Former foreign secretary feels Labour is on verge of a breakthrough as austerity ethos weakens governments
Britain and Germany, which have damaged economic growth across Europe by imposing “collective austerity”, are being forced onto the “back foot” by the continuing downturn, the former foreign secretary David Miliband has said.
As he announces a campaign for nursery staff, cleaners and kitchen assistants to be given the living wage of £7.20 an hour, Miliband expressed the hope Labour may be breaking through as the government’s weaknesses are exposed.
“There is a feeling that the true face of the government is coming through,” Miliband told the Guardian after a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times placed Labour on 40% and the Conservatives on 29%. “There is a sense that they have had two years and now Labour is right to be piling on the pressure.”
The former foreign secretary agreed that if François Hollande, the Socialist candidate and frontrunner, wins the French presidential election on Sunday the “ruling ethos” of Europe will be under pressure. Hollande is demanding a renegotiation of the eurozone fiscal compact on the grounds it emphasises economic austerity at the cost of promoting growth.
Miliband said: “These are important moments for the prime minister and the chancellor and their reputations. The budget and a series of hapless episodes since then have been significant in denting public confidence in the leadership. That is potentially important.
“In respect of Europe, as more evidence comes in then the ruling ethos of Europe, which is about collective austerity, is more on the back foot. I think some of the economic realists like [Italian prime minister Mario] Monti recognise that.”
The former foreign secretary will be campaigning with Labour candidates in Hastings on Tuesday after launching a campaign with the Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, for low-paid staff in further education. Miliband and Prentis have sent a joint letter to colleges after a Unison survey found that 55% are not paying the living wage.
“Pay inequality is an issue in the public sector as well as the private sector,” Miliband said of the campaign which is part of his Movement for Change. “Everyone knows that universities and colleges are under financial pressure, but the evidence is that the introduction of the living wage cuts absenteeism and labour turnover and raises productivity.
“Labour Students have made the Living Wage their No 1 campaign this year, and Movement for Change have worked closely with them, and with universities around the country. I am delighted that Unison are campaigning on this issue together with us in such a positive way. Today’s letter is designed to take forward a serious dialogue about one of the pressing issues facing Britain.”
Unison will award a “kite mark” to colleges which “do the right thing”. Prentis said: “It is time that FE colleges recognised the real financial hardship that many of their staff and families face year after year. The cost of everyday essentials such as food and fuel just keeps going up and workers are really struggling.
“A Living Wage for all staff was agreed with the Association of Colleges and all colleges must now honour the deal. This is not too much to ask – it is simply giving staff enough to provide their families with the basic essentials to survive. Over the coming months we will be working closely with our friends in the Labour party and the National Union of Students to ensure every college becomes a Living Wage employer.”
The Living Wage is £7.20 outside London. The Greater London Authority has set a rate in the capital of £8.30.
Miliband praised his brother’s performance and said he was right to respond to Labour’s poll success with caution. Asked whether the polls mark a breakthrough, Miliband said: “I hope so. But I think Ed has rightly been cautious in explaining to people that this is a long haul, that we have got to recognise the scale of the challenge and that one poll doesn’t make a summer.
“What is important is not just the govenment is incompetent, although they are, but that they are wrong. Economics has primacy at the moment. But Andy Burnham is leading the charge on health. After the economy that is the second biggest judgment they have made and it is a catastrophic judgment, too. But equally nobody on the Labour side is saying anything other than this is a long haul and we are not half way through the parliament yet.”