Labour conference: Ed Miliband to present 'plan for Britain' over low pay and housing crisis

Leader sets out to show he is Downing Street material. Political editor Jane Merrick reports

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Ed Miliband will use his party’s final conference before the general election to present “a plan for Britain’s future”, including tackling low pay, housing and helping small businesses thrive in the economic recovery.

The Labour leader set out for Manchester armed with pledges to help families “treading water and not benefiting from the recovery”. He said that while constitutional change post-referendum was important, what mattered more was addressing the everyday issues facing families.

Mr Miliband is under pressure to deliver the speech of his life in two days’ time after a low-profile performance in the Scottish referendum campaign, in which he was overshadowed by Gordon Brown’s crucial role in keeping the union together.

On Tuesday, the Labour leader needs to give a convincing performance as a prime minister-in-waiting who can be seen on the steps of Downing Street next May after a turbulent summer in which his image came under intense scrutiny. Aides dismissed the suggestion that he was being outgunned by his predecessor, and said what was important was the “bread and butter” issues that were affecting voters.

While there is no serious talk about his leadership, all three main party leaders are vulnerable this conference season.

Arriving in Manchester yesterday, Mr Miliband announced that a Labour government would help small businesses by cutting business rates next year – going further than a pledge last year to freeze them. This would be paid for by not going through with a Tory plan to cut corporation tax.

A Labour government would also create New Homes Corporations, which would be run by local authorities and accountable to communities, to create 500,000 new homes. The corporations would take responsibility for areas prioritised for development and would, the party claims, ensure better strategic planning and infrastructure and encourage house building.

Housing is one of Labour’s central manifesto themes, with the numbers of new homes being built under the coalition falling to the lowest in peace time since the 1920s. Labour says there will be a shortage of two million homes by 2020, equivalent to five cities the size of Birmingham.

Labour’s women MPs gather at the conference in Manchester on Saturday (PA)

The Labour leader said: “The last few months have been about keeping our country together. The next eight months will be about how we can change our country together. Right across Britain, people are yearning for change. Constitutional change matters. But we all know something else matters even more.

“Our country doesn’t work for everyday working people and only works for a privileged few at the top, and we’ve got to change it. This conference is for all those families who are treading water and not benefitting from the recovery ... for all the young people worried about their future ...for everyone who cares about our NHS, which is sliding backwards. This week we will set out Labour’s Plan for Britain Future.”

He added: “This is our last conference before the general election. Britain needs a new plan. Britain needs a new government. We’re going to make it happen.”

Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of Labour’s housing policy review, said: “We need to mobilise across the nation to build the homes our children need. More land released, a wider range of builders and a bigger role for local authorities working with their partners are all important. Our report will offer a comprehensive view of how these measures and others can help us get to 200,000 homes a year and beyond.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “It was Labour’s pitiful effort in government which left us with a housing crisis in the first place and it has been left to us to fix it. Labour’s shocking record on house building has meant young people struggle to get on the ladder and face sky-high mortgage repayments when they do. The Lib Dems have moved quickly in government to build 190,000 affordable homes and bring 70,000 empty houses back into use.”

A Tory party spokesman said: “This is just an empty promise from Ed Miliband. The last Labour government also promised to build over 200,000 homes a year – but in reality house building collapsed to its lowest level since the 1920s.

“Labour left our housing market and economy its knees – and would do it all over again.”