Britain could take a leaf out of Germany’s book, Labour leader Ed Miliband tells Political Editor Jonathan Walker.
Britain needs a new economy with more respect for manufacturing and an end to the culture of “short-termism”, Labour leader Ed Miliband has warned.
In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post he said Britain could not simply go back to the days before the banking crisis.
Instead, the nation needed to adopt the values of countries such as Germany – where families took great pride in a child who began a career in manufacturing.
And schools and banks had to improve their approach to the manufacturing sector, Mr Miliband said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Miliband also said Labour-controlled Birmingham would provide a showcase for what the party can achieve in power – and provide a role model for the party’s general election manifesto.
The city council could help build confidence in the Labour Party nationwide by proving that politics can make a difference to people’s lives, even in times of economic crisis and spending cuts, he said.
Mr Miliband also:
- Attacked plans to introduce police and crime commissioners as a waste of money, but insisted Labour would fight to win commissioner elections
- Pledged to devolve power to local authorities – even if they didn’t have mayors
- Condemned Education Secretary Michael Gove for forcing city schools to become academies
- Urged politicians from all parties to back the Leveson inquiry
- And pledged that a Labour government would build the High Speed Two rail line linking Birmingham to London, Leeds and Manchester.
Britain needed a new culture, which “prides itself on making things once again” and sought long-term economic growth instead of short-term profits, Mr Miliband said.
“We do need a financial sector, but I think that in Birmingham and the West Midlands more than perhaps anywhere, you know the importance of manufacturing, the importance of a country that makes things.
“If you take the culture of a country like Germany there’s real pride in people who go into manufacturing. It’s seen as one of the best things to do.
“We’ve got to rebuild that pride in Britain as well.
“If you take the culture of a country like Germany there’s real pride in people who go into manufacturing We’ve got to rebuild that pride in Britain as well."Ed Miliband
“And that starts with schools, it’s about the way the banks work. It’s about a big change in approach.
“I speak to too many manufacturers who say, ‘it’s hard to get into schools, to talk about what we are doing’.
“Our culture generally needs to change to celebrate what we can do as a country in terms of making things, but also to make sure the finance and support is available.”
The Labour leader has asked Sir George Cox, former Director General of the Institute of Director, to head an independent review into “short-termism” in British industry.
But he insisted this was designed to help, rather than attack, British employers.
“There are issues that come up all the time when I talk to businesses. They say look, we have this culture of quarterly reporting in this country, every quarter a business has to report their results. And it’s like you are judged on every quarter, making it really difficult to build long term value in this country. Some of the tax and other incentives work against the kind of long term approach that you need. Capital allowances is an example.
“There are lessons to be learned from the financial crisis. Lessons about reducing our deficit, which we need to do, about economic growth, but I don’t think we can ignore these wider lessons about building that broad industrial base.”
Birmingham was the Labour leader’s first stop when he toured the country on May 4 to celebrate Labour’s good showing in local election results a day earlier.
He was in the city to congratulate Labour councillors for winning back control of the local authority after eight years in opposition. That victory would provide a springboard for Labour to win nationally, the Mr Miliband said.
The Labour leader highlighted the council’s announcement that it was introducing a minimum “living wage” of £7.20 an hour for all staff, which immediately pushed up wages for more than 2,500 of the lowest-paid workers, as an example.
“I just met a lady who said, I used to be paid just over £6 an hour working for the city council, and now I’ll be getting £7.20 an hour and it’s already made a huge deal to me.
“And that really illustrates our argument that in tough times there are still choices to be made. And that’s what I think Birmingham shows.
“I want Birmingham to be a showcase and I think it can be a showcase for our next manifesto. I think they’ve got off to a flying start.”
Seeing Labour in action in a major city would be important because it would illustrate that the party could make a difference even in difficult times, he said.
“People have lost faith in this Conservative-led government. I think people were promised change and things have got worse, not better.
“We’ve got to show people we can deliver real change, and real change that’s going to make their lives better and rebuild Britain.
“I think we’ve already got some policies on that, such as putting our young people back to work, some of the things that have been done here in Birmingham and there’s more to do.
“I recognise, and I’ve always said that we have a long way to come back from where we were in 2010. I think we’re making progress but I know there’s further to go.”
He also said Labour nationally would learn from the success of activists in the city’s Edgbaston constituency, who fought off a strong Tory challenge to hold the seat in 2010.
Mr Miliband has returned to the city twice since the local election win – once to speak at Labour’s National Policy Forum at Aston University and, most recently, to announce that Wolverhampton councillor Bob Jones had been picked as Labour’s candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner post, to be held in November. Labour opposed the creation of commissioners, which replace police authorities, but would attempt to make them work, he said.
“We’ve said all along that we think the money would be better spent on 3,000 extra officers across the country.
