U.K. opposition leader Ed Miliband’s description of businesses as “predators” yesterday uses language from a 1989 policy paper from the days of his predecessor Neil Kinnock.
In his keynote speech yesterday to Labour’s annual conference in Manchester, northern England, Miliband proposed changing takeover rules to encourage companies to take a “long-term productive view.” He repeated a description of some businesses as “predators,” a formulation he first came up with a year ago, saying that “companies in Britain are far more easily bought and sold than in many other countries” and that investors should be required to act in the long-term interest of businesses.
Labour’s 1989 document, titled “Meet the Challenge, Make the Change,” made the same point. The U.K. is “uniquely open” to takeovers, it said. “We shall reverse the burden of proof so that the predator must show that that the takeover is positively in the public interest,” the party said in a document that aimed to make it electable again after 10 years in opposition.
“It is interesting that Miliband is returning to the ideas and policies that he studied at university and that he campaigned for at the very start of his political career,” Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of politics at Bristol University, said in an interview in Manchester today. “It is potentially problematic, given the electoral difficulties those policies encountered.”
Kinnock, who was Labour leader from 1983 to 1992, led the party to two election defeats against Conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Even so, he laid much of the groundwork for Labour’s 1997 victory under Tony Blair, distancing it from trades unions and renewing its image.
The 1989 document was part of that effort, setting out the party’s approach to every area of policy across 88 pages. It’s held in the Labour Party’s archive at the People’s History Museum, 10 minutes’ walk from the conference center in Manchester.
Speaking to delegates in Manchester today, Miliband told them that “we are not going to the 1980s, we are not going back to internal tension and the civil war,” referring to Kinnock’s battles with the Trotskyist “militant tendency” in the Labour Party.
Other areas where Labour announcements this week coincided with the 1989 paper are in industrial policy. The Kinnock document called for a British Investment Bank to increase lending to companies and for the Department of Trade and Industry to be reorganized to develop a “medium-term industrial strategy.”
Labour’s current business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, said Oct. 1 the party would create a British Investment Bank and review the way the Department for Business works to support an “active industrial strategy.”
Then, as now, bankers were a target.
“The Conservatives are the party for the City,” Kinnock wrote in his introduction. The document referred to takeovers benefiting “merchant bankers and advertising agencies,” rather than industry as a whole.
The 1989 paper called for a top rate of income tax of 50 percent. Miliband said yesterday that if Labour was in office now, it would reverse the decision by David Cameron’s coalition government to cut the top rate to 45 percent from 50 percent.
Miliband described his speech as marking “a new approach for the future” for his party, moving on from the “New Labour” movement of Blair, who was leader until 2007.
“Old Labour, if you like, wasn’t careful with public money,” Miliband told the BBC today. “Old Labour was for one section interest of society. New Labour was too timid about the responsibilities of those at the top. One-nation Labour, which is what I’m talking about, is saying we want responsibility from all including those at the top.”
Miliband later told delegated he would attend a march against government budget cuts organized by the Trades Union Congress on Oct. 20.
The echoes may partly be the result of personnel. Labour lawmaker Jon Cruddas, who was a policy officer under Kinnock, is now in charge of Miliband’s own policy review.
Kinnock’s words have been borrowed by other politicians. In August 1987, Joe Biden, then a U.S. senator seeking the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, spoke in an Iowa debate about how he’d started thinking on the way there about being “the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree,” asking if it was because he was “smarter than the rest?”
Those lines were taken from a Kinnock speech earlier in the year, in which the Labour leader asked “Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university” and whether it was “because all our predecessors were thick?”
Kinnock, who championed Miliband’s bid to become Labour leader two years ago, applauded the speech as he sat in the hall yesterday.
“It was brilliant in all respects,” Kinnock was cited as saying by the Press Association newswire. “What he’s doing is manifesting the strengths that made me want him to be leader.”