Miliband has brought together living standards and responsible capitalism

The Labour leader argued convincingly that the cost-of-living crisis is the direct result of the deep structural faults in the economy.

There was plenty of politics in Ed Miliband’s speech this morning. The Labour leader has an election to win and banker bashing isn’t going out of fashion any time soon. But the speech was also a serious attempt to bring together the twin tracks of Labour’s economic thinking, which have in the past seemed a little too distant.

By arguing that the cost-of-living crisis is the direct result of the deep structural faults in the economy Miliband made a jump from short-term pressures on family finances to the prospect of long-term decline and insecurity. He brought together the micro-economics of living standards with an argument for a structural, macro-economic reordering.

The case for rebalancing, not just a resumption of growth, is now compelling. Next month a Fabian Society research report weighs up the positive and negative signals emerging from the recovery. On the plus side, growth is of course better than no growth, and the labour market has brought genuine good news. But most of the indicators suggests a deeply-skewed recovery which won’t deliver sustainable, broadly-shared prosperity any time soon: business investment and productivity are flat; household savings are falling and housing is becoming less affordable; real median earnings are not yet growing; and poverty and inequality are on the rise.

In his speech, Miliband talked about business investment, skills and the changing nature of jobs. So Labour is making a serious attempt to respond to these structural faults with long-term structural solutions, not just election-day bungs.

Now the party has to sign-up to market interventions which will move the needle on the big macro-economic indicators, and without costing too much public money. To make a difference on this larger scale it takes a lot of micro-economic interventions (the clue is in the name). So Labour needs to leap-frog the Chancellor's intervention on the minimum wage and promise a slew of similarly radical policies.

The story continues next weekend when Ed Balls makes his first big speech of the year at the Fabian New Year Conference. Balls has sometimes been portrayed as somewhat detached from Miliband’s agenda for economic reform. However, in his interview with the New Statesman earlier this month, the shadow chancellor talked of the economic task being to deliver more balanced growth.

The more Miliband makes "responsible capitalism" sound like it’s really about the economic fundamentals of investment, earnings, productivity and inequality, the more he and the shadow chancellor are likely to be at one. Labour will not be able to sell its economic story with only one Ed. Next week is Balls’s chance to pick up the baton.

Ed Balls will be speaking at the Fabian New Year conference on 25 January www.fabians.org.uk

Ed Miliband visits the Five Points Brewing Company in Hackney after delivering his speech on banking reform this morning. Photograph: Getty Images.

Andrew Harrop is general secretary of the Fabian Society.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.