Ken Livingstone praises ‘visionary’ Ed Miliband

Ken Livingstone praises ‘visionary’ Ed Miliband
The Guardian, by Andrew Sparrow

Mayoral candidate likens leader to Attlee and backs his position on acceptance of coalition cuts if Labour wins 2015 election

Ed Miliband is a political visionary who, like Clement Attlee or Margaret Thatcher, is determined to impose long-term, fundamental change on British society, Labour’s most prominent leftwinger, Ken Livingstone, has declared.

The party’s mayoral candidate said that Miliband should ignore the media carping about his leadership, and backed his decision to announce that the opposition will work on the assumption it will have to accept all the coalition’s cuts if it wins the election in 2015.

In a wide-ranging interview for the Guardian, Livingstone described Miliband as Labour’s best leader since John Smith and as a leader planning "a very long-term change that would make us … a much fairer society".

Miliband latest stance on the government’s public sector cuts – which was announced by shadow chancellor Ed Balls in a speech earlier this month – alarmed some leftwingers in the party and led to Miliband’s leadership being criticised by the party’s most powerful union backers.

But Livingstone said he was "not terribly agitated by the speech" because he accepted it was unreasonable for Labour to commit itself to reversing spending cuts three years before an election.

"All the Blairites had an orgasm [after Balls’s speech] and the worst Tories said this means they’re endorsing us," said Livingstone. "They’re not. What Ed Balls was saying was, from where we are now, we can’t tell you what we’re going to restore at all."

Livingstone also said that he agreed with Labour’s decision to support the government’s public sector pay freeze – a move singled out for criticism by Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, in a Guardian article attacking Labour’s latest stance. "I think it’s much more important to keep people in work than have pay rises," he said.

"If you actually look at everything Ed Milband says, about predatory and productive, about the squeezed middle, about a fairer Britain, I don’t have the slightest doubt that under Ed Miliband the Labour government will produce a much fairer and equal Britain."

Since 1945 only two prime ministers – Attlee and Thatcher had – succeeded in "setting the agenda for a generation", Livingstone said. Miliband had the potential to do the same because he had a long-term vision of the future.

"Attlee … set the agenda for 30 years. Thatcher and Reagan did it for 30. Now I think our politics is on the cusp. When you talk to Ed Miliband, which I do frequently, he is thinking of a very long-term change that would make us a Spirit Level Britain," said Livingstone, referring to the book championing equality.

"[Thatcher] had a sense of where she wanted to take Britain, as Attlee did. [Miliband] has that. And it’s a much fairer society. It’s one I’ll be very comfortable in."

In the interview the former Greater London council leader and London mayor until 2008 said he hated the importance of personality politics in mayoral elections. "I loathe and detest all this trivialisation of politics. I liked it when we had ugly politicians who droned on about issues."

He said that if he won the election in May he would freeze or cut executive pay at City Hall so he could reduce pay differentials between those at the top and the bottom. "When I was leader of the GLC, by the time I had been in control for three years, the difference in pay between the cleaner and the director general was a four to one ratio." Livingstone said that was "attractive", even if a 4:1 ratio would not be achievable today.