by Daphne Liddle
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband set out to impress in his main speech to the Labour Conference in Manchester on Tuesday by speaking without notes and without an autocue and ad-libbing a bit — a thing neither Cameron nor Blair would have dared to attempt.
But what of the content of his speech and his main policy proposals?
The previous day his Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls had promised a £3 billion project to build 100,000 “affordable” homes (not council houses), funding it from a windfall from selling the 4G mobile spectrum to Vodafone. This would provide both more homes and jobs in the construction industry — if Labour were in power; if it wins the next election in two-and-a-half years’ time.
Miliband on Wednesday told the conference and the world that Labour was now the party of “one nation” — a favourite slogan of the Tories, coined by Benjamin Disraeli, and a clear rejection of any notion of class struggle.
But for the benefit of the unions and as a crowd pleaser he threw in an attack on the banks and Rupert Murdoch and talked of narrowing the yawning gap between rich and poor.
He did a bit better on education, mentioning his own comprehensive school education several times and calling for a new vocational qualification for the “forgotten 50 per cent” of young people who do not want to go to university. This is certainly a break from Blair’s New Labour, which wanted to cram all school leavers into university.
The problem now is that where once university entrance depended on academic hard work and a desire on the part of the student, now it depends on the wealth of the family, as tuition fees rocket.
Miliband attacked Cameron for wanting to cut the highest rate of tax, paid by millionaires from 50 to 45 per cent — pointing out that Cameron himself would benefit by about £40,000 a year from this.
But he failed to say he would raise it — as the French government has just done, to 75 per cent.
Meanwhile Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas, a member of the notorious Progress faction funding by Lord Sainsbury and other millionaires and occasional guest at the US embassy, urged Labour to deliver its own version of Cameron’s “Big Society”.
The “Big Society” involves sacking qualified and competent public servants like teachers, social workers, librarians, local government administrators (mostly women) and replacing them with unpaid amateur volunteers from the wellmeaning middle classes. It is really another way of cutting these services but being able to blame the collapse on the naïve volunteers when they are unable to deliver.
But the biggest failing of Miliband, Balls and the rest of the current Labour leadership is a failure to break from the damaging Tory policy of extreme austerity, which is responsible for our economy continuing to fall because people with very low paid jobs or no jobs do not do much shopping.
Even basic essentials are not selling well now. Workers are in real hardship.
Nor have any of the Labour leaders promised to restore benefits to the longterm sick and disabled.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the giant union Unite, which provides a lot of funding for the Labour Party, said the party should be on the side of ordinary workers, saying leader Ed Miliband had “got it wrong”.
“People are fed up with this path to poverty and if Labour follows a watered down version of the coalition’s policies, it will lose the next election.”
We must all hope and work for a really massive turnout on the 20th October TUC march in London that will be a springboard to a renewed war against these austerity policies involved marches, meetings, and our strongest weapon: strikes!
The RMT union is challenging Britain’s anti union laws in the European Court of Human rights in Strasbourg. We must match that by challenging these laws on the streets of London on 20th October and in follow-up strikes.