Miliband outlines his vision for one nation

Wed, Oct 3, 2012, 01:00

LABOUR LEADER Ed Miliband yesterday made a determined bid for the middle ground in British politics, warning that he would reverse key National Health Service changes made by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, but making clear that some of the spending cuts made by the coalition cannot be overturned.

Putting forward a vision of “a one-nation Britain”, Mr Miliband, who has struggled to establish a link with British voters, drew heavily on his own parents’ refugee background in a much-anticipated speech to his party’s annual conference in Manchester to draw a picture around his own beliefs and reasons for being in politics.

“So, Britain gave me, gave my family, a great gift that my parents never had. A safe and secure childhood. And you know my parents didn’t talk much about their early lives, it was too painful, it hurt too much. The pain of those they lost. The guilt of survivors,” he said, speaking of his parents’ flight from Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany. “But I believe that their experience meant they brought up both David and myself differently as a result. Because having struggled for life itself, they instilled in us a sense of duty to ease the struggles of others,” Mr Miliband told several thousand delegates.

Last night, Labour MPs and supporters were ecstatic about the speech, believing that Mr Miliband has crossed a crucial line in his relationship with voters after two years in charge: “I think today what we heard from Ed Miliband was the authentic Ed Miliband voice: this is his mission, this is the man,” declared Labour MP Douglas Alexander.

During the speech, the Labour leader said the “free-market” philosophy which is now being imposed on the NHS by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition would be reversed, though it is not clear if all of the measures – including those giving greater powers to GPs – will be turned back.

Banks were told “to clean up” their act and separate retail banking from “their casino operations” before the 2015 election, or else he would make them do so if elected prime minister after the 2015 election, while quarterly reporting by companies – which hinders longer-term planning – would also go by the wayside.

Drawing on the example of the 19th-century Conservative prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, Mr Miliband said his vision of “a one-nation” Britain was one where “patriotism, loyalty, dedication to the common cause courses through the veins of all and nobody feels left out. It was a vision of Britain coming together to overcome the challenges we faced.”

A similar attitude was displayed after the second World War, he said, when the NHS was created, while it appeared again during this year’s Olympics, where people had combined together to deliver a project that many doubted the United Kingdom could deliver.

“I do believe in that spirit. That spirit of one nation. One nation: a country where everyone has a stake. One nation: a country where prosperity is fairly shared. One nation: where we have a shared destiny, a sense of shared endeavour and a common life that we lead together,” he said.

Scathing about the performance of the coalition, Mr Miliband said it had imposed spending cuts in a bid to cut borrowing, but borrowing is now rising again because of the need to find extra money to fund a rapidly rising welfare benefit bill caused by unemployment.

“If you stop an economy growing, then it leaves more people out of work claiming benefits, not paying taxes. Businesses struggle so they’re not paying taxes. And as a result borrowing goes up. Borrowing not to invest in schools, in hospitals, transport and education. But borrowing to keep people idle.

“So the next time you hear a Conservative say to you Labour would increase borrowing, just remember it is this government that is increasing borrowing this year,” declared the Labour leader, who was repeatedly given standing ovations by delegates – many of whom did not vote for him in the leadership battle fought two years ago.

Major changes would be made by a Labour government to improve vocational educational, while businesses would be given command of a £1 billion state budget to train apprentices, while those firms who poach young workers trained by others would face penalties, though these have not been detailed.