Ed Miliband: tough on parasites

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the Labour leader talks about reforming capitalism - and practises a little pest control.

Today's Daily Telegraph carries an interview with Ed Miliband, written by former editor Charles Moore. In it, the Labour leader expands on one of the themes he explored in the New Statesman last week: his plan to "remake capitalism".

He tells Moore:

'I am now much clearer than I was two years ago about the depth of change we need. . . Tony and Gordon were products of their historical circumstances.’ They had to break with the past, but in the process, New Labour became too credulous about business: 'The consensus around regulation ['light touch’] turned out to be really problematic.’ The project became 'too easy and accepting’ about globalisation: 'It’s just not true that all the top CEOs will leave the country unless we pay them whatever they demand’.

The interview picks up on some concrete policy proposals: there is a "strong case" for making takeovers more difficult, and ordinary employees should be represented on the committees which decide executive pay. Miliband also believes that there are too few banks and that the "big six" energy companies have a stranglehold on supply. He adds that wealth is created by "the private sector working with the government. We shouldn't be ashamed of wanting an industrial policy".

Miliband is careful to reassure Telegraph readers that a top 50% tax rate is the limit for him and that it's fine to be rich "if you make it the hard way".

He also manages to swat a mosquito which has settled on Charles Moore's shoulder:

With a commanding show of decision, Mr Miliband squashes it, spattering its remarkably copious blood over my light grey suit. So that’s how he deals with capitalist parasites.

Perhaps he's been taking tips from Barack Obama:

 

Ed Miliband: "It's just not true that CEOs will leave unless we pay them whatever they demand". Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.