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.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser