Ed Miliband denies playing class war

 

Labour leader Ed Miliband today denied he was trying to play the class card by highlighting his education at a north London comprehensive.

Mr Miliband's references to his time at Haverstock School in his keynote speech to Labour's annual conference in Manchester, and in a party political broadcast this evening, have drawn comparisons with the background of Eton-educated David Cameron and one Conservative MP has accused the Labour leader of using "class warfare" tactics.

But Mr Miliband today said that, as someone who was seeking to become Prime Minister, he felt he should explain to voters where he came from and what experiences formed his political beliefs.

Speaking the morning after his no-notes speech in Manchester, in which he claimed for Labour the mantle of the "One Nation party", Mr Miliband told ITV1's Daybreak: "It's not to do with a class act. It is much more to do with trying to explain who I am.

"People have been saying to me, 'as somebody who wants to be prime minister, we need to know more about you and what makes you tick'."

Mr Miliband said he was "flattered" to have his performance yesterday compared to Tony Blair, adding: "Tony Blair gave incredible conference speeches."

He brushed off opinion polls taken ahead of his speech which suggested only one in five voters saw him as a potential prime minister.

"I've always not looked at the polls," said the Labour leader. "If you start looking at the polls as a leader, that's not the thing to do. Do what's right for the country, say what you think is right for the country.

"I think what people heard yesterday is how I want to change the country. Goodness knows, people are less interested in the polls and more interested in what's happening to their family finances."

Mr Miliband said he wanted to spell out how a Labour administration under his leadership would differ from Labour governments of the past.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I think we do need a new approach for the future.

"Old Labour wasn't careful with public money. Old Labour was for one sectional interest in society. I think New Labour was too timid about the responsibilities of those at the top and too silent about vested interests like banks.

"One Nation Labour is about saying we want responsibility from all, including those at the top. We can't shrink from taking on the vested interests like banks and energy companies, which actually the last Labour government didn't do sufficiently. I think it is a different approach."

Mr Miliband said he did not object to people becoming millionaires by their own efforts, as long as they pay their taxes. But he drew a distinction between people who get rich as entrepreneurs or as bankers.

"If people get ahead and get successful and bet their own money - successful entrepreneurs - I want to encourage that," Mr Miliband told 5 Live.

"Obviously I want them to pay their fair share of income tax and their fair share of taxes. That's important.

"What we found, though, was that people were getting rich in, say, the banking industry, not because it was wealth that was hard-earned, not because they were risking their own money - in fact they were risking all of our money. That's what we got wrong.

"We were too silent about the responsibility of those people at the top of society and too relaxed about it."

Mr Miliband defended his decision yesterday to say that Mr Cameron was "handing a cheque" to himself and members of his Cabinet by cutting the top rate of tax.

The Labour leader told BBC1's Breakfast: "What I'm saying is what Mr Cameron's aides themselves have said, which is that he will be receiving a tax cut as a result of the fall in the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p for those earning over £150,000."

Mr Miliband said that he would not personally benefit from the cut in the top rate of income tax, but declined to say what his total worth was.

"I'm not making an issue of David Cameron's background or David Cameron's worth," he told BBC1. "What I'm saying is that when you are making a tax reduction as Prime Minister, if you are cutting tax for a very small section of the population and you are one of them, you have got a responsibility to come clean about that. What I think is wrong is we have got a tax cut for people at the top of society at the same time as other people are being squeezed."

In yesterday's speech, Mr Miliband criticised the coalition Government for its numerous U-turns.

Challenged on BBC Radio 5 Live over whether the Brown administration of which he formed part had made just as many U-turns, the Labour leader responded: "Oh, come on, that's not fair.

"I want to talk about the future. I have been very clear about the mistakes of the past, but the question now is a question for the future. Who can lead this country into the future?

"When you look at the latest fiasco with the West Coast Main Line - another Government screw-up, another Government mistake, another case of them blaming someone else, apparently they are saying it is the fault of their civil servants - I think competence is an issue.

