UK Politics

Labour conference: Miliband denies being anti-business

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Media captionEd Miliband on his message to delegates in Liverpool

Ed Miliband has denied that his Labour conference speech - in which he attacked "predatory" firms and a "fast-buck" culture - was "anti-business".

He told the BBC his aim was to improve behaviour in the commercial sector in an effort to improve the UK's economy.

Large bonuses for bosses who achieve little should be phased out, he added.

Ex-CBI boss Lord Jones said the speech was a "kick in the teeth" for firms. The Tories accused Mr Miliband of being a "weak leader".

In his speech, Mr Miliband said the UK was crying out for a new kind of society in which responsible "grafters" were properly rewarded.

He attacked "asset-stripping" companies for damaging attempts to bring about economic recovery and he vowed to fight for "a new bargain in our economy so reward is linked with effort".

Asset strippers

The speech was well received by Labour members in the conference hall, and union leaders who said Mr Miliband was a "man on a mission".

But Andrew Cave, of the Federation of Small Business, told the BBC a call to force firms who wanted to bid for public contracts to offer apprenticeships "risks clobbering small business and cutting off a lifeline for them".

CBI director-general John Cridland said the Labour leader was right to encourage "long-termism" but added "he must be careful not to characterise some businesses as asset strippers".

And Lord Jones, who was also a trade minister in Gordon Brown's government, said Mr Miliband's speech had been "divisive" and "a kick in the teeth" for business.

Business leaders "would feel offended and see him as displaying poor statesmanship at a time when the country needs leaders, not players to a union gallery", he said.

In a round of interviews on Wednesday morning, Mr Miliband said Labour would not lurch to the left and would be "firmly in the middle ground" - but argued that the middle ground was changing.

He said it was not a left-wing idea that there should be responsibility at the top of society, and pointed out that he had also pledged to reward good behaviour in the welfare system, by suggesting those who contribute to their communities should get preferential treatment with social housing.

Speaking to the BBC Mr Miliband said he had been talking about "good business practices" and "bad business practices" in his reference to "predators" interested only in the "fast buck".

'New reckoning'

He same some practices were based around the short-term interests of businesses, but damaged the wider economy and that Labour would use tax and regulation to encourage good practice.

"This isn't anti-business; it's anti-business as usual. Business as usual is not going to get us what we need as an economy," Mr Miliband added.

He said a "new reckoning" was needed if Labour was to achieve its goals, adding that government spending was "not going to be the way we achieve social justice in the next decade".

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Media captionEd Miliband's conference speech in full

"Unless we reform our economy, unless we find ways of tackling these issues - and this has been a problem for the Labour Party for decades - unless we get that political economy right, we are not going to get the change we want to see."

Mr Miliband was asked whether he had opposed a multi-million pound package for Stephen Hester, boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 84% owned by UK taxpayers, when he was a cabinet minister. Mr Hester was brought in to run the bank after its government bailout.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Labour government should not have agreed to that pay packet, but said, as energy secretary at the time, "I wasn't interfering with Stephen Hester's pay".

In his speech, the Labour leader 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."

Asked about jeers in the conference hall, at the mention of Mr Blair's name, Mr Miliband told the BBC: "It's not a jeer I share."

Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi described Mr Miliband's speech as "a weak leader telling his party what it wanted to hear".

"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."

And Lib Dem party president Tim Farron suggested the Labour leader had "lost his memory".

"On banking, on spending, on Murdoch and debt, the Labour government was irresponsible, reckless and wrong," he added.

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

He said: "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."

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