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.

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.