Public to grill Labour leader

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Ed Miliband is to face direct questions from members of the public at Labour's national conference next week as part of his effort to show that the party is listening to ordinary people, it was revealed today.

Some 2,000 members of the public, recruited through the local media, have been invited to submit questions on any subject which will be put to the Labour leader without any pre-checking, said party sources.

The question-and-answer session on Wednesday comes as Mr Miliband seeks to change the party's rulebook to allow non-members to take part in the election of future leaders by becoming "registered supporters".

The Labour leader hopes to secure the change at an eve-of-conference meeting of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on Saturday, when he will also push for the abolition of elections to the shadow cabinet.

In a foreword to the conference agenda, published today, Mr Miliband argued that the party must use next week's gathering - taking place in Liverpool under the slogan "Fulfilling the Promise of Britain" - to show it has "the confidence to change".

In his keynote speech on Tuesday, he will tell his party that it is time to "rip up the rulebook" in order to challenge an economic and political settlement that has become the consensus over the past decades.

In a video message to supporters, Mr Miliband said there was a "quiet crisis" among the "hard-working people of Britain" over living standards, worries about their children's futures and irresponsibility in society.

"We've got to change those things - we've got to do it by taking on the vested interests that hold our country back, from the banks to the energy companies," he said.

"And we've got to stand up for the grafters, the hard-working majority in Britain."

Writing in the conference magazine, Mr Miliband accused the Conservatives of being "out of touch" with ordinary people and too close to a "powerful and privileged few", of making "reckless choices" on issues like NHS reform and the cuts programme and having "no vision for a better Britain".

Notably, he reserved his fire for the Tories, making no reference to their Liberal Democrat coalition partners - an omission which will fuel suspicions that he is leaving open the option of a deal with Nick Clegg's party in a future hung Parliament.

"It is up to Labour to be the voice of those families whose living standards are being squeezed ever tighter, who worry that their children will find it tougher to get on in life and feel angry that irresponsible behaviour is rewarded," wrote Mr Miliband.

The NEC will be asked on Saturday to approve reforms produced by Mr Miliband's Refounding Labour project, headed by Peter Hain, which the leader views as the biggest shake-up in the way the party is run since its foundation in 1918. Conference will formally vote on their adoption on Sunday.

As well as allowing "registered supporters" to vote in leadership ballots which are currently restricted to MPs, MEPs, unions and affiliated organisations, Mr Miliband wants to end the practice of multiple votes by individuals who are members of more than one of these groups.

He is also proposing to rewrite Clause One of Labour's constitution, which defines the party's purpose as being "to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour party", to add references to the aim of fighting for change in local communities.

The proposals have come up against some resistance within the unions and the Labour movement, and former leadership hopeful Michael Meacher today branded the way they are being introduced a "stitch-up".

Writing on the Left Futures website, Mr Meacher said the leadership was asking delegates to approve the whole Refounding Labour package in "a single take-it-or-leave-it vote" after a short debate in which few will have an opportunity to speak.

"Considering that 40 pages of amendments have been tabled and a 100-page revised rule book has been sent to delegates just four days before it is debated, this is not an intelligent or defensible way of re-launching a democratic party," he said.

Around 11,000 activists and 2,000 media are expected in Liverpool for the first Labour autumn conference ever held in the city, providing an estimated £15-£20 million boost to the local economy.

Party sources said that a conference Business Forum had attracted about 60 participants - double the 30 who attended last year in Manchester - while 350 will pay to attend a gala dinner.