Labour focuses on traditional strengths at party conference

Miliband describes plans for huge investment in NHS

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, delivers his keynote speech to delegates: “Our country nearly broke up. A country that nearly splits apart is not a country in good health.” Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, delivers his keynote speech to delegates: “Our country nearly broke up. A country that nearly splits apart is not a country in good health.” Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

Labour will hire an extra 20,000 nurses and 8,000 doctors for English hospitals, paid for by a levy on luxury homes, tobacco companies and cutting tax avoidance by hedge-funds.

The declaration formed the centre-piece for Labour leader Ed Miliband’s Manchester conference speech, where he insisted that the National Health Service is falling apart under Conservative rule.

Three thousand more midwives and 5,000 more staff to care for the elderly in their own homes will also be hired to ensure that patients do not occupy hospital beds for longer than necessary.

The decision to focus so heavily on the NHS seeks to exploit public concerns in England about reforms ordered by the Conservatives since 2010.

Equally, however, the decision illustrates concern within Labour that it has to emphasise its traditional strong points, because of failings in other areas.

Miliband’s unpopularity

During the week, there have been clear signs of concern from party members about the party’s chances in next year’s general election, particularly because of Mr Miliband’s unpopularity with voters.

The details surrounding some of the funding for the extra NHS spending is unclear in parts, but Labour said it expected to bring in £1.2 billion (€1.53 billion) a year from a new mansion tax on properties valued at more than £2 million.

However, the tax would be graduated, falling most heavily on those with properties worth more than £10 million, and with concessions for those with valuable properties but little income.

During a speech that was heavy in detail, if far from his most successful rhetorically, Mr Miliband laid down Labour’s six key targets for 10 years of government, not just one term.

The numbers of people on low pay will be halved within a decade; the minimum wage will rise to £8 an hour by 2020; and big banks will be broken up.

The number of high-quality, certified apprenticeships offered will take a huge jump and be equal to the number of young people going to university by 2025, he said.

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds will get the vote, while the House of Lords will be reformed into “a senate for the nation”, the Labour leader told thousands of delegates.

Scottish concerns

Responding to last week’s Scottish independence referendum, Mr Miliband warned delegates: “Our country nearly broke up. A country that nearly splits apart is not a country in good health.”

 

However, Scottish concerns helped him to make a wider political point: that people believe the UK has become a progressively more unfair society.

“For all the sound and fury in England, Scotland, Wales, across the United Kingdom, what people are actually saying to us is, this country doesn’t care about me”, he said.

Cameron’s relief

Separately, British prime minister David Cameron has been caught on camera claiming that Queen Elizabeth “purred” down the phone line after he informed her Scotland had not voted for independence.

 

Mr Cameron was heard telling former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg of the relief he felt at not having to inform the queen that Scotland had left the UK.

Mr Cameron said: “The definition of relief, if you are prime minister of the United Kingdom, is ringing up Her Majesty the Queen and saying, ‘Your Majesty, it is all right, it’s okay’. That was something. She purred down the line.”