UK Politics

Labour conference: Miliband vows 'new bargain' for UK

  • 28 September 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
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David Cameron represents the "last gasp" of an old system that does not work anymore, Ed Miliband has told the Labour Party conference in Liverpool.

The Labour leader claimed Britain was crying out for a new kind of society in which the right people - responsible "grafters" - are properly rewarded.

And he vowed to fight for "a new bargain in our economy so reward is linked with effort".

The Tories said Mr Miliband helped create the culture he was attacking.

And he was a "weak leader telling his party what they wanted to hear".

The Labour leader was speaking against a backdrop of falling poll ratings and attacks from union leaders leaders angry at his decision not to support a TUC day of action over pension changes.

'Wrong values'

But he opted to eschew big policy announcements in favour of setting out his personal philosophy and why he feels the country needs to change.

Some delegates booed at the mention of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair - something that was later criticised by former cabinet ministers Alistair Darling and David Blunkett.

Mr Miliband praised both his predecessors, Mr Blair and Gordon Brown, but stressed: "I'm my own man and I'm going to do things my own way."

He also sought to humanise his public image by joking about his "nose job" and speaking warmly about his new wife Justine and his two young sons.

He admitted that Labour had "lost trust" on the economy but he said he was determined to regain it - and he vowed that the "next Labour government will only spend what it can afford".

But he said shadow chancellor Ed Balls had been "right" to call for a slowdown in spending cuts - and he pleaded with David Cameron to change course on the economy.

"Recognise what is staring you in the face - and understand that protecting our economy matters more than protecting your failed plan," he advised the prime minister.

He told delegates the phone-hacking scandal, the banking crisis and the summer riots "point to something deep in our country - the failure of a system, a way of doing things, an old set of rules".

"An economy and a society too often rewarding not the right people with the right values, but the wrong people with the wrong values."

He said moral decline was due to the way successive governments - including New Labour - had chosen to run the country.

'Down the river'

Some of what Margaret Thatcher did - such as council house sales, punitive tax rates and ending the union closed shop and strikes without ballots - had been "right".

And New Labour also achieved much, he argued, but "we did not do enough to change the values of our economy," said the Labour leader.

And the result was a society in which vested interests such as the energy companies and banks prospered and the wrong people - such as Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Fred Goodwin - got the most rewards, argued Mr Miliband.

He earned loud cheers from delegates for attacking what he called Britain's "fast buck" culture - saying the country had to learn the lesson that "growth is built on sand if it comes from our predators and not our producers".

He praised companies that contribute to society and accused the government of selling BAE Systems and train-maker Bombardier "down the river".

He ended with a sustained attack on David Cameron, accusing him of betraying public trust on the NHS - and gained a standing ovation from delegates with his message: "You can't trust the Tories with the NHS."

He said: "If you want someone who will rip the old rules so that the country works for you, don't expect it from this prime minister.

"On the 50p tax rate, on the banks, on the closed circles of Britain, on welfare, on the NHS, he's not about a new set of rules. He's the last gasp of the old rules."

'Own man'

The Conservatives said Mr Miliband helped create the "something for nothing" society he was criticising, pointing to the soaring welfare bill and national debt under Labour

"What we heard today was a weak leader telling his party what it wanted to hear," said Tory chairman Sayeeda Warsi.

"He's moved Labour away from the centre ground and come up with no solutions to the 'something for nothing' culture that he helped Labour create.

"All he promised was more of the same spending, borrowing and debt that got us into this mess in the first place."

Business groups also reacted to Mr Miliband's speech with unease.

The Federation of Small Business said his call to force firms who wanted to bid for public contracts to offer apprenticeships would harm enterprise.

'Poor statesmenship'

CBI director general John Cridland said the Labour leader was right to encourage "long termism" but added: "With growth weak, Ed Miliband is looking for a new business model, but he must be careful not to characterise some businesses as asset strippers."

Lord Jones, a former CBI chief and trade minister in Gordon Brown's government, said Mr Miliband's speech had been "divisive and a kick in the teeth" for business.

Businessmen and women "would feel offended and see him as displaying poor statesmenship at a time when the country needs leaders, not players to a union gallery", Lord Jones said.

But Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said Mr Miliband was "his own man not afraid to stand up against the likes of Murdoch and the rest of the elite".

And Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, welcomed references to equality and justice, investment in manufacturing, and attacks on "greed culture" in business.

He said: "We haven't heard that from a Labour leader for a very long time. We will have to see a lot more detail, but we have seen a man on a mission. There is definitely a phoenix rising from the ashes, into a people's party."