Labour should be "reformers of the state", says Miliband

In his first major interview since becoming Labour leader, Ed Miliband promises "profound" reform to

Nearly two months after becoming Labour leader, Ed Miliband has given his first major interview to the Guardian.

In it, he promises to launch the "long, hard road" back to power with profound change to the Labour Party and a focus on inequality. A commission on party organisation will be launched this weekend, examining the role of the unions and the rules under which he was elected leader. Amid stories of in-fighting and apparent public disagreement from the shadow chancellor Alan Johnson over university funding and the top rate of tax, Miliband responds to the criticism that he has been too inactive since becoming leader, and reaffirms his support for the 50p tax rate.

On the slow start

It's about digging in, and it's not about short-term fixes, nor shortcuts to success. There is a long, hard road for us to travel.

On the deficit

I don't agree with what the Tories say about us overspending. They are on a mission and we know what their mission is and we have got to take them on. Their mission is to say 'This deficit is not the result of an international banking crisis, it is the result of a crisis in government'.

On the 50p tax rate

[Asked if the 50p rate was simply necessary to cut the deficit] No, it's about statement about values and fairness and about the kind of society you believe in and it's important to me.

One of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning and that I care about is that Britain is a fundamentally unequal society and that's the reason I said what I said about the 50p rate.

On the role of the state

I think it's very clear that as we are reformers of the market -- we should also need to be reformers of the state. I don't consider myself a sort of statist. The top-down idea of the state is as much of a problem as an idealised view of the market and in a way they have their similarities. Both treat people not as people but as kind of objects.

On reforming Labour

I am talking about change as profound as the change New Labour brought because the world itself has changed massively, and we did not really change fundamentally as a party, or come to terms with the changes, and have not done so since 1994.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.