Oli Barrett: Why I can imagine Miliband in Number 10

Our columnist shares why he can visualise Ed in Downing Street and what happened to the boss of the branding agency that created FriendsAbroad

Imagination, said Einstein, is more important than knowledge. Worth remembering, in a general election campaign which has contained more numbers and warnings than ideas or vision.

Soon, millions of Brits will be wondering if they can imagine Ed Miliband inside Downing Street. Can they picture him, sitting around the cabinet table, chairing a meeting? I can, and it isn’t through the power of imagination – it’s because I’ve seen him do it.

Back in 2009, I was on my way to Number 10, for a gathering of the Council on Social Action. Often chaired by the prime minister, we had been told that Gordon Brown was unable to join us that day, and that ministers Hazel Blears and Kevin Brennan would attend.

Ed in the Cabinet Room

At the last minute, Kevin, the minister for the third sector, couldn’t make it, which meant that we’d have a new chair for the meeting. In walked Ed. He took his seat, saw the name card marked “Prime Minister”, and tossed it to one side.

Halfway through the agenda, the door swung open. Another unexpected guest stepped in. It was Gordon Brown. “Oh. I wasn’t expecting you,” said Ed. The prime minister glanced at his place holder, lying on its side. “So I see,” he smiled.

I first met Miliband Junior at a school in Stockwell. The sun shone on Social Enterprise Day as we prepared to launch Make Your Mark with a Tenner. Radio presenter Margherita Taylor had agreed to host the event and Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, was on hand to rally the pupils with his inimitable energy.

Ed took a positive interest in the enterprise scheme, which at this stage was still an idea. Supported by entrepreneur Andrew Reynolds, 10,000 pupils were about to be challenged to see what they could achieve with £10, in just one month.

This week, as the leader of the opposition runs the election race of his life, I’ll meet some of the latest winners of Tenner, now in its eighth year. It’s amazing to see how things have evolved.

Life is full of surprises

10 years is a long time, and not just in politics. I have fond memories of helping Dr Simon Murdoch to launch a language practice website back in 2005. An already successful serial entrepreneur and investor, he had invited a small communications agency in Buckinghamshire to help us to create the all-important brand identity for the new site.

We needed a name which would attract people from all over the world, to polish up their Polish, finesse their French or spruce up their Spanish (don’t worry, I wasn’t let anywhere near the advertising).

The managing director of the agency was likeable and fun – a great communicator. As we arrived for one particular meeting, there was a feeling of anticipation in the air. We knew that the new name was about to be revealed.

Moments later, FriendsAbroad was announced. FriendsAbroad – a site without borders. A place where hundreds of thousands would make new connections around the world. This month, I was reminded of that agency boss, Steve. Where was he now, I wondered. There, on my TV screen, I could make out the familiar face and glasses – that same creative energy.

It turns out that Steve has a new job, years on from his international branding work. This time with a more political flavour.

Steve is now the chairman of UKIP.

Oli Barrett MBE, is a founder of Cospa, the co-sponsorship agency that helps to create and deliver social action projects, such as Tenner, Missions, Build-It, and Speed Mentoring. He also co-founded StartUp Britain and can be found on Twitter.


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  1. Better pray Ed gets in, the Tories have already got the economy shifting into reverse gear.