Labour leader Ed Miliband has promised to stand up for the “squeezed middle” as he prepared to embark on a thorough review of the party’s policy platform.
Apparently signalling a move away from the New Labour focus on economic growth, Mr Miliband acknowledged that the prosperity of the pre-crash period was accompanied by a squeeze on living standards for people who found themselves forced to work harder and longer and have less time with family and friends.
He admitted that during its 13 years in power Labour became “remote from many people’s hopes and aspirations”. While it celebrated growing prosperity, many families saw “the gap between their lives and their dreams became larger and harder to bridge”, he said.
And he promised to put the “squeezed middle” at the heart of the policy review which he will launch at a special party forum in Gillingham, Kent.
In a mark of his determination to make a break from the Blair/Brown era, Mr Miliband said: “Britain has changed. Labour must change. And the change must be as profound as the change undertaken by New Labour in the 1990s.”
The meeting of Labour’s National Policy Forum will kick off a lengthy reappraisal of the party’s agenda headed by shadow cabinet minister Liam Byrne, who Mr Miliband says will start from a “blank page”.
The Labour leader said that the party had “lost the humility to listen and learn” from voters while in power, and must regain it in opposition. He said: “We must understand why, despite all that was achieved over the last decade, so many people who work hard and want to get on came to feel squeezed. Why did too many families feel that the gap between their lives and their dreams became larger and harder to bridge?”
“My great fear for Britain is a coalition Government spreading a pessimism about the future – creating a more divided country in which a squeezed middle finds it ever harder to get on,” said Mr Miliband. “My great task is to build a changed Labour Party, a force for optimism in British politics, offering those squeezed families the hope of a better future.”
Mr Miliband gave a few hints about the shape of the policy platform which may emerge from his review, saying that Labour must back social mobility and fairness and take account of voters’ desire for more time with families. The party should support employers who invest in their workforce and create quality jobs and back small businesses who cannot get loans from banks.
The Labour leader indicated that he backed reform of the welfare system, acknowledging that hard-working people were “hacked off” to see neighbours claiming benefits when they could be earning a living.