Ed Miliband failed to rouse TUC delegates’ enthusiasm yesterday despite claiming he was “not in favour of austerity” and pledges to “ban” zero-hour contracts.
The Labour leader’s address to the annual congress included promises to promote a living wage and build more houses.
He said: “I’m determined to build an economy that works for working people and that means security, not insecurity at work.”
But delegates pounced on the chance to grill the Labour leader over spending cuts during a question and answer session.
PCS president Janice Godrich asked: “Your policies seem contradictory and they’re confusing people. Can we get a clear answer — are you for or against austerity?”
After the cheers of other delegates died down, Mr Miliband responded: “The simple answer is No, we’re not in favour of austerity and I’m absolutely clear about that.
“But I’m not going to pretend that things are going to be easy for the next Labour government, there will be a deficit to reduce and we’ll have to have strict spending limits.”
Ms Godrich later labelled it an “incredibly disappointing” response that “failed to offer the alternative people so desperately want and need.”
The Labour leader made a number of policy announcements in a bid to dodge attention over his plans to change his party’s union link.
Among them was forcing businesses, which win government contracts, offer paid apprenticeships and establishing regional investment banks.
But he did defend affiliation reforms, telling delegates that “the bigger risk is just saying let’s do it as we have always done.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said Mr Miliband “looked like a real leader” and praised the speech for including “a lot of substance.”
Unison leader Dave Prentis agreed he “spoke about things that matter to people” but said his commitment to Con-Dem spending limits “make no sense.”
He said: “Lectures about the ‘challenge’ of changing the historic relationship between unions and the Labour Party are a turn off.
“It was also disappointing, too, that he didn’t even mention the NHS and what he would do to protect and defend it.”
RMT union leader Bob Crow also pointed out: “Ed Miliband said nothing about workers’ rights, repealing the anti-union laws, standing alongside those fighting the cuts or taking rail and other services back into public ownership.
“There’s not a fag paper between him, Cameron and Clegg on the big issues.”
Mr Miliband at least won praised from teaching unions for pledging to stop any new free schools being created under a Labour government.
“We’ve got to have a proper local authority role because you can’t have a free for all in education,” he told Congress.
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