Ed Miliband insists Labour party is for the grafters
Patrick Wintour, The Guardian
Miliband highlights pay inequality audits to shame greedy executives and dismisses leadership questions as tittle-tattle
Ed Miliband dismissed what he described as tittle-tattle about his leadership and for the first time offered specific proposals to engineer a society of responsibility, including the introduction of pay inequality audits designed to shame greedy private sector executives.
The Labour party leader is determined to be even-handed in his call for clearer social responsibility from executives as well as welfare claimants, so those in the middle who play by the rules no longer feel cheated.
He vowed to stop Labour being seen as "the party of those ripping off our society", such as benefit cheats and bankers. He was on the side of grafters, he said.
He also said he wanted employee representatives on all executive pay remuneration committees, but said the state could not impose a maximum differential within a company of no greater than 20 to one. However, he said, such a differential was desirable and he admitted the last Labour government had sent out the wrong message to those at the top.
It had appeared as if business groups, and even the governor of the Bank of England, were "more willing to speak out on top pay than we did".
The poor and rich were too often leading parallel lives in the same town, but in different worlds, he warned. "We should not be surprised that it is hard to nurture a sense of responsibility and solidarity."
His speech came as his policy review chief, Liam Byrne, in a separate speech, said the public wanted to hear what Labour will do to introduce greater fairness in society before they will listen to general messages from Labour about optimism.
Byrne’s remarks are not a criticism of his leader’s previous speeches, but reflect a recognition at the top of the party that Miliband will not get a public hearing unless he addresses public anger that the Labour government had not seemed to be on the side of the hard-working majority.
Byrne said Labour will look at increasing the responsibility on the unemployed to look for work, and conduct a potentially far reaching review of national insurance contributions so there are clearer rewards for those that have paid in. A similar review of the contributory principle has been proposed by Policy Exchange, the right of centre think tank.
Miliband admitted "people who act responsibly – people who do their duty are getting angry and I understand why". He said: "Labour – a party founded by hard-working people for hard-working people – was seen by some, however unfairly, as the party of those ripping off our society."
He said he wanted councils to give priority on council house waiting lists if applicants behaved responsibily by volunteering, finding work, or avoiding anti-socal behaviour.
His speech was hailed by Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead and welfare specialist, as a break from the past. He said: "Ed Miliband today begins to redefine what Labour means by fairness and so begins the long haul of building a new coalition of voters straddling both working and middle class voters. It signals the end of Labour’s attack on the working class moral economy that has always believed benefits should be largely based on contributions and not decided simply on terms of need. It is difficult to overestimate how significant today’s speech is."
But at the end of the long-planned speech, Miliband was inundated by media questions over his leadership.
He was speaking amid the fallout from claims in a book that his relations with his brother, David, have not been repaired since he defeated the former foreign secretary for the party leadership last year. A Sunday Times-YouGov poll showed his personal standing at an all-time low.
Miliband dismissed the speculation about this leadership as irrelevant to those outside Westminster. "The most important thing I have learned is that the gossip and tittle-tattle of Westminster is actually irrelevant to most people’s lives."
He refused to shift his strategy: "The task for a politician is to understand what is happening in our society and to talk about it. The most important part of a leader of the opposition and what determines whether you win elections or not is whether you have an analysis of what is wrong with society and how you will change it."
He insisted David was loyal to his leadership. "Ever since the leadership contest happened, he [David] accepted the result and he must make his own decision as to what is the best future for him is. I made no secret that I wanted him in the shadow cabinet, but he made the right decision for himself and, he thought, for the party."
In probably his most specific proposals, Miliband called for measures to make sure high pay and performance are no longer detached. He said: "Over the last 12 years chief executive pay in Britain’s top companies has quadrupled while share prices have remained flat."
Referring to the recent interim report of the independent High Pay Commission, he said the pay of someone at the top of a company has gone from 69 times the average wage to 145 times.
He denied his proposals were timid, saying: "I think that court of public opinion having to explain what these ratios are and why these decisions have been taken is incredibly important. An employees’ representative on every top-pay remuneration body is a radical proposal and would make an enormous difference."