Miliband's plan to crackdown on zero-hour contracts is the start of Labour's gear change

After spending the summer telling voters how badly off they are under the coalition, Miliband plans to spend the autumn outlining how they would be better off under Labour.

Labour spent much of the summer telling voters how badly off they were under the coalition. Real wages had fallen in 37 of David Cameron's 38 months in power (the exception being April 2013 when deferred bank bonuses were paid out to benefit from the cut in the top rate of tax), making Cameron the worst prime minister for living standards in history. Youth unemployment and long term unemployment remained at near-record levels, with millions of others trapped in part-time or temporary work, or on zero-hour contracts.

But if Labour is to win the election, it won't be enough to convince voters that they're poorer under the Tories. It will also need to convince them that they'd be better off under Labour. In the 2012 US election, Mitt Romney similarly resurrected Ronald Reagan's famous line - "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" - but the electorate stuck with Obama because the numbers were moving in the right direction and they doubted Romney could do any better. The Tories hope and expect UK voters will take the same view of Labour in 2015.

It's for this reason that party activists and MPs have been so desperate for Ed Miliband to fill the policy vacuum. In his speech tomorrow at the TUC conference, Miliband will start to do so, offering voters concrete examples of how they would benefit from a Labour government.

After highlighting research over the summer showing that around a million workers are employed on zero-hour contracts, which offer no guaranteed work and require workers to be permanently on-call, Miliband will outline clear measures to prevent the exploitative use of the contracts, effectively outlawing them in their present form. 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.”

With his proposals, Miliband has smartly pre-empted the conclusions of the review currently being led by Vince Cable into zero-hours and has addressed an issue of increasing concern to voters, particularly the young. A YouGov poll in August found that 56% of people (including 71% of Labour voters) "support a ban on zero-hour contracts", with just 25% opposed. 

The test of Miliband's conference speech, the theme of which will be the cost of living crisis, will be whether he can offer convincing solutions to the other problems the party has highlighted: the wage squeeze, the housing crisis and soaring energy costs. Between now and 2015, this is likely to mean pledges to build a million affordable homes, to create living wage zones (and make its use mandatory in the public sector), to abolish the bedroom tax and to introduce free universal childcare for pre-school children. How much of this makes it into Miliband's speech remains uncertain, but with today's announcements, the Labour leader's gear-change has begun. 

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on reforming the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London on 10 July. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Sadiq Khan is probably London's new mayor - what will happen in a Tooting by-election?

There will be a by-election in the new mayor's south London seat.

At the time of writing, Sadiq Khan appears to have a fairly comfortable lead over Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election. Which means (at least) two (quite) interesting things are likely to happen: 1) Sadiq Khan is going to be mayor, and 2) there is going to be a by-election in Tooting.

Unlike the two parliamentary by-elections in Ogmore and Sheffield that Labour won at a canter last night, the south London seat of Tooting is a genuine marginal. The Conservatives have had designs on the seat since at least 2010, when the infamous ‘Tatler Tory’, Mark Clarke, was the party’s candidate. Last May, Khan narrowly increased his majority over the Tories, winning by almost 3,000 votes with a majority of 5.3 per cent. With high house prices pushing London professionals further out towards the suburbs, the seat is gentrifying, making Conservatives more positive about the prospect of taking the seat off Labour. No government has won a by-election from an opposition party since the Conservative Angela Rumbold won Mitcham and Morden from a Labour-SDP defector in June 1982. In a nice parallel, that seat borders Tooting.

Of course, the notion of a Tooting by-election will not come as a shock to local Conservatives, however much hope they invested in a Goldsmith mayoral victory. Unusually, the party’s candidate from the general election, Dan Watkins, an entrepreneur who has lived in the area for 15 years, has continued to campaign in the seat since his defeat, styling himself as the party’s “parliamentary spokesman for Tooting”. It would be a big surprise if Watkins is not re-anointed as the candidate for the by-election.

What of the Labour side? For some months, those on the party’s centre-left have worried with varying degrees of sincerity that Ken Livingstone may see the by-election as a route back into Parliament. Having spent the past two weeks muttering conspiratorially about the relationship between early 20th-Century German Jews and Adolf Hitler before having his Labour membership suspended, that possibility no longer exists.

Other names talked about include: Rex Osborn, leader of the Labour group on Wandsworth Council; Simon Hogg, who is Osborn’s deputy; Rosena Allin-Khan, an emergency medicine doctor who also deputises for Osborn; Will Martindale, who was Labour’s defeated candidate in Battersea last year; and Jayne Lim, who was shortlisted earlier in the year for the Sheffield Brightside selection and used to practise as a doctor at St George’s hospital in Tooting.

One thing that any new Labour MP would have to contend with is the boundary review reporting in 2018, which will reduce the number of London constituencies by 5. This means that a new Tooting MP could quickly find themselves pitched in a selection fight for a new constituency with their neighbours Siobhan McDonagh, who currently holds Mitcham and Morden, and/or Chuka Umunna, who is the MP for Streatham. 

According to the Sunday Times, Labour is planning to hold the by-election as quickly as possible, perhaps even before the EU referendum on June 23rd.

It's also worth noting that, as my colleague Anoosh Chakelian reported in March, George Galloway plans to stand as well.

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.