Miliband sharpens his message

The five key points from Miliband's Today programme interview this morning.

Ed Miliband's interview on the Today programme this morning was an important coda to yesterday's speech. Here are five points that jumped out at me.

1. The centre ground has moved itself

I've previously written that Miliband is attempting to shift the centre ground to the left, just as Thatcher shifted it to the right. But it's now clear that he believes the centre has moved itself. He told Jim Naughtie: "We are going to be firmly in the middle ground of politics, but the middle ground is changing.

"The idea that you shouldn't have responsibility at the top of society - it is not a left-wing thing to say that there should be responsibility. It is absolutely in the middle ground."

I think Miliband is right but there's no guarantee that Labour will be the beneficiary of this leftwards shift.

2. A new age of state activism

Miliband rejects the policy defeatism of the last decade, the belief that, in Thatcher's words, "you can't buck the market". He vowed that free markets would no longer "land from outer space" and that the state would change the rules to encourage better practice. His pledge that government contracts would only be given to firms that hire apprentices is the clearest example of this.

Rather than distinguishing between good companies and bad companies as he did yesterday (a stance that smacks of the government "picking winners"), Miliband now emphasises that he is talking about "different business practices."

In a better soundbite than any he delivered yesterday, he said that he was "not anti business" but "anti business as usual."

3. Agreement with Vince Cable

After his rhetorical barbs against Nick Clegg, Miliband noted a rare point of agreement with a Lib Dem minister. He said he supported Vince Cable's attempts to control executive pay: "I agree with some of what he said that, for example, there should be far greater transparency about what companies do, that shareholders should vote on remuneration packages before they are agreed."

4. The limits of public spending

In an admission that was missing from yesterday's speech, Miliband said that social justice would not be achieved through higher public spending, a clear dividing line with Gordon Brown.

"For the Labour Party ... spending is not going to be the way that we achieve social justice in the next decade," he said. "[U]nless you reform our economy, unless we find ways of tackling those issues, unless you get that political economy right we're not going to get the change we want to see."

The biggest problem is that 11 million low-to-middle earners have seen no rise in their real incomes since 2003, as less of what our economy produces has been paid out in wages - and more in profits. The diagnosis is clear but the prescription is not. In time, Miliband will have to offer solutions.

5. Substance will win out

In response to the focus group finding that voters see him as "weird" (discussed by Jonathan Freedland in his column today), Miliband insisted that substance would win out over style. "[T]he times are too serious, the issues are too grave, for us to say well, you know ... it's not about substance, it is about substance. It is absolutely about substance, the problems our country faces are so serious that actually the substance matters."

One was reminded of Gordon Brown's assertion that he was "a serious man for serious times". In an age of presidential politics, Miliband's wager is that his unflashy brand of social democracy will prevail. His fate - and that of Labour - depends on him being right.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Unite stewards urge members to back Owen Smith

In a letter to Unite members, the officials have called for a vote for the longshot candidate.

29 Unite officials have broken ranks and thrown their weight behind Owen Smith’s longshot bid for the Labour leadership in an open letter to their members.

The officials serve as stewards, conveners and negotiators in Britain’s aerospace and shipbuilding industries, and are believed in part to be driven by Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to the nuclear deterrent and defence spending more generally.

In the letter to Unite members, who are believed to have been signed up in large numbers to vote in the Labour leadership race, the stewards highlight Smith’s support for extra funding in the NHS and his vision for an industrial strategy.

Corbyn was endorsed by Unite, Labour's largest affliated union and the largest trades union in the country, following votes by Unite's ruling executive committee and policy conference. 

Although few expect the intervention to have a decisive role in the Labour leadership, regarded as a formality for Corbyn, the opposition of Unite workers in these industries may prove significant in Len McCluskey’s bid to be re-elected as general secretary of Unite.

 

The full letter is below:

Britain needs a Labour Government to defend jobs, industry and skills and to promote strong trade unions. As convenors and shop stewards in the manufacturing, defence, aerospace and energy sectors we believe that Owen Smith is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party in opposition and in government.

Owen has made clear his support for the industries we work in. He has spelt out his vision for an industrial strategy which supports great British businesses: investing in infrastructure, research and development, skills and training. He has set out ways to back British industry with new procurement rules to protect jobs and contracts from being outsourced to the lowest bidder. He has demanded a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations to defend trade union and workers’ rights. Defending manufacturing jobs threatened by Brexit must be at the forefront of the negotiations. He has called for the final deal to be put to the British people via a second referendum or at a general election.

But Owen has also talked about the issues which affect our families and our communities. Investing £60 billion extra over 5 years in the NHS funded through new taxes on the wealthiest. Building 300,000 new homes a year over 5 years, half of which should be social housing. Investing in Sure Start schemes by scrapping the charitable status of private schools. That’s why we are backing Owen.

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. We cannot ignore reality – we need to be radical but we also need to be credible – capable of winning the support of the British people. We need an effective Opposition and we need a Labour Government to put policies into practice that will defend our members’ and their families’ interests. That’s why we are backing Owen.

Steve Hibbert, Convenor Rolls Royce, Derby
Howard Turner, Senior Steward, Walter Frank & Sons Limited
Danny Coleman, Branch Secretary, GE Aviation, Wales
Karl Daly, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Nigel Stott, Convenor, BASSA, British Airways
John Brough, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
John Bennett, Site Convenor, Babcock Marine, Devonport, Plymouth
Kevin Langford, Mechanical Convenor, Babcock, Devonport, Plymouth
John McAllister, Convenor, Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services
Garry Andrews, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Sunderland
Steve Froggatt, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Jim McGivern, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Alan Bird, Chairman & Senior Rep, Rolls Royce, Derby
Raymond Duguid, Convenor, Babcock, Rosyth
Steve Duke, Senior Staff Rep, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
Paul Welsh, Works Convenor, Brush Electrical Machines, Loughborough
Bob Holmes, Manual Convenor, BAE Systems, Warton, Lancs
Simon Hemmings, Staff Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Mick Forbes, Works Convenor, GKN, Birmingham
Ian Bestwick, Chief Negotiator, Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby
Mark Barron, Senior Staff Rep, Pallion, Sunderland
Ian Hodgkison, Chief Negotiator, PCO, Rolls Royce
Joe O’Gorman, Convenor, BAE Systems, Maritime Services, Portsmouth
Azza Samms, Manual Workers Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Dave Thompson, Staff Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Tim Griffiths, Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Paul Blake, Convenor, Princess Yachts, Plymouth
Steve Jones, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol
Colin Gosling, Senior Rep, Siemens Traffic Solutions, Poole

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.