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A curate's egg of a speech

The Labour leader's set-piece presentation to conference was a real curate's egg

Ed Miliband suggested earlier this week during a stint on the soapbox in Brighton that his aim was to bring back socialism, which is an admirable goal.

But simply intoning the word is meaningless without understanding that it involves curbing the power of the capitalist class to dictate to the rest of society.

The Labour leader's set-piece presentation to conference was a real curate's egg.

It offered a variety of titbits with which it would be difficult to disagree, but there was no indication of the distance travelled in the direction of "private good, public bad" over the past three decades and the need to backtrack.

Privatisation, public-private partnerships and private finance initiatives are not neutral economic mechanisms.

They have been deployed by Tories, new Labour and the Con-Dem coalition so that private profit dictates economic priorities, no matter how much pain this brings to workers, consumers or the Exchequer.

Reversing the privatisation juggernaut is not a piece of irrelevant dogma.

It is essential to democratise the economy and put working people's living standards before the interests of the idle rich.

The non-boat-rocking tenor of Miliband's speech was foreshadowed by speeches on transport and energy by front-bench spokeswomen Maria Eagle and Caroline Flint.


Each tore into the privatisation record for rail, gas and electricity, suggesting a litany of regulation, transparency and greater competition to curb profiteering by the small group that dominates these industries.

But apart from suggesting that the public-sector Directly Operated Railways should be authorised to bid to run the East Coast Main Line franchise, public ownership passed unremarked.

This is despite between two-thirds and three-quarters of voters backing renationalisation of rail, gas, electricity and water.

Similarly, when Miliband spoke of building a million houses over five years in office, he made no mention of council housing, even though this is the most effective way to counter homelessness and house-price inflation.

To freeze energy prices for a year will bring short-term relief for households and small businesses but will leave these natural monopolies in the hands of an oligopoly that the Labour leader himself recognises is adept at rigging prices to fleece consumers.

Miliband was justified in mentioning high points in his stewardship such as standing up against Rupert Murdoch and refusing to back David Cameron's headlong rush to bomb Syria.


His identification of Cameron with Murdoch, tobacco companies and the bedroom tax was useful in describing the qualitative difference between the two main parties.

Similarly, his recitation of "we rescue the NHS, they wreck the NHS and we have to rescue it all over again" will strike a chord with the workforce and campaigners for the people's health service.

Less endearing was his assertion, "We're Britain. We're better than that" and his declaration, "I want to win this fight for Britain."

When it comes to flag-wagging jingoism, the Tories will always outdo Labour.

Working people need decent jobs, public services, pensions that they can live on and the expectation that their children's generation will enjoy a higher standard of living than their own.

While there was much to welcome in Miliband's criticism of the selfish approach favoured by the Tories, rhetoric alone will not transfer wealth from rich to poor.

That requires a radical taxation policy and public ownership, without which any aspiration to fairness will shatter on the rocks of private profit and capitalist greed.


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