U.K. opposition leader Ed Miliband pledged to tighten takeover rules, end quarterly reporting for companies and require the highest-paid to justify their earnings to encourage businesses that are “producers” rather than “predators.”
In his keynote speech today to his Labour Party’s annual conference in Manchester, northern England, Miliband laid claim to the “one nation” model of politics defined by Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1872 and said banks and other businesses should be bound by similar tenets. He said David Cameron, the current Tory leader and premier, had abandoned “one nation” policies.
Miliband said Labour is now the party best able to represent people of all backgrounds and incomes, and that recent British governments, including those headed by Labour’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, in which he was a minister, failed to hold the powerful to account.
The Labour leader said his speech was aimed at “all the people of Britain who think they’re at the mercy of forces beyond their control” and said there was a sense that in the U.K. there was “one rule for those at the top, another for everyone else. Two nations, not one.”
Miliband attacked Cameron’s coalition government for taking the country back into recession and failing to hit its own deficit-reduction targets.
“The next time you hear a Conservative say to you ‘Labour would increase borrowing,”’ Miliband said, “just remember, it is this government that is increasing borrowing this year. If the medicine’s not working, you change the medicine. You change the doctor, too, and that’s what this country needs to do.”
The Labour leader hinted at higher taxes for the rich, saying that “those with the broadest shoulders will bear the greatest burden” under a Labour government, and taunting the Conservatives for cutting the top rate of income tax to 45 percent from 50 percent in this year’s budget.
Miliband repeated his attacks on bankers, making a call for “one-nation banking” part of his speech and pledging to split up lenders’ retail and investment operations by law if legislation Cameron’s government is pushing through Parliament to erect firewalls within banks is ineffective.
Disraeli, who like Miliband was of Jewish descent, first defined “one-nation conservatism” in a speech in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, just across the street from the conference center where the Labour leader spoke today. Disraeli argued that different classes in society had obligations to each other. Cameron has said he follows the same philosophy.
“It was a vision of Britain coming together to overcome the challenges we face,” Miliband said.
In his speech to last year’s party conference in Liverpool, Miliband argued that while some businesses were “producers,” others were “predators,” and that they should be taxed and regulated differently. “One year on, people know what I was talking about,” he said today.
“Companies in Britain are far more easily bought and sold than in many other country,” Miliband said. “When a takeover is launched, the hedge funds and speculators can swoop in for a quick profit. They’re not acting in the interests of the firms, of the nation, they’re just in it for the fast buck.”
Labour would remove voting rights from recent purchasers of stock and make it the duty of investors to act in the best interests of savers, putting a priority on long-term growth, Miliband’s office said.
Executives earning more than 40 times the average pay in their companies would have to publicly justify the decision. The Labour leader’s office didn’t give more detail on how that would work.
Miliband said companies would be helped to take a longer- term view of their business by the abolition of the requirement for quarterly reporting of results. Business Secretary Vince Cable is also looking at how to encourage long-term investment strategies.
Oil companies also came under attack from the Labour leader for not cutting gasoline prices, as did News Corp. (NWSA) and its chairman for the phone-hacking scandal that led to the closing last year of the News of the World newspaper.
“In one nation, no interest, from Rupert Murdoch to the banks, is too powerful to be held to account,” Miliband said.
Labour has led the Conservatives in opinion polls by around 10 percentage points since the March budget. Even so, Cameron consistently beats Miliband in surveys of who would make the best prime minister.
A ComRes Ltd. poll for today’s Independent newspaper found 22 percent said Miliband had what it took to make a good prime minister, against 63 percent who disagreed. For Cameron, the figures were 39 percent and 52 percent. ComRes interviewed 1,010 adults by phone Sept. 28-30.
Miliband delivered today’s speech, lasting over an hour, without notes and without an autocue. Activists rose to their feet to cheer as he attacked the Tories, listing recent policy changes, including the reversal of a budget tax increase on hot baked snacks such as Cornish pasties. There were boos when he referred to Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
“Have you ever seen a more incompetent, pointless, out-of- touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, back-of-the-envelope, miserable shower?” Miliband asked.
“This was by far his most assured performance to date and has done enough to see off the doubters,” Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of politics at Bristol University, who was in the hall listening to Miliband, said in an interview. “While light on detail, it provides the basis of a coherent Labour challenge at the next election.”
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