Labour leader says the Conservative squeeze on middle incomes has contributed to economic failure and no growth
Ed Miliband promises to make the 2015 general election a “living standards election” as he claims that the coalition’s squeeze on middle-income Britain has deepened the recession and created the “chilling prospect” of a further decade of pressure on most families’ living standards.
In a Guardian interview before a major speech on the economy, he also accuses David Cameron of deliberately squeezing the living standards of middle Britain in his determination to cut the deficit.
Bidding to set the frame for the next election, and drawing on some of the strategy that helped re-elect Barack Obama, the Labour leader says: “I am offering a choice between an economic recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top, and a Conservative strategy that consists of trickle-down from the top, a squeeze on the middle and a race to the bottom.”
He goes on: “I will be asking the question ‘are you better off than you were four years ago?’ and I don’t think it is in dispute – people are worse off. The Office for Budget Responsibility figures are showing earnings behind inflation, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows the same. It would be a good start if David Cameron could just admit the facts.
“Squeezing living standards does not achieve economic success. It contributes to economic failure and is a consequence of their economic failure and the lack of growth. I am offering a recovery made by building, not squeezing the middle.”
Obama also successfully promised to restore the American economy “from the middle out”, as opposed to relying on the trickle-down reforms of the Reagan era that aimed to stimulate production by removing regulations.
In an attempt to underline how the Tories have failed on the economy, Miliband will make his speech in Bedford, where nearly 60 years ago the Tory prime minister of the time, Harold Macmillan, declared: “You’ve never had it so good.”
Miliband tells the Guardian: “Far from feeling they have never had it so good, millions across Britain today fear they will never have it so good again. The question that people ask me the most is ‘how do we turn this round?’ The answer starts with a truth that we have forgotten as a country: that economic recovery will be made by the many, not just by a few at the top.”
He first signalled the new line of attack at prime minister’s questions when he challenged Cameron to admit living standards were falling for most people. The exchanges led Cameron to counter that Labour under Gordon Brown had hit strivers by abolishing the 10p tax rate. There is pressure from some Tory circles, as well as some Labour policy analysts, to grab the policy, but the estimated cost of £6.2-£7bn makes it unlikely to be adopted by George Osborne in the short term.
Labour officials say Miliband’s speech will contain new policies, “including specific measures to address the living standards crisis for the squeezed middle, both now and after the election”. It will include pledges to break the stranglehold of the big six energy suppliers; stop train company “rip-offs” on popular routes; introduce rules to stop unfair bank charges; and cap interest on payday loans.
Asked if he would support a mansion tax to help raise cash for the “squeezed middle”, Miliband told the Guardian: “We have said we will look at the idea of mansion tax. Ed Balls was right to say that and we have said we would work with the government to make it happen.”
Such a move would leave the Conservatives isolated in their opposition to a tax on expensive properties and give Labour a common policy with the Liberal Democrats, who have made Tory opposition to the tax one of their defining issues in the Eastleigh byelection.
With Labour still trailing the Conservatives in most polls on the economy, it is crucial for Miliband to gain credibility in this territory. He promised: “This issue of living standards and how you create growth is absolutely at the centre of people’s lives. It is the first, second and third question of the election.”
He rejected suggestions that a pick-up in growth before the election or a Conservative promise to do more in a second term would resonate.
“You don’t need to gaze into the crystal ball – you just have to look at the record of what they have done over the past three years. They are saying that is their priority to supposedly cut the deficit as much as possible, squeeze living standards as much as they can, regardless of the consequences, cut taxes at the top and deregulate as much as much as possible. It has not worked. It’s not a mystery that it has not worked. It’s not a growth strategy.”
His attack came as Office for National Statistics figures showed the real value of average earnings fell in real terms for the last three years, and have slumped to a similar level to a decade ago. The Bank of England also forecast no rise in living standards. The Resolution Foundation suggested it might take a decade for Britain’s low to middle income families to see their living standards return to pre-recession levels. Miliband described the figures as chilling.
The Conservatives pointed out they show real average earnings rising by 1.7% in the last year of this parliament when adjusted for CPI inflation, or by 0.6% by RPI inflation.
Ed MilibandLabourEqualityEconomic growth (GDP)EconomicsEconomic policyOffice for Budget ResponsibilityGovernment borrowingBudget deficitDavid CameronConservativesPatrick Wintourguardian.co.uk