Ed Miliband's speech on the economy: five key points

The Labour leader adapts Obama's "growing from the middle out" and calls for a "recovery made by the many, not just a few".

Ed Miliband will head to Bedford today to deliver the major speech on the economy that I first reported on The Staggers earlier this week, followed by a joint Q&A with Ed Balls at a training centre. 

It's unclear whether the speech will contain any new tax or spending commitments (although Jon Cruddas promised Newsnight last night that it would feature "a major, substantive piece of economic policy"), it will, according to pre-released extracts from Labour, offer "a choice between two different visions of our economy". 

"The Conservative vision of a race to the bottom in wages and skills, rewarding those at the very top but leaving everyone else squeezed as never before. Or the One Nation Labour vision." In an interview in today's Guardian, Miliband elaborates on this theme.

So, ahead of the speech at 10:45, here are five of the key points from the pre-released extracts and the interview. 

1. You've never had it so bad

Miliband's decision to make the speech in Bedford is an allusion to Harold Macmillan's famous 1957 address in the same town in which the Conservative prime minister declared: "you've never had it so good". 

Today, the Labour leader will say, millions across Britain fear "they will never have it so good again". 

Small businesses are working harder than ever before. People are working harder than ever before. But for far too many, wages are falling and prices are rising.

"Far from feeling they have never had it so good, millions across Britain today fear 'they will never have it so good again'. The question that people ask me the most is 'how do we turn this round?'"

It this bleak outlook - the Resolution Foundation reported yesterday that living standards will not return to pre-recession levels until at least 2023 - that will shape Miliband's policy priorities. 

2. Policy without a price tag

With less money around to spend and Labour wisely holding back its tax and spending commitments until the state of the public finances is clear, Miliband will outline alternative means of building a fairer economy and society. Returning to the territory of "predistribution" (although probably without using that word), he will say that a Labour government would take action to:

- "break the stranglehold of the big six energy suppliers

- stop the train company price rip-offs on the most popular routes

- introduce new rules to stop unfair bank charges

- cap interest on payday loans."

3. Miliband channels Obama: "growing from the middle out"

At yesterday's PMQs, Miliband channelled Ronald Reagan, asking David Cameron his own version of the US President's famous question to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential debate: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" 

"At the end of the parliament, will living standards be higher or lower than they were at the beginning?", Miliband asked the PM.

In his Guardian interview, Miliband borrows from another US President, Barack Obama, and offers his account of what Obama calls "growing the economy from the middle out". He says: 

"We need a recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top. A recovery made by building, not squeezing, the middle. The government's economic strategy consists of squeezing the middle further, a race to the bottom and trickle down from the top."

Miliband notes that past recoveries have been driven by the middle class. 

"Henry Ford used to say: 'I have to pay my workers enough so they can buy the cars they are producing.' There was a British equivalent in relation to Macmillan: the houses were built, but people had the wages to buy or rent the houses."

4. Mansion tax: we're looking into it

Asked by the Guardian whether he will adopt a version of Vince Cable's "mansion tax", Miliband replies: "We have said we will look at the idea of mansion tax. Ed Balls was right to say that and we have said we would work with the government to make it happen."

The confirmation that Labour is exploring a mansion tax as part of its policy review is encouraging. Here at the NSwe've long argued that the burden of taxation should be shifted from income towards wealth and assets (see NS editor Jason Cowley's 2010 cover story on the subject). Wealth taxes are harder to avoid than those on income (even the most determined tax avoider cannot move his or her mansion to Geneva), are progressive (wealth is even more unequally distributed than income), and benefit the economy by shifting investment away from unproductive assets and towards wealth-creating industries. For the psephologically minded, it's also worth noting that they're popular. A Sunday Times/YouGov poll found that 63 per cent of the public (including 56 per cent of Tories) support a mansion tax, with just 27 per cent opposed.

5. Cameron's "global race" is a "race to the bottom"

Ever since his address at last year's Conservative conference, no David Cameron speech or interview has been complete without a reference to "the global race" facing Britain. But Miliband will denounce the Prime Minister's vision as one defined by a "race to the bottom". 

"David Cameron talks about a global race. And it is essential that we can compete with China and India and others. But I have to tell you, Britain won't win a race to the bottom by competing in the world as a low skill, low wage economy.

"We were promised that we could have growth and a lower deficit. In fact, we've had almost no growth and the deficit is rising again. But David Cameron's failure is not simply a failure of economic management or judgement. It is a failure to understand how wealth is created and an economy succeeds.

"We cannot go on with an approach that simply promises more of the same: year after year of squeezed living standards for the majority of working people. Because it's wrong for them and because it's wrong for our economy."

