Miliband goes on the attack as he compares Cameron to Thatcher and Romney

Labour leader will say in his TUC speech that Cameron's declaration that trade unions are a "threat to our economy" was reminiscent of Thatcher's "the enemy within" and Romney's "47%".

After weeks of increasingly visceral abuse from the Conservatives, Ed Miliband has decided that attack is the best form of defence. In his speech to the TUC tomorrow, Miliband will use some of the strongest language we've heard from him in an extended assault on David Cameron. After Cameron described trade unions as a "threat to the economy", he will accuse the PM of reviving memories of Margaret Thatcher's notorious description of the miners as "the enemy within" and will compare him to Mitt Romney, who memorably dismissed "the 47%" of the US electorate who would never vote for him.

In a return to the "one nation" theme of his 2012 conference speech, he will also argue that past Conservative leaders such as Benjamin Disraeli would be "turning in their graves if they could hear the nasty, divisive, small-minded rhetoric of the leader of their once great party." Here's the full extract:

They [one nation Tories] knew the Conservative Party had to represent the whole country. They couldn’t write off whole swathes of people if they were to be worthy of governing Britain. It seems extraordinary to have to even talk about this historical lesson. But I do.

We have a Prime Minister, who writes you and your members off. Who doesn’t just write you off, but oozes contempt for you from every pore. What does he say about you? He says your members are a “threat to our economy”. Back to the enemy within.

Six and a half million people in Britain. Who teach our children, who look after the sick, who care for the elderly, who build our homes, who keep our shops open morning, noon and night. They’re not the enemy within. They’re the people who make Britain what it is.

How dare he? How dare he insult people, members of trade unions as he does? How dare he write off whole sections of our society? One Nation Conservatives, would be turning in their graves if they could hear the nasty, divisive, small-minded rhetoric of the leader of their once great party.

We know from recent experience what happens to political leaders who write off whole sections of a country. That’s what Mitt Romney did when he talked about the 47% of people who would never vote for him. And look what happened to him. Friends, my job is to make sure that’s what happens to David Cameron as well.

I expect Conservatives will respond by pointing out that Cameron was referring to the threat of a general strike, rather than to trade unions per se. He said at Prime Minister's Questions on 12 September 2012: "the trade unions provide a threat to our economy. Since the right hon. Member for Doncaster North became leader of the Labour party, it has received £12 million from the three unions that are now threatening a general strike. They threatened a strike to stop our fuel supplies; they threatened a strike to disrupt the Olympics; now they threaten a strike to wreck the economy. When the right hon. Gentleman stands up, I think it is time for him to say that he will take no more money from the unions while they make this threat."

But if Cameron wishes to avoid appearing to hold all trade unionists in contempt (as he often does), he could do worse than take up Renewal director David Skelton's proposal of offering free Conservative membership to union members. Skelton, whose new group is seeking to expand the Tories' appeal among working class and ethnic minority voters, wisely warned today: "Conservatives should be careful not to put off instinctively conservative union members through over-zealous anti-union rhetoric. Treating all trade unionists as some kind of ‘red under the bed’ threat is neither credible nor likely to make union members more willing to listen to the Conservative message."

Elsewhere in the speech, Miliband makes a principled defence of his plan to reform the Labour-union link so that trade union members are required to opt-in to donating to the party, rather than being automatically affiliated by general secretaries. He will say:

Some people ask: what’s wrong with the current system? Let me tell them: we have three million working men and women affiliated to our party. But the vast majority play no role in our party. They are affiliated in name only. That wasn’t the vision of the founders of our party. I don’t think it’s your vision either. And it’s certainly not my vision.

That’s why I want to make each and every affiliated trade union member a real part of their local party, making a real choice to be a part of our party so they can have a real voice in it.

This is an historic opportunity to begin bringing people back into the decisions which affect their lives. It means we could become a Labour party not of 200,000 people, but 500,000, or many more. A party rooted every kind of workplace in the country, a party rooted in every community in the country, a genuine living, breathing movement.

Of course, it is a massive challenge. It will be a massive challenge for the Labour Party to reach out to your members in a way that we have not done for many years and persuade them to be part of what we do. And like anything that is hard it is a risk. But the bigger risk is just saying let’s do it as we have always done it.

It is you who have been telling me year after year about a politics that is detached from the lives of working people. We need to build a party truly rooted in the lives of all the working people of Britain once more.

That’s why we must have the courage to change. I respect those who worry about change. I understand. But I disagree. It is the right thing to do.

Change can happen. Change must happen. And I am absolutely determined that this change will happen. It is the only way to build a truly One Nation party so we can build a One Nation country.

The policy meat of the speech, as I wrote this morning, is Miliband's plan to end the "exploitative" use of zero-hour contracts. He will ban employers from forcing workers to be available even when there is no guarantee of work, pledge to outlaw employers from requiring workers to work exclusively for one business, and promise to give anyone working for a single employer for more than 12 weeks on a zero-hours contract the automatic right to a full-time contract based on the average time worked over that period.

Miliband will say: "We need flexibility. But we must stop flexibility being used as the excuse for exploitation. Exploitation which leaves workers carrying all of the burdens of unpredictable hours, irregular pay, no security for the future.

"Of course, there are some kinds of these contracts which are useful. For doctors, or supply teachers at schools, or sometimes, young people working in bars. But you and I know that zero hours contracts have been terribly misused. This kind of exploitation has to stop. We will support those businesses and workers that want to get on in life. But we will ban practices which lead to people being ground down."

After spending the summer telling voters how badly off they are under the coalition, this is the start of a gear change that will see Miliband outline how voters would be better off under Labour.

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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