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.