Ed Miliband spoke to Brussels Labour Party members, without notes, for over twenty minutes, setting out his vision for the Labour party under his leadership.
In a clear, well-structured speech, he set out five key elements:
Firstly, the need for a different concept of the political economy: Ed believes that Labour’s reliance on the free market and free distribution did not take us far enough, and more effort is needed to tackle equality and the gap between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’.
As an example he said that the banks that were recently ‘nationalised’ could be put into ‘mutual’ ownership – rather than just selling back to the private sector.
Secondly, the need for further reform of the state: further reform of the House of Lords and votes at 16, for example, were two initiatives that could make the state more democratic.
The third element was the role of the state in people’s lives. The need to balance intrusion (such as closed-circuit television, which he supports) with freedoms.
For the fourth element he spoke passionately about the importance of people’s lives outside the world of work – free time, community and environment.
Finally, he spoke about foreign policy and the need for values to determine our alliances. As an example, he used the disappointing
Copenhagen climate change talks: Ed believes that on the one hand, the UK had been effective in persuading the US to support climate financing for the poorest countries, but that the lack of a common EU position weakened our influence in the negotiations.
This section was very reminiscent of the 1997 ‘ethical foreign policy’, launched by Robin Cook.
A question-and-answer session followed, with Ed at his most powerful when he touched on the theme of making sure politics is “relevant to people’s lives”. He believes that the Labour Party must develop a convincing story that in this regard, and affirmed that he is in politics because he believes in its power to change lives for the better.
While he stood by the decisions and successes of the last government, Ed said he is very keen to learn lessons from the recent past. One theme was the need for a stronger party and a mechanism to ensure that the leadership listens more to the party. As leader, he would establish an elected ‘President’ of the party – independent of the leader. While acknowledging that ‘giving power away’ was difficult for a leader, he said he is convinced that it will result in a stronger party and would help avoid mistakes of the past (an oblique reference to Iraq).
In answering questions, Ed Miliband was happy to be specific on certain issues: that he is in favour of Turkey’s membership of the EU, that 50% of the cabinet (and shadow cabinet) should be women, and that Iraq was a mistake. He distanced himself from Peter Mandelson’s remarks from the early years of New Labour by saying he was definitely not comfortable with the notion of the ‘super rich’. In explaining this, he said he believes that people have a responsibility that ‘goes beyond what the law says or the market allows’.
Interestingly both Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham (who followed him in addressing Brussels Labour) gave almost identical answers to questions about what really motivates them in politics. They both spoke of the importance of ensuring that even the most disadvantaged kids in their constituencies have a fair opportunity.
Photos of the event are on our Flickr page.
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