Ed Miliband's Labour Q&A: 10 highlights

Labour leader says he will attend anti-austerity march on 20 October.

A jacketless Ed Miliband, evidently buoyed by the media response to his speech, breezed his way through this afternoon's Q&A session with Labour delegates. Here are ten notable points from it.

1. Miliband reaffirms his green credentials

After criticism over his failure to mention the environment in yesterday's speech, the former Climate Change Secretary sought to reaffirm his green credentials. He attacked George Osborne's belief that "you can either have a good environment or a good economy", adding: "I don't know what planet future Osbornes are planning to live on".

Elsewhere, he said that he was angered that the aviation debate was dominated by economic considerations, rather than environmental ones. If the UK was to meet its legally-binding commitment to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, aviation had to "play its role".

2. "Comrades"

Evidently convinced that he's seen off the "Red Ed" jibes, Miliband twice addressed delegates in the traditional socialist manner - "comrades".

3. Miliband will attend anti-cuts demo

To cheers from delegates, Miliband confirmed that he would attend the TUC's anti-austerity march on 20 October.

4. Living wage: "not a panacea"

While promising to work to ensure that more employers pay the living wage, Miliband emphasised that it was not "a panacea".

"It doesn't solve the problem, it will just make a difference over and above the minimum wage," he said.

He promised to consider whether government contractors should be legally obliged to pay the living wage but added that fiscal constraints meant this may not be feasible.

5. Rejects free schools

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has promised that Labour will support free schools provided they meet certain tests, but Miliband cited them as an example of where the coalition was going wrong, suggesting that they are, by definition, a negative development.

6. On Trident: "I'm not a unilateralist"

Invited to support nuclear disarmament, Miliband replied that he was not a "unilateralist" but a "multilateralist" (a stance that will likely disappoint his mother, an early CND activist). The government should aim to retain the "minimum deterrent" required for security purposes, he said.

7. Supports votes at 16

Miliband confirmed his support for lowering the voting age and argued that the government would have reconsidered its decision to abolish the Educational Maintenance Allowance were 16-year-olds were able to vote.

8. Opposes Labour candidates in Northern Ireland

While he wished Labour members standing for election in Northern Ireland well, Miliband said that he feared it would compromise the British government's status as an "honest broker".

9. Reassurance on public sector pay freeze

Miliband emphasised the need for pay restraint in the public sector but sought to reassure delegates by stating that he "was not talking about the next parliament". He added that Labour would not implement the 1% pay cap in the same way as the government, there would be more discrimination.

10. Who will win the election

Seeking to frame the 2015 election campaign, Miliband said that the winner would be the party that "unites, rather than divides, Britain".

Ed Miliband answers questions from delegates at the Labour Party conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Brussels can learn from the Italian referendum

Matteo Renzi's proposed reforms would have made it easier for eurosceptic forces within Italy to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

The Austrian presidential elections can justifiably be claimed as a victory for supporters of the European Union. But the Italian referendum is not the triumph for euroscepticism some have claimed.

In Austria, the victorious candidate Alexander van der Bellen ruthlessly put the EU centre stage in his campaign. “From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” he said after a campaign that saw posters warning against “Öxit”.

Austrians have traditionally been eurosceptic, only joining the bloc in 1995, but Brexit changed all that.  Austrian voters saw the instability in the UK and support for EU membership soared. An overwhelming majority now back continued membership.

Van der Bellen’s opponent Norbert Hofer was at an immediate disadvantage. His far right Freedom Party has long pushed for an Öxit referendum.

The Freedom Party has claimed to have undergone a Damascene conversion but voters were not fooled.  They even blamed Nigel Farage for harming their chances with an interview he gave to Fox News claiming that the party would push to leave the EU.

The European Commission, as one would expect, hailed the result. “Europe was central in the campaign that led to the election of a new president and the final result speaks for itself,” chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said today in Brussels.

“We think the referendum in Italy was about a change to the Italian constitution and not about Europe,” Schinas added.

Brussels has a history of sticking its head in the sand when it gets political results it doesn’t like.

When asked what lessons the Commission could learn from Brexit, Schinas had said the lessons to be learnt were for the government that called the referendum.

But in this case, the commission is right. The EU was a peripheral issue compared to domestic politics in the Italian referendum.

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and an Italian. He said the reforms would have been vital to modernise Italy but rejected any idea it would lead to an Italian Brexit.

“While anti-establishment and eurosceptic actors are likely to emerge emboldened from the vote, interpreting the outcome of the Italian referendum as the next stage of Europe’s populist, anti-establishment movement – as many mainstream journalists have done – is not only factually wrong, but also far-fetched.”

Renzi was very popular in Brussels after coming to power in a palace coup in February 2014. He was a pro-EU reformer, who seemed keen to engage in European politics.

After the Brexit vote, he was photographed with Merkel and Hollande on the Italian island of Ventotene, where a landmark manifesto by the EU’s founding fathers was written.

This staged communion with the past was swiftly forgotten as Renzi indulged in increasingly virulent Brussels-bashing over EU budget flexibility in a bid to shore up his plummeting popularity. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even publicly reprimanded Renzi for demonising the EU.

Renzi’s vow to resign personalised the referendum. He gave voters a chance to give him a bloody nose when his popularity was at an all-time low.

Some of the reforms he wanted were marked “to be confirmed”.  The referendum question was astonishingly verbose and complex. He was asking for a blank cheque from the voters.

Ironically Renzi’s reforms to the constitution and senate would have made it easier for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

For reasons best known to themselves, they campaigned against the changes to their own disadvantage.

Thanks to the reforms, a Five Star government would have found it far easier to push through a “Quitaly” referendum, which now seems very distant.  

As things stand, Five Star has said it would push for an advisory vote on membership of the euro but not necessarily the EU.

The Italian constitution bans the overruling of international treaties by popular vote, so Five Star would need to amend the constitution. That would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and then another referendum on euro membership. Even that could be blocked by one of the country’s supreme courts.

The Italian referendum was closely watched in Brussels. It was hailed as another triumph for euroscepticism by the likes of Farage and Marine Le Pen. But Italians are far more likely to be concerned about the possibility of financial turbulence, which has so far been mildly volatile, than any prospect of leaving the EU in the near future.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv.com.