Miliband: the fightback begins

Labour leader warns of 'lost generation' of jobless young Britons as Tessa Jowell declares party's priority is to reconnect with voters

Ed Miliband is to launch a campaign on the "lost generation" of young unemployed whose numbers are expected to reach levels this year not seen for a quarter of a century.

On his 100th day as Labour leader yesterday, Mr Miliband came out fighting in a bid to silence critics inside and outside the party, who accuse him of having done too little to establish his political identity. On a campaigning visit to Oldham East and Saddleworth, where there is a by-election on 13 January, he focused his attack on the rise in VAT to 20 per cent, which comes into force today. He will follow this up with a warning that youth unemployment is in danger of rising above one million, creating another generation like that which faced years of unemployment after leaving school in the Thatcher years of the early 1980s. Mr Miliband believes that the issue will cause creeping anxiety among people in what he calls the "squeezed middle" of British society.

"Youth unemployment is not just a 'youth' issue," a party source said yesterday. "It's a parent issue and a grandparent issue. They're the people who worry most about unemployment among the under-25s."

This campaign, like Mr Miliband's attack on today's VAT hike, will draw the riposte from Coalition MPs that the Labour leader might be able to point to a problem, but is unable to say what he would do to solve it if he were in government. Mr Miliband has decided to delay two years before he begins spelling out Labour's programme, to allow time for a detailed policy review and the opportunity to "reconnect" with voters.

His "blank sheet" has attracted criticism, not just from government supporters, but also from those in the Labour Party who fear that he is ditching the New Labour brand and the appeal to the middle ground that won Labour three elections.

But Tessa Jowell, formerly an ultra-Blairite cabinet minister, has defended the strategy, arguing that Labour needs to "think aloud" before drawing up a detailed policy programme. Writing in today's Independent, Ms Jowell, now shadow Cabinet Office minister, says that Labour Party activists have been engaged in "thousands of conversations" to reconnect with people who "do not simply vote out of economic interest, but according to their judgement of who offers them the best chance of building a better life".

She added: "Given the scale of the challenge, we are right to take time in opposition to get to know and to understand this new coalition of voters, and why we were rejected by them at the election.

"This is why Ed Miliband is entirely right not to hurry into spelling out a full policy platform. "

The first electoral test of Mr Miliband's leadership will be next week in Oldham East and Saddleworth, where the former Labour MP, Phil Woolas, was removed after a court had ruled that he lied in his election literature about his Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins, whom he beat by only 108 votes. Opinion polls suggest that Labour's new candidate, Debbie Abrahams, should win. Labour sources insist that the seat is a three-way marginal, and that they are not even certain whether the main opposition challenger is Mr Watkins or the Conservative candidate, Kashif Ali, who are both running again. Mr Ali came third in May, 2,413 votes behind Mr Woolas, having seen the Tory share of the vote increase by nearly 9 per cent, while the Liberal Democrat vote fell slightly. The contest has placed the Coalition parties in a dilemma, because if they each campaign to maximise their vote they could hand victory to Labour, but neither is willing to say in public that they are not fighting to win.

David Cameron will pay a visit to the seat, and sources at Conservative headquarters insist that they are putting maximum effort into the campaign. But Mr Cameron is acutely aware that pushing the Liberal Democrats down into third place will make it all the harder for Nick Clegg to prevent a mutiny by party activists. The party's deputy leader, Simon Hughes, yesterday ruled out the possibility of a formal coalition pact for parliamentary seats at the next general election.

Yesterday, Tory cabinet ministers concentrated their fire on Mr Miliband, accusing him of dodging the question of how he would cope with the budget deficit if he was not going to raise VAT. "It's time Labour's leader gave us answers, not bandwagons and a blank sheet of paper," the Chancellor, George Osborne, said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This exciting startup disruptin...

Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

£25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Magazine Designer

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This London based publishing co...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator - OTE £30,000+

£13500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Previous experience is benefici...

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash