Ed Miliband was doing the interview rounds today, and CoffeeHouses may be interested in the below – an edited version of his exchange with Nicky Campbell on Five Live.
NC: Is the problem union power? MPs and the constituencies clearly voted for your brother, Alan Johnson’s favourite candidate. He was a clear winner in those two parts of the party, and many people say union influence has to be limited. Now this is a real test of your guts, isn’t it? Is it the right thing to do?
EM: I see it a different way, Nicky, to be honest. I see that politics as a whole, in every party, is massively disconnected from people up and down this country. And what we’re really talking about, when we talk about the internal affairs of the Labour Party in the context that you’re talking about it, is the union levy payers. These are people who pay a political levy to support the Labour Party. There are about four million of them. And I don’t want to take them out of the Labour Party’s decision making, because, actually, that will make us more disconnected as a party.
NC: No, because it calls into question the legitimacy of your election.
EM: No, that’s not the reason. The reason is that I think that if you take them out, you make us, as I say, more disconnected as a party. Look, I want us to find ways in which we reform our party, and perhaps bring more people – people who aren’t necessarily members of the Labour Party – into our decision making.
NC: And how do you do that? OK, Labour Party wins big when Tories vote Labour, right?
EM: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Tories, Lib Dems, others.
NC: Oh right, well that’s interesting because Tony Blair saw it very much as getting Tory voters of course.
EM: Well I want as many people as possible to vote for us, obviously.
NC: But if there’s too much union power, that’s going to put a lot of people off.
EM: But you see I think that what people want to judge us on is two things. One, are we a credible opposition to this government. And I think we are starting to win the argument that they are going too far and too fast when it comes to cutting the deficit. But secondly, do we have humility about where we went wrong as a government. Because I think if you lose an election and you say it’s the people’s fault that you got kicked out of power, then you won’t get back into power. And I’ve been willing to admit that on things like low pay, issues around immigration, the bankers, we got some things wrong. I think we did great things as a government, but we got some things wrong. And we’re starting a journey, particularly this weekend at our National Policy Forum, about how we get back in touch with people and how we understand what our policies should be for the future, and that’s what we’re embarking upon.
NC: It’s interesting, I mean, Mr Miliband you’ve insisted the 50p tax band, for example, for the very highest earners is here to stay for reasons of quote “values and fairness”. Your Shadow Chancellor said in five years time you might not need it. Now I’m just wondering, is any tax rate set in stone? You know, even looking at the circumstances the country’s in. Is it not rather dogmatic of you? Are you too wedded to socialism to abandon it?
EM: Well, I’m wedded to fairness. And what I’ve said, and actually Alan Johnson has said this too, is when I think about the next election when we set our tax plans, is our priority really going to be to cut our top rate of income tax for people on over £150,000 a year, the top one per cent of the population. I think I can fairly sort of certainly say to you now, Nicky, that’s unlikely to be the biggest priority for the country.
NC: Absolutely understandably, this is a key question in ideological terms, is it there for ideological reasons or is it there for economic reasons?
EM: Oh, I think it’s there for economic reasons: cutting the deficit. But it’s also there for fairness reasons, because…
NC: For ideological reasons?
EM: Well, “ideological”’s one way of putting it, yeah. Because if I came along and said “well my priority’s to cut the top rate of income tax”, then you’d be saying to me, quite rightly, “well what spending are you going to cut to make up that gap, or who are you going to, who else are you going to raise taxes on?” And I do think it’s fair that people on over £150,000 pay their fair share.
NC: Are you a socialist?
EM: Yeah, I am a socialist.
NC: Oh my goodness! We haven’t heard this from a Labour leader for a long long time. Can you just say it again? Can we run the tape?
EM: I’m not embarrassed about it. I’ll tell you why I’m not embarrassed about it. Am I a socialist? Look, my dad was a… he would have considered himself a socialist too, but he would have said…
NC: He was a Marxist.
EM:…we need to have public ownership of everything. I don’t… or many of the most important things of society. I don’t subscribe to that view. What I do say is that there are big unfairnesses in our society, and part of the job of government is to bring about social justice and to tackle those unfairnesses. And that’s why I’m a politician, that’s why I’m in politics.
NC: By saying “I am a socialist”, you will have warmed the hearts of many potential voters.
NC: But also chilled the hearts of many potential voters. That’s the line that you walk. Let me talk about the mistakes as well, and the accusation that Labour lost its soul. You’ve spoken about Iraq. We did we… why were we complicit in torture, this country, under a Labour government? Are you ashamed?
EM: [Goes on about torture here, where he says “I don’t accept that we were complicit in torture. I know something about this because my brother was, er, Foreign Secretary…” etc. Then back on to domestic policy…]
NC: Gordon Brown didn’t speak to Jonathan Powell for thirteen years, he didn’t speak to Robin Cook for years and years. I was speaking to a Labour advisor the other day who I won’t mention, who said that she heard the worst language she’s ever heard from another human being from Gordon Brown towards her on the phone. She was so shocked. Did you not think at the time “my boss is a bit of a nutter”?
NC: What about all these books? Not speaking to somebody for thirteen years, normal behaviour?
EM: I’m my own person, but he’s someone who cared passionately…
NC: But hand on, is not speaking to somebody in your own office for thirteen years normal behaviour?
EM: Well I don’t believe he did that, but anyway.
NC: Jonathan Powell says he did.
EM: Well anyway, look, I think that, um, we’re not here to talk about Gordon Brown, we’re here to talk about me…
NC: We’re talking about the past, the legacy.
EM: Yeah, but I mean, I’m my own person. I talk to everyone. Look, I appointed as the Shadow Chancellor someone who was one of the most ardent supporters of my brother in the leadership campaign. That shows the person I am. I am someone who wants to use the talent from across the Labour Party. I don’t care who said what to whom, frankly, you know, the last few months, the last few years. I want to use all of our talent because we’ve got a big task to do.