Britain's Labour leader stakes future on cost of living election fight

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 22, 2013 9:50 AM
Britain's Labour leader stakes future on cost of living election fight

By Peter Griffiths and William James

BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) - Britain's opposition leader Ed Miliband accused Prime Minister David Cameron of stoking a cost of living crisis on Sunday, attempting to overcome dire poll ratings and convince skeptical voters that Labour can be trusted to run the economy.

Three years into his leadership, Miliband is under pressure from party activists to assert his authority and give a clearer idea of what he stands for after Labour's lead over Cameron's Conservatives narrowed.

In an attempt to draw the battle lines ahead of the 2015 election, Miliband will try to use the party's conference to blunt Cameron's message of prudence as the economy recovers from its worst crisis since World War Two.

"For generations in this country, when the economy grew the majority of people got better off," Miliband told the BBC in Brighton, a seaside resort on England's south coast where Labour's annual conference is being held.

"Now that vital link between the growing wealth of the country and people's family finances has been broken and the question is, for the British people, is there a party that's going to tackle that?"

Miliband has struggled to establish economic credibility with the voters since he beat his brother David for the leadership of Labour after Gordon Brown's 2010 electoral defeat ended 13 years of Labour governments.

Promising a stronger minimum wage, Miliband said his party would not borrow more for day-to-day spending, but repeatedly said it was too early to give details of Labour's fiscal plans.

The Conservatives said Labour's policy plans undermined their claim to financial discipline and that their commitments over the last four months would mean 28 billion pounds ($44.80 billion) of new borrowing.


Despite the slowest economic recovery on record, one poll showed the Conservatives and Labour are level-pegging. Another poll for the Observer newspaper gave Labour a seven-point lead.

But those polled thought Cameron was more capable, better at making tough decisions and clearer about the future of the world's sixth largest economy.

Asked about his poor personal poll ratings, Miliband, a 43-year-old Oxford-educated son of a Marxist intellectual said: "Polls go up and down, one thing that goes up and up is the cost of living of ordinary families."

Facing a hostile press that caricatures him in cartoons as the hapless animated character Wallace, from the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit films, Miliband has faced calls from senior party figures to shout louder to grab voters' attention.

"If you are leader of the opposition you've got to reach through the television screen and grab people by the lapel," Matthew Parris, a former Conservative lawmaker who is now a columnist for The Times newspaper, told Reuters.

"You sometimes get the impression he sees politics like one of those amusement arcade games where you have to drive and avoid touching any of the obstacles - it's as if he's just trying to get through it without commitment."

Miliband refused to match Cameron's promise to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

Attempting to reconnect with voters, Miliband posed for pictures with his wife Justine and his young sons Daniel and Samuel on Brighton's windy, overcast beach on Saturday.

But the start of the conference was overshadowed by a former Labour adviser's lurid claims about the feuding between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his successor Brown.

According to the adviser, Damian McBride, Miliband now insists on being called 'The Leader' by his colleagues. A source close to Miliband dismissed that claim as nonsense and said Miliband liked to be called Ed. ($1 = 0.6250 British pounds)

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)