"The issues of this Government go beyond competence. It goes to who do they stand up for? That is the question.

"I am not denying that the next Labour government will face hard times, but what I am saying is 'Who is going to be on the side of most people in this country? Who is going to stand up for them?'. That's the kind of prime minister I want to be."

Explaining the thinking behind yesterday's speech, Mr Miliband told Sky News: "I tried to say what I believe and how we need to change the country, so we have banks that properly work for our small businesses, so young people feel they have got a proper stake in our country and we don't leave 50% of our young people out when it comes to qualifications and good jobs, and we ensure that we make decisions on taxation that are fair and we don't cut taxes on the richest in society while raising them for others.

"I will let others judge whether it was a good speech or not."

Mr Miliband made clear his One Nation message was designed to win back former Labour supporters who voted Conservative in 2010.

"What I say to people who voted Conservative at the last general election is, I understand why you turned away from the last Labour government. I understand that you think we made mistakes on immigration, on bank regulation and other things.

"I hope they will take a second look at the Labour Party under my leadership.

"I think many people are feeling that they gave the benefit of the doubt to the Government. This Government promised change but things don't seem to be changing for the better.

"What I was trying to set out yesterday was not that there won't be hard times under the next Labour government, but we will try to do things in a fair way and we will try to stand up for ordinary people who work hard, play by the rules and want the government on their side."

Mr Miliband defended himself against the charge that his One Nation slogan hid a lack of specific policy proposals on a wide range of issues.

He said: "What One Nation is about is about the responsibility of everybody in society. It is about the fact that we need to give every young person a stake. I think government has a role in that. We shouldn't be leaving our young people out of work.

"I think prosperity in our country needs to be more fairly shared, so we shouldn't be cutting taxes for the top of society. It's also about defending the really important common institutions we have, like the NHS and the United Kingdom itself.

"That is what One Nation is about and what a One Nation Labour Party is about."

Looking back at his schooldays, Mr Miliband revealed that he was called "Eddie" by his classmates and never had any other nickname.

"I don't think I was called terrible names," he told Sky. "I think I have been called worse names in politics than I was at school."

Mr Miliband said his speech had set out a "different political approach for new times".

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I think I said when I became leader, we need to move on from New Labour and people then said 'Does that mean a return to Old Labour?' and I think what I was setting out very clearly in the speech yesterday was 'No, it doesn't'. It does mean a different political approach."

He added: "Let me just be very clear about this: the banking system, the media, Rupert Murdoch, the energy companies - we didn't do enough to demand responsibility."

Mr Miliband accused the Government of being "divisive", stating: "One of the things that people don't like about this Government is it does feel like a divisive Government, it does feel like it is setting one set of people against another, it's saying that people in the public sector are featherbedders."

Mr Miliband said he had been "very clear" with his party in the speech that "we're not going to have lots of money to spend".

The Government's economic strategy rooted in political ideology, he argued, had not worked.

He said: "They (the Government) believe that there is a public economy and a private economy and the two don't really depend on each other, that's the way they portrayed it, definitely Two Nations.

"But actually what turns out to be the case is they were wrong, that's why this is a country in recession, because they believed that, if you just cut as hard and as fast as you could in the public sector, the private sector would miraculously take over, it turned out to be wrong.

"It was a political philosophy turning into an economic strategy which has not worked and that's why One Nation is right."

Mr Miliband said he believed in an "active Government" and thought that every young person should be guaranteed a job after a year out of work.

Asked to flesh out his economic plans, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We'll set out our plans on the economy at the election. We're two months away from George Osborne's autumn statement, when we don't even know whether he's going to meet his fiscal rules, the deficit is going up."

Commenting on news of the West Coast Main Line franchise, Mr Miliband said: "It's just another hopeless, shambolic piece of incompetence, isn't it? We pointed out in August that there were real problems with this, the Transport Select Committee has wanted to raise questions about it, we are going to have the public paying the price of it."

He added: "People want competent Government and ... we're not getting it in transport, clearly."

Mr Miliband also attacked the Government's sense of direction.

