Miliband rules out reversing taxes imposed by coalition

Thu, Oct 4, 2012, 01:00

LABOUR PARTY leader Ed Miliband has pledged to join a trade union-organised protest later this month against spending cuts imposed by the ConservativeLiberal Democrat government, but he ruled out reversing a series of tax and charges increases already brought into force.

During a question-and-answer session with delegates at Labour’s annual conference in Manchester, he rejected the Lib Dems’ declarations last week that they were “a brake” on the Conservative desire for even larger cuts, saying they had been an “accomplice”.

However, the tensions between Mr Miliband and the trade unions over public pay freezes surfaced again when he was pressed by a Unison delegate who complained that care hours for the elderly were being cut and “dinner-ladies are being sacked”.

“Why is it that when we look to Labour to support us, we hear you and [shadow chancellor] Ed Balls support this pay freeze? How will you win the support of hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers when you continue to support this policy,” she said to considerable applause from otherwise supportive delegates.

Mr Miliband said he totally understood state workers’ “frustrations and feelings about what is happening on pay, but I have tried to give a candid answer” that, faced with the choice of pay freezes or job losses among public-service workers during the lifetime of this parliament, he would accept pay curbs.

Some in Labour say there should be no cuts in public spending “but I am not one of those”, said the Labour leader. However, if he was in power, the cuts would be different to those ordered by chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne.

Mr Miliband’s declaration that he would join a union-organised protest on October 20th – one that would be held without a national public-sector strike – was seen as significant last night, as previously he had been more cautious on the issue.

But he warned union leaders that have to make themselves relevant in the private sector, where there is only a 12 per cent trade union membership, even if they face problems organising in private-sector companies.

In a call for discipline, he said Labour had “turned inwards” after previous defeats. “We had taken leave of the electorate and we had taken, in a way, leave of our senses. That is not the way to go. That is what people predicted would happen after the last election.”

Mr Miliband, careful not to tie himself to promises that could cause problems later, said student tuition fees – which can cost students £9,000 a year – would be cut to £6,000 by a Labour government after 2015, but not by more than that.

“I’m not going to be able to do everything I’d like to do. I think tuition fees is one area. I’ve said we could cut tuition fees tomorrow to £6,000. Do I think that’s a magic answer to the problems of debt? No, I don’t, but it will make a difference,” he said.

“I totally understand the problems of young people who feel they’re going to be saddled with debt, and we’ll continue to look at what the next Labour government is going to be able to do.”