UK Politics

Miliband has the steel to lead Labour, says Johnson

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Media captionShadow chancellor Alan Johnson: "What me and Ed agree on is we need a 50p tax rate now"

Ed Miliband has the "steel" to continue leading the Labour Party, shadow chancellor Alan Johnson has said.

He told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that Mr Miliband had the "confidence" to make changes at his "own pace", despite criticisms from some quarters.

Mr Johnson has reportedly clashed with his leader over the need to keep the 50p tax rate for high earners.

He said they "absolutely" agreed on policy, but the Tories said they were "at loggerheads".

Mr Johnson was leader of Ed Miliband's older brother David's campaign for the Labour leadership but was promoted to the key role of shadow chancellor in a reshuffle last month.

'Half-formed'

He told Andrew Marr the party's principles of pushing for "a freer society" and "greater equality" would remain the same.

Mr Johnson added: "It's about translating those principles we have to the circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment."

He said Labour was still the "progressive party", arguing that the Liberal Democrats' claim to the same title was "guff", in light of their coalition agreement with the Conservatives.

"The government has an ideological need to shrink the state.... There's a chance for them to attack universal benefits," he said.

Ed Miliband beat his brother, David, to the Labour leadership in September.

This happened despite David winning the ballots of Labour MPs and party members, with Ed relying on trade union Labour supporters to help him take the contest by a tight margin.

Steel and confidence

Mr Johnson said: "I don't know anyone in the party who would defend a system that's sort of half-formed... I was saying these things when I was a trade union leader 13 or 14 years ago."

Asked about Ed Miliband's performance as leader, Mr Johnson said: "There were people who were underestimating the steel Ed had... What he's manifesting is that he has that steel, and the confidence to do things at his own pace, in his own time."

There have been reports that Mr Johnson disagrees with Mr Miliband's decision to make the 50p income tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year a permanent Labour policy.

However, he said: "We absolutely agree on the need for the 50p tax right up to the next election," adding: "We had introduced it in the first place. It was very much about ensuring that we had a fairer society."

He said the party would "look at" tax policy after the next election, expected to take place in 2015.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne told BBC One's The Politics Show that asking people on over £150,000 to pay more was reasonable as part of "a national mission to get the debt under control".

"We want to make sure that we've got an economy and a set of public services in our country that help the majority of people get on in life," he said.

But Conservative Party deputy chairman Michael Fallon said: "The Labour leadership is split on a key element of economic policy.

"Ed Miliband has stated that he regards the 50p tax rate as permanent, yet Alan Johnson still refuses to confirm that this is his own position and now says that it may be up for review at the election.

"Once again we have the extraordinary and damaging spectacle of the leader of the opposition and his shadow chancellor at loggerheads."

On Saturday, Mr Miliband called on Labour activists to "take that term 'big society' back" from the Conservatives to become the "people's party" again.

Launching a policy review, he said the party must move beyond New Labour to reconnect with public aspirations after "losing its way".

The Labour leader accused the coalition of "arrogant" cuts but said waiting for ministers to "screw up" was no good.

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