Miliband must get tough on inequality, housing and Europeby Clare Short / August 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
Does the improving UK economy mean that Ed Miliband’s chances of winning power have lessened? In fact improvements in output exist alongside declining incomes. Those with high mortgages benefit from low interest rates but this will change. Currently lower income households and the young suffer most. We have heard about the squeezed middle and One Nation Labour, but it isn’t clear what that means. For a time, Labour’s economic policy seemed to be, “cut a little less.” Now it is, “stick with government targets.” There is little reason to think much would change with a Miliband government, and that is his major problem.
Yet there is a deep unease with politics and foreboding about the future. Why can’t Labour capitalise on this? It is partly the memory of New Labour, but also the use of polling, focus groups and soundbites, that make long-term policy thinking impossible. Thus the political elite herd onto the same, safety-first space and disconnect more and more from the rest of us.
Miliband is a thoughtful and radical politician, if rather young and untried, trapped in a system that prevents him from being distinctive and speaking about the big, longer-term questions. It would frighten too many (not least the Blairites) to set out a radical new agenda. But, he must challenge the narrative on Labour spending. This should perhaps be led from the backbenches, calling for a more grown-up debate and admission that any responsible government had to save the banks and therefore increase debt. Then Miliband should put together emblematic commitments that can be implemented quickly, complemented by longer-term strategies.
The issue causing most damage is inequality. Changes to the benefits systems cannot be the answer. Brown brought in working family tax credits and subsidies for escalating rents, but this drives up the welfare budget and does not reduce underlying inequality. Britain has become one of the most unequal countries in the OECD. This creates an unhappy society and a huge welfare bill. Miliband should rally support for the living wage, call for more technical training for working-class jobs and then establish a Royal Commission on reducing inequality
On Europe, Labour is saying nothing distinctive. There is a problem with the European Commission’s instinct to regulate everything and ignore the principle of subsidiarity. But the new issue is the relationship of non-euro members to the…