Ed Miliband will call for "a recovery made by the many, not just a few" in his speech on the economy in Bedford. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

A protest in 2016. Getty
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Fewer teachers, more pupils and no more money. Schools are struggling

With grammars and universal school meals, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking.

If you ask people in Britain what the ­biggest political issues are, schools don’t make the top five. Yet last week Labour set its first party political broadcast in a fictional classroom where a teacher described Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for schools’ future. Without a Labour government, the teacher opines, there will be no more libraries, or teachers, or school trips. Though the scenario is a flagrant breach of the law – teachers must remain politically impartial – education isn’t a bad place for Labour to start its campaign. Schools really are quite screwed.

Three things are hitting hard. Schools have less money, fewer people want to be teachers, and an avalanche of under-sevens is hitting the playgrounds and won’t stop for several more years.

How did we get here? In 2015 the Conservatives pledged to keep school funding at the same rate per pupil over the lifetime of the parliament. Yet while the money coming in has remained flat, schools have faced huge hikes in costs, particularly staffing. Big increases in mandatory pension contributions and National Insurance have taken their toll; so has the apprenticeship levy. The
Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that all told, schools will have lost about 8 per cent of their budget by 2020. That’s £3bn of savings that must be found. Or, more bluntly, the starting salaries of 100,000 teachers.

It is worth remembering at this point how huge the schools sector is and how many people are affected. About half a million teachers work in the 20,000-plus state schools. A further 300,000 people work in allied professions. There are eight million children and an estimated 12 million parents. Lump in their grandparents, and it’s fair to say that about 20 million voters are affected by schools in one way or another.

The budget squeeze is leading many of these schools to drastic measures: firing teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting music from the curriculum, charging parents for their child’s place on a sports team, dropping transport provision, and so on. Begging letters to parents for donations have become commonplace; some have asked for contributions of up to £60 a month.

On top of money worries, teachers are abandoning the profession. In 2015, an additional 18,000 went to work in international schools – more than were trained at universities over the same year. They joined the 80,000 teachers already working in British schools abroad, attracted by higher pay and better working conditions.

Graduates are also snubbing teaching. With starting salaries increasing at less than 1 per cent a year since 2010, new teachers are now paid about 20 per cent less than the average graduate trainee. Changes to higher education are also such that trainees must now pay £9,000 in order to gain their teaching qualification through a university. The government has missed its target for teacher trainees for five years now, and there is no coherent plan for hitting it.

No money and no teachers is less of a problem if you are in a demographic dip. We had a bizarrely low birth rate at the turn of the century, so we currently have a historically small proportion of teens. Unfortunately, the generation just behind them, of seven-year-olds and under, is enormous. Why? Because the “baby echoers”, born in the 1970s to the baby boomers, had children a bit later than their parents. Add to that the children recently born to immigrants who arrived in their twenties when the European Union expanded in the early 2000s, and Britain is facing an El Niño of toddlers. By 2025 a million extra children will be in the school system than in 2010.

To keep on top of the boom the government has been creating schools like a Tasmanian devil playing Minecraft. But 175,000 more places will be needed in the next three years. That’s the equivalent of one new secondary school per week from now until 2020.

In fairness, the government and councils have put aside money for additional buildings, and roughly the same number of parents are getting their first-choice school as before. The free schools policy, which delivers new schools, has not always been well managed, but it is now more efficient and targeted. However, many more children combined with squeezed budgets and fewer teachers typically leads to bigger class sizes. Most classrooms were built to house 30 pupils. Exam results may not get worse, but no parent wants their child working on a makeshift desk improvised out of a windowsill.

Instead of addressing these challenges, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking. Theresa May wants more grammar schools, ostensibly because they will give more choice to parents – though these are the only schools that pick pupils, as opposed to the other way around. And she says they will aid social mobility, though all the evidence (and I really do mean all) suggests the opposite.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is offering free lunches to all seven-to-11-year-olds, which sounds worthy until you realise that children from low-income families already get free lunch, and that feeding every child a hot sit-down meal is virtually impossible, given the limited space and kitchen facilities in most schools. Plus, the evidence this £1bn policy would make any significant difference
to health or attainment is pretty sketchy. Labour has also sensibly talked about cash and promised to “fully fund” schools, but it isn’t clear what that means.

What’s missing so far from the Conservatives and Labour alike is a set of policies about teacher recruitment or place planning. The sector needs to know how schools will be built, and where the teachers will come from for the extra kids. In other words, the message to both sides is – must try harder.

Laura McInerney is the editor of Schools Week and a former teacher

Laura McInerney taught in East London for six years and is now studying on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Missouri. She also works as Policy Partner at LKMCo.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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