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.

CREDIT: CREATIVE COMMONS
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Prostate cancer research has had a £75m welcome boost. Now let’s treat another killer of men

Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women.

The opening months of 2018 have seen a flurry of activity in men’s health. In February, figures were published showing that the number of male patients dying annually from prostate cancer – around 12,000 – has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer for the first time. Whether coincidence or not, this news was followed shortly by two celebrities going public with their personal diagnoses of prostate cancer – Stephen Fry, and former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull.

Fry and Turnbull used their profiles to urge other men to visit their doctors to get their PSA levels checked (a blood test that can be elevated in prostate cancer). Extrapolating from the numbers who subsequently came to ask me about getting screened, I would estimate that 300,000 GP consultations were generated nationwide on the back of the publicity.

Well-meaning as Fry’s and Turnbull’s interventions undoubtedly were, they won’t have made a jot of positive difference. In March, a large UK study confirmed findings from two previous trials: screening men by measuring PSA doesn’t actually result in any lives being saved, and exposes patients to harm by detecting many prostate cancers – which are often then treated aggressively – that would never have gone on to cause any symptoms.

This, then, is the backdrop for the recent declaration of “war on prostate cancer” by Theresa May. She announced £75m to fund research into developing an effective screening test and refining treatments. Leaving aside the headline-grabbing opportunism, the prospect of additional resources being dedicated to prostate cancer research is welcome.

One of the reasons breast cancer has dropped below prostate cancer in the mortality rankings is a huge investment in breast cancer research that has led to dramatic improvements in survival rates. This is an effect both of earlier detection through screening, and improved treatment outcomes. A similar effort directed towards prostate cancer will undoubtedly achieve similar results.

The reason breast cancer research has been far better resourced to date must be in part because the disease all too often affects women at a relatively young age – frequently when they have dependent children, and ought to have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies have been caused by breast malignancy. Prostate cancer, by contrast, while it does affect some men in midlife, is predominantly a disease of older age. We are more sanguine about a condition that typically comes at the end of a good innings. As such, prostate cancer research has struggled to achieve anything like the funding momentum that breast cancer research has enjoyed. May’s £75m will go some way to redressing the balance.

In March, another important men’s health campaign was launched: Project 84, commissioned by the charity Calm. Featuring 84 haunting life-size human sculptures by American artist Mark Jenkins, displayed on the rooftops of ITV’s London studios, the project aims to raise awareness of male suicide. Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women. Suicide is the leading cause of male death under 45 – men who frequently have dependent children, and should have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies.

I well remember the stigma around cancer when I was growing up in the 1970s: people hardly dared breathe the word lest they became in some way tainted. Now we go on fun runs and wear pink ribbons to help beat the disease. We need a similar shift in attitudes to mental health, so that it becomes something people are comfortable talking about. This is gradually happening, particularly among women. But we could do with May declaring war on male suicide, and funding research into the reasons why so many men kill themselves, and why they don’t seem to access help that might just save their lives. 

Phil Whitaker’s sixth novel, “You”, is published by Salt

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge