UK Politics

Landale online: What Ed Miliband was really saying

Ed Miliband

If by some chance, and I know this is just a small possibility, you happened to have had something more pressing to do than watch Ed Miliband while he addressed the Labour party in Liverpool, do not worry.

You can watch it all again online with all the expertise and analysis that the BBC can muster.

But if time is scarce, here is a potted version, a taster to whet your appetite.

His top line

Hello, my name is Ed Miliband, can I take a moment to introduce myself? I am the leader of the Labour party. In case you hadn't noticed.

"I was a minister in Gordon Brown's government but I am not him, nor am I Tony Blair. I am my own man.

"The system of politics and economics they inherited from the last Conservative government isn't working any more.

"So something needs to be done. And I will do it. I'll give you a few pointers of what I might do. But not much more.

His essential argument

The politics and economics of the last 30 years worked at the time.

Mrs Thatcher was right to tame the trade unions and cut high taxes. New Labour was right to inherit the system - and the prosperity that followed - and use the profits to build schools and hospitals.

But that system is no longer working. The wrong people - benefit cheats, bankers and energy fat cats - are being rewarded.

The economy - and the government's austerity programme - is not working. The producers are suffering, the predators are flourishing.

People who don't loot shops, fiddle their expenses or earn big salaries (so my focus groups say) are feeling the pinch. I feel their pain.

The system is no longer delivering economic growth and that means they are no longer confident that their kids will go to university or get a job.

There has been too much focus on the financial services sector and a belief that their profits will trickle down to the rest of society. So things need to change.

Good businesses and good neighbours need to be rewarded.

There needs to be a new era of wealth creation based on manufacturing and the right values.

And I, Ed Miliband, will deliver that change. Just don't ask me how. So, strong on ambition but short on detail.

The personal stuff

Ed Miliband said he loves his wife; the country should get over the fact that they got married after the birth of their second child; he wants his kids to be doctors; he learned from taking on the Murdoch empire that he should take more risks; like Frank Sinatra, he said he is going to do things his way; he believes government can make a difference; as the son of immigrants who fled the Nazis, he has "the heritage of the outsider, the vantage point of the insider". Make of that what you will.

Firmish commitments

  • A Labour government would tax and regulate businesses differently depending on their behaviour. Long term investment and training for young people would be rewarded with tax breaks. Short termism would be punished.
  • A Labour administration would award all major government contracts to firms which offer apprenticeships to young people. No contracts would go to firms that do not.
  • A Labour government would ensure that local people who have a job and who have contributed to their community would get access to social housing before others who have made less of a contribution.
  • A Labour government would not be able to reverse many of the coalition's spending cuts.
  • A Labour government would buy British - although competition lawyers at the European Commission might be interested when he vowed that Labour would be "on the side of the British company losing out to its competitors abroad, when their government steps in and our government stands aside".
  • A Labour government would "break the dominance of the big energy companies".
  • A Labour government would ensure that there is a worker on every remuneration committee.
  • A Labour government, he suggested, would reverse some welfare cuts - disability benefits, tax credits and childcare subsidies.

The questions left unanswered:

1. Mr Miliband made no mention of the public sector strikes looming this autumn. Will Labour support or oppose them? Are the public sector workers whose pensions are being cut part of the "squeezed middle"? Or are the private sector workers - whose pay has already being cut and are subsidising those larger public sector pensions - part of the "squeezed middle" too?

2. What is Labour's answer to the global economic crisis? Is it really enough just to cut VAT for most goods to 17.5%, cut VAT for home improvements to 5% and give small businesses taking on more employees a one year holiday from national insurance? There was a brief mention of the eurozone crisis. But little sense of what Labour thinks should be done.

3. More fundamentally, how does a social democratic party help the least well off in society in an age of austerity? In the past, left of centre governments just handed out cash. And they cannot do that any more. So what do they do? You can't keep tapping the banks forever to pay for a little modest redistribution.

The problems

1. Who decides which are good and bad businesses? Who are the predators? What criteria are used? How do you define "short termism"? How do you measure it?

2. There is a risk that Mr Miliband is seen to be anti-business. His aides insist this is not true. They insist this was a pro-business speech. But it is a fine balance to praise wealth creators and then attack asset strippers. Bankers may be culpable for their behaviour in recent years but they are still important to the economy.

Most unexpected line

Mr Miliband praised Mrs Thatcher, not by name but by her works. He said: "Some of what happened in the 1980s was right. It was right to let people buy their council houses. It was right to cut tax rates of 60, 70, 80 percent. And it was right to change the rules on the closed shop, on strikes before ballots. These changes were right, and we were wrong to oppose it at the time." All good cover for a man often accused of taking Labour to the left.

Most startling claim

Mr Miliband said he was "the guy who is determined to break the closed circles of Britain". I think he means he wants to encourage social mobility and break down the establishment. I don't think he is referring to Jean Paul Sartre's play Huis Clos - translation "closed circle"" - whose most famous line is "Hell is other people."

Most subtle dig

Mr Miliband said Labour won't recover voters' trust by "paying homage to past leaders". Nota bene all the old Blairites who have been moaning on the airwaves about how he is taking the party to the left.