C. J. Rawson (Readers’ Views October 3rd 2014) attacks Ed Miliband’s speech as out of touch, and lauds the great Labour figures of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
He should then remember that Labour Leader Clement Attlee, who changed Britain for the better more than any other, was not a media sensation. He was a quiet, unassuming leader who, nevertheless, held other more charismatic figures together with an iron grip and united the party to deliver the welfare state, the NHS and full employment and rising living standards or a generation.
The truth is that Miliband’s speech did focus on the one issue of our time that all other leaders have repeatedly ducked – wages.
We live in a country where more than a million workers depend on the minimum wage, something that would not even be there without Labour, where one fifth of employees earn less than the living wage.
17% of workers will get absolutely zilch from David Cameron’s unfunded proposals for tax cuts because they do not earn enough to pay income tax. While the rest of us, apart from the top 10% of people, have seen wages fall in real terms every year for the last five years. Many of the five million self-employed struggle to get mortgages and have no pensions. We used to believe our kids would be automatically better off than us. We took it for granted. Alas no more.
Ed Miliband did promise to tackle low pay, specifically to increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour, or £55 a week by 2020, not as a one-off act, but as part of a process over time to end the race to the bottom. Yet the more significant promise was to ensure that wages will grow in line with the economy. As he said, this should not be controversial. Yet this has not happened since before Margaret Thatcher’s reforms took effect. Yes, up until the crash, wages for many have risen faster than prices. But they did not rise as fast as prices and productivity combined. This meant workers could not buy what they made, and that wages have fallen since 1979 to the lowest percentage of national income since Victorian times.
Low wages and high cash reserves for the rich means workers must borrow what should have been in their wages to keep the wolf from the door and the economy ticking over, until, as in 2008, it all crashes.
Ed Miliband has promised to restore balance in our economy, so when things get better we all do well. There may be questions about how quick and what is the best way to achieve this. Yet Labour is the only party that is even remotely interested in this most important of all issues. The Westminster bubble journalists are not interested either. It is no wonder many turn away from politics. Yet if you look beyond the surface of things, Labour leaders are coming back to their roots, not least because the needs of the country demand it.