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.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.