‘There is another way for Essex,’ says Labour leader on visit to Harlow, where his party recently took control of council
Ed Miliband has said the government needs to provide answers, not excuses, on growth in a speech in Harlow, Essex, a town where his party took control of the council in last week’s local elections and which is seen as symbolic of a revival of Labour’s fortunes among aspirational classes.
The Labour leader visited Essex, regarded as the political cradle of Thatcherism, on Tuesday before a trip to the county by David Cameron and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, billed as an attempt to relaunch the government after difficult local elections.
Miliband said the missing ingredient for contemporary Britain was growth, and that the economy was no longer working for working people.
He claimed Thatcher 30 years ago promised to make the economy work better for them, especially in places like Essex. “The reality now for people aspiring to get on is that they feel they are running up against a brick wall in terms of unemployment and getting on the housing ladder,” he said. “There is another way for Essex.”
He added: “I don’t think Cameron gets it when he has a Queen’s speech that will not change course on the economy.
“If they don’t find room for action to deal with living standards, energy prices, social care, train prices, then it will be clear they don’t have the right priorities.
“If there is one message from the local elections it is: you are not standing up for the right people, and you are standing for millionaires.
“At some point governments have to recognise it is not presentation, it is not the little accidents that happen in government, it is something deep. They promised a recovery and they have delivered a recession. It is no good the government running excuses; they need to provide answers. The government has been found out not just because their economic plan has failed, but because they have been standing up for the wrong people.”
In a 50-minute question-and-answer session in Harlow, Miliband opened by admitting that 71% of voters in Essex had not voted at all last week because they felt all politicians were the same, making promises they were unable to keep.
He argued: “When people have died and are dying for the right to vote, and you have 71% of people thinking politicians are all the same, I am determined to change that. The most important thing is that we do not make false promises because people are so used to politicians making promises.
“Why do so many people on the doorstep say: ‘You are all the same, you all break your promises’? Why is it? Because we make grand promises and then we break them. So I say let us make promises that we can keep – if we can put young people back to work, if you took on the energy companies and made a difference to living standards, made different choices on taxation. It is not promising the earth, but it is what we can deliver.”
He added: “That means I will be cautious about the promises I make. I think politicians for too long have given the answers that people wanted to hear.”
Privately his aides admit they would have preferred a tougher round of questions, and are still working on finding the right format with which to engage with the disengaged voter.
The bulk of the questions appeared to come from a leftwing point of view, including calls from Labour supporters to be tougher on the rich, and to be as radical as François Hollande, the new French president.
But Miliband also made a point of engaging with members of the audience who challenged the current welfare system, saying he too believed that, after a year on the dole, someone had to undertake some form of compulsory work experience.
He said it was good that Hollande was proposing a different direction, but refused to claim him as one of his supporters. He said Cameron had not put growth at the top of his international agenda and his concern was that the government growth plan was heavily dependent on export-led recovery, yet the European economy, the UK’s chief export market, remained weak, and was likely to do so for months.
Privately, Miliband does not regard Hollande as an extreme leftist, and thinks he is more likely to go for an addendum to the EU treaty rather than a complete rewrite.
During the question-and-answer session, Miliband admitted Labour had not done enough on housing.