After 100 days of sniping it's time to rally round Ed, says ally
A close ally of Ed Miliband has urged Labour to rally behind him and accept that he has a mandate for his policies to make the 50p rate of income tax permanent and bring in a graduate tax.
In an interview with The Independent, Maria Eagle, the shadow Transport Secretary, hit back at sniping at Mr Miliband's performance since he defeated his brother David for the Labour leadership. He clocks up 100 days in his job tomorrow.
"Ed won, fair and square," she said, dismissing criticism that he relied on trade union support and won fewer voters than his brother among MPs and party members. "Everyone who entered that contest knew what the electoral college was and how it worked. That is the end of it," she said.
Ms Eagle, a minister for nine years in four different departments when Labour was in power, was one of only five of the 19 elected Shadow Cabinet members to support Ed Miliband's leadership campaign.
Insiders admit there are tensions over whether Labour's official policies are those in the party's general election manifesto or "Ed's policies". Ms Eagle argued that the central issues on which Mr Miliband fought his leadership campaign were now the "starting point" for Labour's wholesale policy review. They include a permanent 50p rate of tax and a graduate tax to fund universities – both of which have been opposed by Alan Johnson, the shadow Chancellor – and incentives to encourage employers to pay a £7.60 an hour "living wage", higher than the £5.93 an hour national minimum wage.
Ms Eagle said these three flagship policies show that the Labour leader is in touch with people in the real world. "Ed gets it; he connects with people," she said.
On calls for the 50p tax rate to be temporary, she insisted: "The idea that the priority might be to offer tax cuts for people on £150,000 a year... that is not where the country is at."
The MP for Liverpool Garston and Halewood rejects criticism that Mr Miliband has lost momentum. "We are all having to adjust to opposition. That is not easy after you have been in government for a long time. There is a lot of Westminster village chat but I think he has done pretty well," she said. "He has made the right calls on the central economic argument and that is coming through in the polls."
Ms Eagle urged Mr Miliband to ignore sniping from Blairites who claim he was wrong to dump a New Labour brand which won three general elections. "Ed is right to emphasise a break with the past, and to move on from that argument between old Labour and New Labour," she said.
Does Mr Miliband's edict that Labour should call the Government "Tory-led" reflect its fears that the Coalition might be popular with the public? "The word [coalition] is quite a cuddly word," she said. "I don't think we have got a cuddly government."
On her transport brief, Ms Eagle said a key issue for Labour's policy review will be the balance between what the user pays and public subsidies. She claimed the Tories do not see the wider social value of transport or public spending generally.
"Their attitude is that spending benefits only the person who receives the service," she said. Labour must show there is a "collective benefit" – for example, that a good transport system helps the unemployed to find work, which is good for the economy.
"I don't see transport as just about trains and buses," she said. "I want to see it in a much broader context."
Although the proposed high-speed rail link was championed with passion by Lord Adonis, Transport Secretary in the previous Labour government, Ms Eagle has an "open mind" about it, adding that there are "no no-go areas" for the party's review. As Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband was against a third runway at Heathrow Airport even though the Labour government backed the project. Now that it has been cancelled by the Coalition, Ms Eagle argued that Labour does not need a policy on it, but promises one on aviation in due course. She admitted that money will be tight – one reason why the £30bn high-speed rail project will need to be re-evaluated.
Any disputes over transport's slice of Labour's cake could pit her against her twin sister Angela, who is in charge of the purse strings as shadow Chief Treasury Secretary. "I might have a hotline; we never row," Maria quipped. "But she might be harder on me than she would be on anyone else. Rational argument is what persuades Angela."
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