UK Politics

Miliband defends backing public sector pay freeze

  • 15 January 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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Labour leader Ed Miliband has defended his party's decision to support the government's pay freeze for public sector workers.

He said it was "a hard choice", but when faced with either protecting jobs or giving pay rises, it was "absolutely right to prioritise employment".

Unions have criticised the move, accusing Labour of "emulating the Tories on many issues".

But Mr Miliband told the BBC his party had to show it was "fiscally credible".

The government announced in 2010 that public sector pay for those earning more than £21,000 would be frozen for two years.

Then last November Chancellor George Osborne said pay would rise by only 1% in the two years to 2015.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said on Saturday that "given the economy failing as it is... pay restraint is going to have to continue".

'Barmy'

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, Mr Miliband defended the stance.

"It's a hard choice, but when you are faced with the choice between protecting jobs or saying the money should go into pay rises I think it's right to protect jobs," he said.

"In the end there's no easy choices in government... I think is absolutely right that we say we've got to prioritise employment."

Several Labour MPs have reportedly criticised the move, among them Austin Mitchell. According to the Daily Mail he has called it "barmy" and accused Mr Miliband of "weakness".

Mr Miliband said Mr Mitchell was "wrong", adding: "We are absolutely determined that Labour shows we would be fiscally credible in government."

PCS union leader Mark Serwotka said Mr Balls' comments were "hugely disappointing", while the general secretary of the RMT rail union said he was signing "Labour's electoral suicide note".

Neither the PCS or RMT are affiliated to the Labour Party.

'Responsible opposition'

In a speech earlier this week, Mr Miliband said a future Labour government would have less to spend than those in the past, but could still "deliver fairness".

He told Andrew Marr: "If Labour was in power now we wouldn't be making those changes, we wouldn't be cutting as far and as fast as the government.

"But then when it comes to the next Labour government, if I was saying to you, 'I can absolutely promise to restore this cut or that cut,' well, you would say, 'Where is the money going to come from for that? How do you know what you will inherit?'

"This is absolutely responsible opposition and it is absolutely the right thing for us to be doing at this stage in the Parliament."

A YouGov poll of 1,761 adults for the Sunday Times has suggested that more Labour voters think Mr Miliband is performing badly as leader than performing well - giving him an overall rating of -3 points. By contrast, David Cameron has a rating among Conservative voters of 91.

But the Labour leader brushed off personal criticism, saying it was "part of the gig of being leader of the opposition".

"It isn't a question of whether you face these times the question is, how do you deal with them? Do you stay the course?

"And that's what I am going to do. It's the right thing to do for the Labour Party and it's the right thing to do for the country."

'Ludicrous'

He insisted that David Cameron was "coming on to my ground" on issues like taking on vested interests and "crony capitalism".

"What gives me confidence is that we are winning the battle of ideas. It's not often you say that about an opposition," he said.

"Why is he coming on to my ground? Because he knows I'm talking about the right issues and the issues that matter to people."

But Foreign Secretary William Hague said that if the government adopted Mr Miliband's approach, the UK's credit rating would be "in danger" of being downgraded like France's.

"That could then mean higher interest rates for businesses for households and can do great damage to the economy," he told Sky News.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said it was "ludicrous" to suggest the Tories were following Labour's lead on issues like responsible capitalism.

"David Cameron was way out [in front] on this when Ed Miliband was in the cabinet handing out knighthoods to people like [former Royal Bank of Scotland boss] Fred Goodwin," he told BBC1's Sunday Politics.

The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, said it was time that Labour came to its senses, but added: "They can't have it both ways. They can't be hugely critical of the government one day and then say they'd have the same policy the next."

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