“Holding these elections in November is a really bad idea. We’re already worried about turnout at elections, particularly a new set of elections, and the idea that in the middle of November it’s going to be easier to get people out is wrong. If I was in Government I wouldn’t be doing that.
“If they are going to hold these elections, and if they are going to hold them in November, we are going to try to make the best of a bad job by having high calibre candidates, as we have across the country, including in the case of Bob Jones, and by arguing about the issues that matter to people, which is the 20 per cent police cuts which are hitting the West Midlands and Birmingham really hard.
“We’re talking about the issues of how we tackle anti-social behaviour and how we work in partnership together to tackle crime in our communities.
“These elections are going to happen and we’re going to talk about the issues that matter including to the people in Birmingham.”
A theme of the National Policy Forum was Labour’s commitment to devolving power from Whitehall to local authorities, with the publication of plans to let local transport authorities seize control of rail and bus franchising.
Mr Miliband insisted he believed in devolution, and criticised the Government for appearing to tell cities they could only gain more autonomy if they chose to have directly-elected mayors. “The government said that if you become a place with a mayor then you can have extra powers.
“I say that if it’s good enough for a place with a mayor then its good enough for every part of the country.
“If you believe in devolving power, if people decide not to have a mayoral system – I actually supported a mayoral system in my own area of Doncaster – but if people vote not to have one, to then say ‘we’re not going to give you the powers’ is crazy. You either believe in devolution or you don’t.”
Birmingham is currently in negotiations with ministers about a proposed “city deal” giving the city more cash and powers to run its own affairs, but the government has previously warned that cities are more likely to be awarded powers if they have strong and accountable leadership such as a mayor. Mr Miliband said Labour would also focus on working with local councils more than Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – the partnerships between councils and business leaders set up by the present government – because they were accountable to voters.
He said: “We’ll obviously want to support the LEPs and make them work properly.
“But I think local authorities – look, why are people so cynical about politics? There’s a whole range of reasons but part of it is that they think, there’s something that really affects my life, over which my local authority, the person I vote for, my local councillor makes no difference.
“We’ve got to support Lord Justice Leveson."Ed Miliband
“So when I vote, I’m thinking well, actually, is it going to make a difference? I think local authorities are places where devolution needs to make place.”
This included defending the role of councils in running schools, in contrast to the Government’s efforts to push schools into becoming academies, independent of council control.
Teachers at 13 Birmingham primary schools were balloted over strike action following union claims that Education Secretary Michael Gove was “bullying” schools into becoming academies, although unions later withdrew the strike threat.
Mr Miliband said: “The problem is that Michael Gove is an incredibly centralising education secretary.
“That’s not the image he likes to portray. But the reality is that the idea you can have thousands of academies all run from the centre, which is what he’s proposing, without a local authority role, just doesn’t make sense.
“And so he portrays himself as a localiser but the reality is he’s a centraliser.
“Also there are issues around special needs and exclusions where local authorities do need a role.”
There have been reports, firmly denied by the government, that Ministers are going cold on plans for High Speed Two or HS2, the high speed rail network linking Birmingham, London, Leeds and Manchester.
The Department for Transport insists that the high speed line will be built – and Mr Miliband said the same held true if he became Prime Minister.
“I have always been a supporter of high speed rail.
“I think it is very, very important for the country. It is part of modernising Britain’s infrastructure. Lots of other countries have the kind of high speed rail that HS2 is about.”
Mr Miliband has been a supporter of Black Country MP Tom Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) and his work to expose phone hacking and other unethical practices in parts of the media.
But the Leveson Inquiry set up by David Cameron to look into the issues this raised has come under fire from some politicians. Michael Gove claimed the inquiry was creating a “chilling atmosphere” towards freedom of expression.
Mr Miliband disagreed, and insisted politicians of all parties had a duty to support Lord Justice Leveson’s work.
“Freedom of the press is incredibly important and we’ve got to do everything to protect the freedom of the press, but I also think we’ve got to support Lord Justice Leveson, having set him up on a cross party basis.
“I think you saw from the Prime Minister’s evidence, that he tends to concur with my view that we should be supporting Lord Justice Leveson in what he’s doing.
“We set him a task, myself, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, in a cross party agreement that this inquiry was necessary. And I think we should support him in his work.”
Finally, Mr Miliband spoke of his decision to sack Birmingham MP Liam Byrne from his role as head of Labour’s policy review. Mr Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) kept his job as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary in the Labour shadow cabinet.
“He will be playing his role as the spokesperson on welfare issues. But the reality is, and Liam and I both recognise this, that you needed somebody full time on the policy review in this phase.
“For the first phase it was possible to have somebody combining both jobs, of welfare and the policy review, but as we move into the more intense phase of this it wasn’t fair on anybody to think that they could do both jobs at once – even somebody of Liam’s ability.”