Ed Miliband sells ‘fairer’ Britain to voters


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The Independent Online

From freezing energy prices, to capping rent rises, to today’s pledge on increasing the minimum wage, Ed Miliband is now clearly articulating his vision of how a future “Labour Britain” would look. And for the electorate going to the polls next May, the ideological divide between the two main parties competing to win power is perhaps greater than at any time in the last three decades.

Mr Miliband is making it clear that he wants a far more interventionist state that uses to levers of Government to reduce inequality and redistribute wealth.

Take low pay. The job of setting the national minimum wage is currently the responsibility of the Low Pay Commission – an independent body made up of representatives of business, unions and academics.

Ministers can make suggestions but no more. That was illustrated recently when George Osborne hinted in January that the minimum wage could safely be raised to around £7 an hour by 2015 without damaging the economic recovery. Yet a month later the Commission recommended that the rate should increase by just 3 per cent in October to £6.50.

Now Mr Miliband is proposing that Labour would set a five-year target to significantly increase the minimum wage in relation to annual growth in earnings.

The Commission’s job would no longer be to independently decide how much minimum wages should rise by – but to implement the Government’s plan.

The policy represents a very significant change in the status quo. But Mr Miliband believes that, after the financial crisis, there is a public appetite for the Government to intervene much more in markets to promote equality than would ever have been countenanced by Tony Blair or even Gordon Brown.

And he thinks that pledging to use the power of the state to create what he calls a “fairer society” will appeal to voters.

The Conservatives do not agree. They say Labour’s new policies will damage growth, stifle innovation and put people out of work. They believe lower taxes and less Government regulation is the road to prosperity for all.

Two very different visions. One intriguing election.