Ed Miliband warns of politics 'crisis' in Harlow speech


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Labour leader Ed Miliband warned today of a "crisis of politics" as he acknowledged that all politicians need to do more to win back people's trust.

Speaking in Harlow, Essex, where his party seized control in last week's council elections, he said he wanted to "reach out" to the more than two-thirds of voters who did not turn out to cast their ballot.

Mr Miliband said he was happy with Labour's result but admitted: "I know we have a lot more to do to rebuild that trust."

Pointing to figures showing that 71% of people in Harlow did not vote on Thursday, he said: "I want to reach out and understand why you don't trust any politicians, why you don't believe any of us can answer the questions that you are facing in your life.

"I think there is a crisis of politics in this country, there is a crisis of people thinking 'I'm not going to engage with politics, you're all the same, you all break your promises'."

The Labour leader said aspiration was being "blunted" by the coalition Government and insisted his party could "make a difference", adding: "We can offer people change."

His comments, at a question-and-answer session with members of the public, came ahead of an expected appearance in Essex by Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg later today.

"What people want from them is answers not excuses, not excuses blaming something else, not excuses blaming the eurozone, but answers about why they promised change and things have got worse not better," he said.

Mr Miliband said Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg needed to learn from the election results, in which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats each lost hundreds of council seats, that "economic failure with unfairness piled on top is not the answer".

"They promised change, they promised an economy that would grow and things have got worse not better.

"And they promised fairness, they promised that we were all in it together, and things have got worse not better because they are standing up for the wrong people not the right people."

Mr Miliband took off his jacket to field questions on a wide range of policy issues from members of the audience in Harlow.

He admitted that Labour "didn't do enough on housing" and imposed "too many reorganisations and reforms" on the NHS during its time in power.

But he insisted that the coalition Government was not doing enough on key issues like house-building and the economy.

Housing would be "a massive priority" for a Labour government, with a major drive to build a mix of affordable homes in the local authority, social and private sectors, said Mr Miliband.

And Labour has said it would repeal those parts of the Government's NHS reforms which would create a privatisation "free for all", he told his audience.

Mr Miliband also said he would create a British Investment Bank, backed by public and private money, to increase lending to small businesses.

Banks "have got to recognise that it is not just about creating jobs in financial services". he said. "They have a duty to serve the real economy."

Speaking after the question-and-answer session, Mr Miliband said there was a need for "answers, not excuses" from the coalition Government.

He said: "We've seen a promise of change, but things have got worse, not better, an economy in recession and unfairness, cutting taxes for millionaires, raising taxes for millions of people.

"What would we be doing in the Queen's Speech tomorrow? We'd be saying 'Let's take different choices on taxation, let's help working families and pensioners, not cut taxes for millionaires.

"'Let's tax the bankers' bonuses and put our young people back to work, let's stand up to the energy and train companies, to make a difference to living standards'."

He added: "We need an economy that works for working people; instead, we've got one that works for a few at the top and the Government is making it worse."

Mr Miliband said there was "another way" for Essex and the UK, when asked if austerity was the only way for the country.

He said: "If they (the Government) take refuge in the idea that their presentation wasn't very good, or they had a few mishaps on the way to those local elections, they won't be hearing the message of people.

"And the message of people is that their plan is not working and they've got to change course."

Referring to the Prime Minister's strategy, he added: "I don't think he gets it when he's coming forward with a Queen's Speech tomorrow which, as we understand it, won't change course on the economy, won't change course on a Finance Bill that cuts taxes for millionaires and raises taxes for everybody else."

Mr Miliband said there was a need for a Government to stand up for ordinary people, "who don't have the access, don't get the special favours".

"If there's one message that comes out from those local elections, it's that people thought 'That's not fair - you're standing up for the wrong people, not the right people. You're standing up for a few rich people at the top, not standing up for us'."

Mr Miliband said he believed the coalition's problems were "deeper" than "Tories wanting one thing and Liberal Democrats wanting another" and urged the coalition to "listen" and change its economic strategy.

He said: "I think you've got a Government that believes that if you got government out of the way, if you cut taxes at the top then magically you get economic growth and everything will be OK. That hasn't worked, the plan hasn't worked."

Mr Miliband said people who aspired to do better for themselves felt as if they were "running up against a brick wall".

He stressed he did not want to promise people the Earth, but added: "I am going to show how we can make a difference to people's lives and that there is a different way forward for people in Essex and people across the UK."

Mr Miliband was questioned on topics ranging from the NHS and welfare to education and his own political philosophy.

He acknowledged that the last Labour government "didn't do enough" on housing, adding that it was a "massive priority" for the next Labour administration.

After listening to concerns from one female NHS worker on low morale within the healthcare system, Mr Miliband replied: "We've said very clearly that we would repeal the parts of the health bill that are part of this free-market, free-for-all privatisation of the health service."

He argued that the Government made it "far, far worse, by diverting lots and lots of money away from the front line into bureaucracy for this bureaucratic change".

He also raised fears that the changes would lead to fragmentation of the workings of the NHS, with different providers and commissioners, saying that had "real dangers".

Mr Miliband said Michael Gove was "the most centralising Education Secretary that we've had", and branded his policies "education for the few, not the many".

The Labour leader argued that the gap between rich and poor "really matters", stating: "I'd be saying we're going to reverse that 50p tax cut. If we were in Government tomorrow, that's what we'd be doing."

He also spoke in favour of the idea of the living wage.

Retired engineer and physicist Frank Jackson, 83, said he believed a "much more radical approach" was needed than a "rather cautious" one, and Britain could "take a leaf out of Hollande's book in France".

Mr Miliband stressed the importance of not "making promises that we can't keep".

Growth, he said, was the current "missing ingredient", with the Government spending more on welfare bills.