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GE2015: “We’re within touching distance” says deputy leader as ‘tepid’ Labour conference ends

GE2015: “We’re within touching distance” says deputy leader as ‘tepid’ Labour conference ends

🕔25.Sep 2014

A very long leader’s speech that would have been even longer if Ed Miliband hadn’t forgotten a vital part of what he meant to say. A lurch back to a tax-raising past? Chamberlain Files chief blogger Paul Dale casts his eye over the Labour conference.

Ed Miliband unaccountably forgot to mention his plan for tackling the deficit and controlling immigration, but still got a standing ovation of Soviet Union proportions after speaking for an hour.

But did the last Labour conference before next year’s General Election really have the hallmark of a party that is ready to govern and, just as importantly, expects to win power? Actually, it was a pretty tepid affair.

Harriet Harman declared “we’re within touching distance” of Downing Street just before they sang the Red Flag. Well, she would say that wouldn’t she?

It fell to the veteran John Prescott to remark sourly of Miliband’s memory lapse that “Prime Ministers do autocue”. Oh, dear.

Unite union leader Len McLuskey, lacking Prescott’s subtlety, went further and described Miliband’s error as “a glaring omission”.

And hands up, please, an anonymous (naturally) shadow cabinet member who told The Times that Ed’s speech was just “terrible”.

Meanwhile, a contrite Miliband told BBC’s Nick Robinson: “If I could do the speech again, of course I would put it in.” Sadly, Ed, you can’t do it again.

This was an ideal opportunity for Labour to put some flesh on the bones of the policies it will put to the electorate next May. Not much in the way of new pledges emerged, but what there was certainly had a left wing gloss.

Restoring the 50p tax rate for high earners, higher corporation tax and clamping down on hedge fund tax breaks, for instance.

A mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million was bound to raise a cheer, especially with the money raised to be invested in the NHS. But with about 90 per cent of these homes in the capital, it was inevitable that mayor Boris Johnson would describe the proposal as a “tax on London”……..which is the only place in the south of England where Labour can rely on picking up support.

No great surprise, then, that both of the front runners to be Labour’s mayoral candidate in London  said they didn’t support a mansion tax.

In any case, shadow chancellor Ed Balls did little to address the claim that the mansion tax is nothing more than a political soundbite when he failed to answer pretty basic questions such as how many homes will be involved, how will property valuations be conducted and will the valuations rise in line with inflation?

There is to be a sliding scale of payments based on property values in excess of £2 million, but the scale is yet to be worked out. It all sounded a bit like back of the fag packet stuff.

Labour conference pledges:

Maintain the child benefit cap for a further year.

Ed Balls said he would save £400 million by pegging increases in child benefit to below the level of inflation until 2017. However, the plan only rolls forward an existing coalition policy by one year.

The proposal would mean that the benefit would be limited to a one per cent increase per year, below the rate of inflation, until 2017 rather than 2016 as is currently planned.

It comes less than a year after Labour opposed coalition legislation to cap a series of welfare payments, including child benefit, at one per cent.

Mr Balls argued at the time that the cap would hit “striving families” who were “paying the price” for the Coalition’s “economic failure”.

Announcing his U-turn to the conference, Mr Balls said he “will not spend money we cannot afford”.

Raise the minimum wage to £8.

Currently £6.31 an hour, the minimum wage is set to rise to £6.50 in October. It could in any case rise to £7.50 by 2020 when inflation-linked increases are taken into account. The CBI said Mr Balls’ plan “would not be in the interests of companies and workers” because the costs involved would put job creation at risk.

Cut Ministers’ pay.

Mr Balls proposed a five per cent cut on all ministerial salaries, saving £1 million. This would mean a pay cut for cabinet members of £6,728 and a £7,125 cut for the prime minister.

Tax the rich.

Labour would fulfil a promise to bring back the 50p rate of income tax, and would stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the top five per cent of pensioners.

A tax break for married couples, to be introduced by the coalition government next year, would be scrapped by Labour, Ed Balls confirmed. The money saved would be used to introduce a 10p starting rate for income tax.

Corporation tax would rise from 20 per cent to 21 per cent.

Mansion Tax

A special tax will be levied on properties worth more than £2 million. The money raised from this, estimated at £1.2 billion a year, along with a tax avoidance clampdown and windfall tax on tobacco, would be used to fund the health service, specifically hiring 36,000 more NHS staff.

Labour estimate that the tax will be levied at a sliding scale on about 108,000 homes. Each home would pay an average of £15,000 a year. Almost 90 per cent of the homes are in London.

Ed Balls is yet to explain how property valuations would be carried out, how many additional value bands would be created above £2 million or how the limits would be tied to inflation.

No extra borrowing

Labour will not fund capital projects through extra borrowing.

Ed Balls had previously ruled out any uncosted commitments to current spending.

But in his keynote conference speech he went further, promising that all investment projects would have to be fully funded by cuts to other spending.

“In our manifesto there will be no proposals for any new spending paid for by additional borrowing,” Mr Balls said.

“No spending commitments without saying where the money is coming from.”

Police Commissioners

It will be good bye to police commissioners if Labour wins the General Election. The posts will be abolished after just three years, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper confirmed. The recent by-election to choose a successor to West Midlands PCC which attracted a turnout of 10.4 per cent helped to convince Labour that there is little public support for elected commissioners.

The post would be replaced with new-style police authorities consisting of council leaders.

The money saved from abolishing PCC elections, £50 million, would be used to protect frontline policing and to build women’s refuge centres, Ms Cooper said.


Labour will change the rules so more foreign criminals from within the EU are considered for automatic deportation.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper promised to set “smarter” immigration controls and targets – to reduce low skilled migration and tackle abuse.

She said: “We will never turn our backs on those fleeing persecution. But those who come to work and live need to contribute not claim benefits and abide by the law. Rules must be fair. And they must be properly enforced.

“That means we need radical reform when it comes to Europe.

“To stop the growing crisis at Calais, strengthen restrictions on new countries, change benefit rules so people can’t claim when they first arrive and change deportation rules to make it easier to send home EU citizens who commit crimes.”

Further Education

Ed Miliband promised to make sure as many school-leavers go on to apprenticeships as go to university. He said: “There are not enough advanced, high-quality apprenticeships available for school leavers, with four times as many going to university instead. This is leaving both young people and businesses without the skills they need to succeed for the future.”


Labour is pledging to meet demand for new homes by doubling the number of first time buyers getting on to the housing ladder. A target of 200,000 a year has been set.

However, publication of Labour’s much heralded housing review has been delayed and no mention was made at the conference about the likely impact on the green belt.

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