He added: "One, grip is important in Government. Too often people think this Government just doesn't have a grip. David Cameron didn't have a grip on his health service changes, they don't have a grip on this Virgin issue. But secondly, and much, much more profoundly in my view, a Government gets through events if they have a clear sense of direction.

"The problem for this Prime Minister is that in 2006-07, he was saying 'I want to hug a hoodie and I want to hug a husky' and now he doesn't seem to care about the huskies and he just says 'let's lock up the hoodies'."

The Liberal Democrats sent out a poster van this morning to circle Manchester, the city of Labour's conference, with an image of Mr Miliband depicted as a poodle on a leash held by a pin-striped banker, under the slogan: "Labour: 13 years as the bankers' lapdog. Two years trying to hide it."

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "Ed Miliband's political education didn't take place at school in Primrose Hill but in the Treasury under Gordon Brown. He and Ed Balls were special advisers to Brown when they let the banks run amok and claimed to have abolished boom and bust.

"It is the poorest and the most vulnerable, those Labour claims to represent, that they let down the most in their 13 years in power.

"On their watch, the gap between the richest and the poorest grew into a chasm; they hit low income workers by scrapping the 10p tax rate; and insulted pensioners with the measly 75p state pension rise.

Liberal Democrats have cut taxes for people on low and middle incomes and lifted two million of the poorest workers out of paying income tax altogether."

A Labour source responded: "This is ridiculous, desperate stuff from a party that voted to help David Cameron give a £40,000 tax cut to 8,000 millionaires."

Labour former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott, asked what he thought of Mr Miliband's "One Nation Labour" and his espousal of a slogan coined by one-time Tory PM Benjamin Disraeli, said he thought the new leader was still holding to the party's traditional values.

Lord Prescott told BBC2's Politics Show: "You know me, I'm not an intellectual. Who the hell's Disraeli?

"The Labour Party changes. Ed did a brilliant speech there.

"We've had New Labour, Old Labour, all sorts of Labour. I'm just Labour - traditional values in a modern setting.

"What Ed was talking about was identifying himself as the leader in a process of change.

"I'm the old man in this, but I still think when he talks about the health service, about getting our people back to work and making the changes, having a go at the banks - it sounds like traditional values to me.

"I'm a One Labour man."

Mr Miliband said he did not support US-style publication of tax returns by candidates for high office, but thought that Mr Cameron should expect to be challenged over whether he will personally benefit from the cut in the top rate of income tax.

The Labour leader said he would block the cut from 50p to 45p if he was in power now, but insisted he would not set out his tax policies for the next parliament until closer to the next election.

However, he did say: "I don't see the top rate of (income) tax going above 50%." And he said he was "perfectly open to looking at" proposals for a mansion tax on expensive properties.

Mr Miliband told Sky News: "I'm not for the full declaration of earnings and American-style tax return. I don't think that's the right way to go for us.

"But if I was Prime Minister and I was cutting taxes for a small portion of the population, I think I would expect people to ask.

"The fundamental point about this is that there are 300,000 people earning over £150,000 getting the top rate of tax cut and people on £1 million who are going to get £40,000 for each person, while everybody else - even pensioners - are getting less.

"There will be some people who think that's fair. They can support David Cameron if they think it is the right decision. There are others who think it's unfair and I'm in the second category."

The Labour leader denied he was excluding bankers, the wealthy and people with a private education from his vision of One Nation.

"I don't see it that way at all," he said. "I think it is absolutely crucial that we return to the best traditions of British banking. Banks need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But that means we want change."

He added: "People's background and where they went to school is no bar to being a good prime minister."

Mr Miliband said: "One Nation is a country that definitely embraces all, but responsibility goes all the way to the top of the society, as well as the bottom."

He said he "enjoyed" yesterday's speech and was flattered by positive reactions to it, but recognised that Labour still had a long way to go to win back voters' support.

"I'm someone who keeps my feet on the ground," he told Sky News. "We have got a long way to go. I have always been more confident than other people have

PA

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