Leading article: Miliband hits right note on inequality


Monday 07 November 2011 01:00

It is always refreshing when party leaders seem to really listen to voices coming from outside their own camp. That is why Ed Miliband should be commended for the warm words he has given in today's interview with this newspaper concerning the protest outside St Paul's.

"The interesting thing about St Paul's," the Labour leader says, "is that it reflects the feelings of millions of people that the economy and the country are not working for them."

This is correct, as well as a reminder that the subject of the protest never was the cathedral itself – though regrettably this became the main story – but the growing chasm in income between a privileged handful and what Mr Miliband terms the "squeezed middle".

The Labour leader is right to say that inequality in society "is centre stage" in a way that it has not been for decades. The Labour leader now needs to show where he wants to take this argument. In his interview he stresses that he is not floating some heady idea about abolishing capitalism. But after asserting that "a particular form of capitalism" is in crisis, he must expect to be questioned in greater detail about what he wishes to put in its place.

At the same time, Mr Miliband needs to be careful not to sound as if he is sounding the trumpet once more for some kind of class war. It is not a phrase that he uses. But the suggestion that the Prime Minister's privileged background makes him ipso facto incapable of addressing problems of inequality in society is getting close to it.

Labour has played with class war rhetoric before, only to back off when it became clear that the public did not warm to attacks on David Cameron's Etonian schooling. Now it sounds as if Mr Miliband is trying to mix the political with the personal again. He may calculate that the public will be more sympathetic to this kind of language today, as cuts and job losses bite and as the rest of us watch in disbelief while top directors walk off with huge pay rises. Possibly he is right to feel that the mood has changed. Still, he would be well advised to steer off the hoary subject of the Prime Minister's background and stick to his record in government.

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