Ed Miliband did vow to ‘relentlessly’ focus on the cost of living crisis facing hardworking families up and down the country (hopefully someone will develop a shorthand outline for this rather lengthy saying to save the pens of journalists who have to write it down repeatedly at launch events over the next 12 months) in 2014. So we should have expected this relentless focus to see Miliband’s shadow ministers pointing angrily at every expensive thing that they can find, regardless of whether it’s particularly heart-rending. Today we heard Luciana Berger thundering that David Cameron is so evil that he’s putting people off their new year’s resolutions. Yes, for all those who resolved after their 1,656th mince pie that 2014 would be the year they’d get fit, there is now an excuse that they can dig out in March when they realise they still can’t run for the bus without puffing. It’s all David Cameron’s fault.
The Labour frontbencher says:
‘Millions of people across the country will want to kick-start 2014 by getting fitter and more active. There is a real risk however that many people will be put off from keeping to their New Year’s resolutions by soaring gym charges and David Cameron’s failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.’
Berger is annoyed that two thirds of local authority gyms have increased the cost of their annual membership in the last three years. As this does include Labour-run councils, the Shadow Public Health Minister blames David Cameron, pointing to the Coalition’s deep cuts to local government funding.
She does have a point that it’s frustrating if those on very low incomes find it prohibitively expensive to use their local leisure facilities. But if local government is having to scale back, there are many frontline services more deserving of protection than cheap bodypump classes at the local leisure centre that people attend for a month before slopping back into their old ways.
The cost-of-gymming crisis is even less tear-jerking given gyms aren’t the only way to get fit, or indeed the most interesting or effective. Even those who do bowl up to the cardio machines can often waste their time swinging their legs about on an elliptical trainer for 20 minutes while nattering to a bored personal trainer about their love life and barely breaking into a sweat. Close by gyms are things called paths to run along, free running groups where people can still natter about their love life while pounding the pavement, and even free timed 5k events in local parks. That last, the parkrun, turns 10 later this year and has seen 388,240 runners pound around their park at 9am on a Saturday morning. They’re quite the loveliest expression of modern community, staffed by eager volunteers, enthusiastic marshals, and the runners range from alarming-looking chaps in club vests to slightly more relaxed people in leggings with their dogs and baby buggies. Each event has a volunteer tail runner who jogs alongside and encourages the slowest participant, even if it takes them 45 minutes longer than the club runner at the front to complete the course. Often it’s the first time the final runner has run as far as 5k. Recently parkrun has started to develop a junior division at some of its bigger runs, taking young people around a 2k course in an atmosphere as far away from shouty school cross-country runs as possible so that even those who initially struggle to enjoy longer distance runs grow to love them.
The point is that it’s not the cost-of-gymming crisis or David Cameron that’s stopping people getting fit but something more complex than that. And the political point is that pointing at every expensive thing and complaining about it isn’t the way to go for a party that wants to make a serious point about one of the major concerns of voters (and as Guido eloquently points out today, figures suggest it might not continue be a sufficient concern of voters to justify a relentless focus from Labour for much longer). And the question that will be increasingly asked over the next few months is what on earth would Labour do about this new expensive thing that it’s annoyed about? Will Berger commission a cost-of-gymming crisis facing unfit families up and down the country policy review? Will she next turn to the cost-of-trainers crisis, whereby posh running shops flog overpriced footwear to unsuspecting customers? This gym story might be a bit of a rubbish new year stunt, but the question of what will Labour do about all the expensive things is a serious problem that Miliband knows he has to confront.
Still, at least Labour has given everyone a good excuse for failing to keep their new year’s resolution.Tags: Cost of living, fitness, gyms, Labour, Luciana Berger, UK politics