Ed Miliband to resist trade union calls for renationalisation of railways if Labour win next election

Party leadership wary of strategy that would be portrayed as 'a return to Old Labour and British Rail' by the Conservatives

political editor

Ed Miliband will resist demands from trade unions and Labour members for the railway network to be taken back into full public ownership if he wins power next year.

A heated debate inside Labour will come to a head this weekend at a policy-making conference that will shape the party's general election manifesto. The vote on the railways will be a key test of whether Labour backs Mr Miliband's strategy of “big reform, not big spending” in the age of austerity.

Rail unions want Labour to commit to taking all the privately-run lines back into state ownership as soon as their franchises expire. Their proposal is backed by many constituency Labour parties, who point to opinion polls showing strong public support for renationalisation.

But Mr Miliband and Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, are wary of a strategy that would be portrayed by the Conservatives as “a return to Old Labour and British Rail,” the state-run network which existed before the Conservatives privatised the system in the 1990s.

The Labour leadership favours a compromise under which a publicly-owned firm, like the one which took over the East Coast line when its private operator went bust, would be allowed to bid against private companies such as Virgin Trains when franchises run out.

But Mr Miliband could face defeat on this issue at the meeting in Milton Keynes of Labour's national policy forum, on which the unions and local parties have a big share of the votes. The leadership will propose a “level playing field” between public and private bidders to ensure value for money for taxpayers, who subsidise the railways by £4bn a year, and passengers.

Labour sources insisted there was “no great row” and said that, after Mr Miliband's internal reforms, such debates were normally resolved by consensus rather than a showdown between the leadership and the party.

Today Labour's tax policies came under the spotlight when David Cameron accused the party of planning to squeeze the “squeezed middle” further by putting up their taxes. In the Commons, he seized on comments by Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, who told LBC Radio: “I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes.”

But in a letter to Mr Cameron, Ms Harman told him his interpretation was “a lie.” She added: “It is utterly clear that this is not a call for higher taxes, but a defence of a system which has previously commanded wide support, in which people on middle incomes contribute more than people on lower incomes.”

Labour's policy forum will face calls from some activists and unions for a more distinctive approach on the economy. Some critics oppose Labour's plan to stick to the Coalition's departmental spending plans for 2015-16 and want an end to public sector pay restraint.

Some unions favour a  ban on “zero hours” contracts, under which workers are on standby without minimum guaranteed hours. The forum will also discuss demands for the national minimum wage to be raised to the higher living wage— a move opposed by Mr Miliband, who wants to encourage firms to pay the living wage rather than impose it on them.

The conference will discuss Labour's policy on free schools and the integration of health and social care. A lively debate is expected over the leadership's plans to devolve powers to local government, which some activists oppose because it could create a “postcode lottery”.

Labour leaders will resist calls for a legislation to create wholly-elected House of Lords in the party's first Queen's Speech. It is likely to be delayed until a later year.

* Mr Miliband is expected to visit Washington next week, where he will have a brief “brush-by” meeting with Barack Obama at the White House and give a speech to a Washington think tank.  As Leader of the Opposition, Mr Cameron has a similar meeting with George Bush in 2008.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone