Miliband says speech was not anti-business


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Indy Politics

Ed Miliband today insisted that his keynote speech to the Labour Party conference was not 'anti-business' following criticism from Business groups.

In his speech the party leader pledged to rein in excessive pay at the top of industry, break up cartels and demand responsibility from the banks.

He said that Labour would remain "firmly in the middle ground of politics" under his leadership and promised to take on predatory practices in business.

He was loudly cheered by some parts of his audience as he told them: "I'm not Tony Blair."

But Business groups today raised concerns over Mr Miliband's declaration that a future Labour government would treat "good" and "bad" companies differently to encourage responsible behaviour.

Former Labour trade minister and CBI chief Lord Jones described the speech as "divisive and a kick in the teeth" for business.

But Mr Miliband this morning insisted he was not "anti-business".

Asked if he had made a lurch to the left, he told ITV1's Daybreak: "Absolutely not. We are going to be firmly in the middle ground of politics, but the middle ground is changing.

"The idea that we should have responsibility in the top of our society ... it is not a left-wing idea to say that there should be responsibility there.

"It is absolutely in the middle ground. It is absolutely about the values of the British people, which say everybody should show responsibility.

"Equally, I talked very frankly in the speech about how we need to change the benefit system. There are too many people taking something for nothing."

Asked about the jeering which greeted Mr Blair's name, Mr Miliband told BBC1's Breakfast: "It's not a jeer I share."

But he made clear he wanted to escape from the shadow of the prime ministers of the New Labour era.

"Both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were great men who did great things, but I was saying something very clear," he told Daybreak.

"The Blair/Brown era is over for Labour. I am new, I am in charge and I am going to do things my own way.

"What was right for 15 years ago isn't right for now.

"I don't think people are that interested in looking back at Labour's past. I think they want to know what are Labour's solutions for the future. That's what I'm starting to do this week and will do so more in the coming months and years."

Mr Miliband accepted that he did not unveil a raft of policies in yesterday's speech, but said that the vision of the future he set out would "carry Labour through to the general election".

Asked about the negative reaction of some business figures to his comments, Mr Miliband told BBC1's Breakfast: "I think people, understandably, are nervous over change, they are nervous over doing things differently.

"It is my job to convince them that we do need change. This isn't anti-business, it's anti-business as usual.

"Business as usual isn't going to get us what we need as an economy."

He said Labour would not draw a divide between good and bad businesses but good and bad business practices, and would use tax and regulation to encourage good practice.

"There are some business practices which look like they are in the short-term interests of the business itself but damage our economy," he said.

"That's what we saw in the banking industry before the financial crisis."

Mr Miliband will answer questions later today from members of the public invited to join delegates at Liverpool's Echo Arena, in a move which he said was an indication of how he wants the party to "open out to the public".

And shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper will announce that Labour is setting up an independent review of policing headed by former Scotland Yard chief Lord Stevens.

The review - which Labour sources stress will be at arms-length from the party - is intended to bypass the Government's refusal to hold a Royal Commission on police reform.

In her keynote speech to the conference, Ms Cooper will invoke Tony Blair's famous "tough on the causes of crime" refrain.

And she will accuse the Tories of "chaos and confusion" on police reform.

"Now is the time for a serious vision for the future of policing - a Royal Commission or heavyweight independent review. The Government has refused to do so. So we will," she will say.

"We are setting up an independent review to look at the crime challenges of the 21st century and how policing needs to adapt and respond.

"Building on the best of British and international policing. Including experts from here and abroad. Vigorous and challenging on the changes needed. Working with the police, not trying to undermine them."

She will urge the Government to scrap plans for elected police commissioners, which she estimates will cost more than £100 million, although ministers dispute that figure.

"Next year, in Olympic year, the Government will spend over £100 million electing politicians on £120,000 to become crime chiefs," she will say.

"But this is the year when the eyes of the world are upon us. Our great opportunity. But we cannot have a repeat of this summer's shameful violence and disorder.

"So the Government should rethink. Stop the elections next year and use the money to stop crime instead."

The assault on the coalition will be joined by shadow health secretary John Healey, who will use his speech to claim that more than a million people have suffered long waits for tests, treatment or A&E services since David Cameron came to power.

"The Prime Minister is in denial about the damage his Government is doing to the NHS," he will say.

"The chaos of the biggest reorganisation in NHS history. The waste of billions of pounds on new bureaucracy.

"The betrayal of our NHS in a health bill which will break up the NHS as a 'national' health service and set it up as a full-scale market, ruled for the first time by the full force of competition law."

But the key issue for many delegates at Liverpool remains the prospect of strikes over public sector pension reforms scheduled for November 30.

Mr Miliband refused to confirm today whether he would back industrial action, but accused the Government of failing to negotiate in good faith.

"There is a massive responsibility on both sides - the union side and the Government side - to negotiate in good faith," he told the BBC.

"I want to see change in the way that public sector pensions work but it needs to be fair. It needs to be change that is fair to those workers and fair to the taxpayer.

"I don't think the Government is negotiating in good faith."

Pressed on whether he would back strikes, Mr Miliband said: "The potential strike is two months away. I am not going to get into hypotheticals about whether there's a strike or not.

"What I say is let's avoid the strike happening."

Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he "definitely" wanted to take Britain to a new era that moved away from the settlement introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

While he accepted the value of some of Lady Thatcher's reforms, he said that the former Conservative PM created "a culture, an ethic, an idea that as long as people maximise their short-term interest everything will be okay in business and elsewhere".

Mr Miliband said: "It was wrong and it has turned out to be wrong. It has caused problems for our society.

"We have got to choose as a society: do we change it or do we carry on as we are? Do we say, 'we had this banking crisis but it was just a little local difficulty' or do we take a long hard look and have a new reckoning and things do have to change?"

Asked if he wanted to move Britain into a "post-Thatcher/Blair era", he replied emphatically: "Definitely. Definitely.

"Tony Blair was elected leader 17 years ago. He was dealing with different challenges. It is a new era, it has got to be a new era.

"The Prime Minister is the last gasp of an old era, because he doesn't want to face up to these big changes."

Mr Miliband said the new circumstances in which Britain finds itself mean Labour must in future rely on change of this kind - rather than increased spending - to bring about its social goals.

"For the Labour Party, spending is not going to be the way we achieve social justice in the next decade," he told Today.

"Of course we want to get the deficit down, we want to invest in public services.

"But actually, unless we reform our economy, unless we find ways of tackling these issues - and this has been a problem for the Labour Party for decades - unless we get that political economy right, we are not going to get the change we want to see.

"It is right for the country, it is right for my party and it speaks to our values."

Mr Miliband denied that he was seeking to make "moral judgments about individuals" in his new approach to business and welfare.

Instead, he said it was a matter of shaping the tax and regulatory regime so it encourages people to act responsibly.

The public do not want a system under which "anything goes", he said.

"It's not about heavy-handed government," he said.

"The state sets rules in relation to our benefit system, social housing and the way our economy works. It is not like there is an option of not having rules, it's about what kind of rules they are - are they rules based on a set of values?"

Mr Miliband later said he would not seek to abolish private education or remove its privileged tax status, despite his promise in yesterday's speech to "break the closed circles" which give some people more opportunities than others.

Speaking to Channel 4 News, the Labour leader said: "It's very difficult to take away the charitable status for a whole host of complicated reasons. I don't think you can abolish public schools in a free society.

"Am I going to abolish public schools? No."

But he added: "We do need to change the way the class system works. We do need to open it up."