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Ed Miliband speaks out on Occupy movement

The Labour leader says St Paul's protest reflects wider concerns over "irresponsible, predatory capi

In the New Statesman last month, our leader column called for Ed Miliband to engage with the protesters outside St Paul's Cathedral in London:

Haunted by the spectre of the 1980s -- when Labour was marginalised as a party of protest -- Ed Miliband has avoided engaging with the movement. But he should not miss the opportunity to channel its anger into a coherent political programme. As his deft response to the phone-hacking scandal demonstrated, there are gains to be made when the normal laws of politics are suspended . . . Mr Miliband was ridiculed for his division of businesses into "predators and producers" but his yearning for a better, more ethical capitalism is widely shared. (more here)

Today, the Labour leader has done exactly that. Unsurprisingly, he does not back the protesters directly, but instead outlines how he believes their concerns are reflected by wider society:

Certainly, few people struggling to makes ends meet and worried about what the future holds for their children will have either the time or the inclination to camp outside a cathedral. And many people will not agree with the demands or like the methods of the protesters. But they still present a challenge: to the church and to business -- and also to politics. The challenge is that they reflect a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run.

He goes on to identify high unemployment as the key challenge facing Britons, particularly young ones. There are some positive suggestions, as, after all, "the role of politicians is not to protest, but to find answers".

Miliband makes several concrete proposals of how he would talk to the "99 per cent". First, a tax on bank bonuses, then using the money saved by reversing Tory tax cuts for banks to reduce the maximum student tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000.

In a move that will play well with the Daily Mail -- and fits his "squeezed middle" rhetoric -- Miliband promises to reduce fuel bills by "break[ing] up the rigged market of the energy cartel so that new competitors can drive prices down". (David Cameron has also identified this as an important issue with voters: in October, he summoned representatives of the "big six" energy firms to a Whitehall meeting.)