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 NS, we'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."
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