Ed Miliband began the first 15 minutes of his NHS day talking about trust and the deficit. In a feisty interview on the Today programme, the Labour leader again did not apologise for borrowing too much when his party was in government. Instead, he argued it was a failure of banking regulation that lead to Britain’s financial problems:
‘Yesterday George Osborne’s permanent secretary at the Treasury Nicholas Macpherson published an article, in which he said that 2008 was a banking crisis pure and simple. And he reflected my judgment which is what happened in the country is that we had a dramatic crisis in banks which lead to high deficit.’
When he was pushed again by Humphrys, Miliband said ‘I’m proud we invested in hospitals – the financial crisis drove the deficit upwards.’ He did not give an answer to the question of when Labour might abolish the deficit, and instead stuck to the line in Labour’s manifesto that he would reduce it every year. As Miliband will know, the UK economy was heavily in deficit before the crash, not due to recession but due to Labour over-spending, as the below graphs show:
The conversation became heated when Miliband accused Humphrys of being ‘aerated’. The semi-empty Labour battle bus, which I’m writing from this morning en route to Brighton, burst into laughter.
On the prospect of a deal with the SNP, Miliband reiterated that ‘I’m not going to have a coalition with them, I’m not going to have a deal’, saying he wants to bring forward a Labour’s Queen Speech and a Labour budget and ‘it’ll be for the House of Commons to decide how it votes’. But would he or anyone else in Labour negotiate informally with the nationalists?
‘No, I’m not planning to speak to them. We’re not going to negotiate with our Queen’s Speech.’
Which leaves the door open for someone else in Labour to work with the SNP behind the scenes. Unsurprisingly, Miliband was taken to task over the ridiculous stone engraved with his pledges. The only defence he could offer was ‘it got people talking’. He appeared keen to avoid discussing the plinth and stated ‘our pledges won’t expire on May 7th’.
Today is meant to be all about the NHS for Labour — Miliband is giving a speech in Brighton this morning with special guest Delia Smith. But in this interview, it took 15 minutes to get onto more comfortable territory for Labour. This was a problem was of Labour’s making, after it decided to put deficit reduction on page one of its manifesto. Given Miliband’s refusal to budge on Labour’s mistakes in government, that decision now looks ill-advised.