston Arch, and been smashed into little bits in the weeks following May 7.
So – next question – what had it cost? In October this year, the Labour Party was ordered to pay a fine of £20,000 by the Electoral Commission for undeclared election spending during the 2015 campaign. This, the largest fine ever imposed by the EC, included £7,614 on the ‘Ed Stone’ (see redacted invoices).
(In the interests of balance, I should point out at this point that overspending by the Conservatives is still under investigation, not only by the EC, but also at constituency level by various police forces up and down the country.)
And finally – where had the ill-fated stone come from? We can now reveal, following tireless investigation by Fellow of the Society and Geoscientist contributor David Nowell, that the Ed Stone consisted of Moleanos Limestone, from Moleanos – Aljubarrota, on the border of Serra D´Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park about 100km north of Lisbon, Portugal. Moleanos is described as a buff oosparite of Callovian age (Manuppella et al., 1998).
Portugal? Well – you try getting a British stonemason to produce a two-tonne engraved slab in the same time. You’d be waiting for it by the time of the next election. And at least it was European.
So now you know. What we also now know is that the real cost of the Ed Stone was considerably less than the £30,000 figure being bandied around in the media at the time, in the absence of any actual information. But then, the so-called ‘post-truth’ era has been with us for a lot longer than the layman seems to think.
- Manuppella, G. (coord.), 1998. Carta Geológica de Portugal, Folha 27A-Vila Nova de Ourém, Escala 1/50 000. Instituto Geológico e Mineiro, Portugal.
I am grateful to David Nowell and Wendy Cawthorne for their invaluable assistance in bringing you a story of such wide public interest.