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Labour's Ed Miliband could aim higher

Challenges for Labour under Miliband...

Labour leader Ed Miliband is like a man groping his way forward in a fog of his own making.

His party and the great British public have been befuddled by the blather about "responsible capitalism," "one nation" and the "squeezed middle."

But there are encouraging signs that the shadow prime minister and his team are coming down to earth.

Miliband's pledges to scrap the bedroom tax, boost minimum wages, punish law-dodging employers and tax the very rich will be widely welcomed by workers and their families - as far as they go.

But challenging the pernicious myth that Britain's chronic housing shortage is caused by empty rooms in council and social housing accommodation is not the same as proposing concrete policies to solve the crisis.

Abolishing the bedroom tax will not be enough to halt the offensive being waged by the Tories and their Lib Dem accomplices against the poor, the unemployed and the disabled.

Labour should be proposing that its next government will build a million new homes in the public sector for people who need them, instead of pumping hundreds of billions of pounds into banking and the property market which increases prices rather than the supply of new or affordable houses.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne is right to serve notice on Atos that it will lose its contract to inflict work capability tests on disability benefit claimants.

But the whole scheme is rotten to its very foundations, whoever operates it, especially when multinational corporations are incentivised to profit at public expense.

Labour should commit itself to funding real increases in social benefits from progressive taxation.

But here too, Miliband's ambitions are as modest as they are vague.

Merely demanding that people with an income of more £150,000 a year "should contribute more" is hopelessly inadequate if the aim is to invest in social progress and reduce inequality.

According to the National Statistics Office, the wealthiest tenth of the population in Britain own personal wealth valued at £4,491 billion.

That's 14 times than half of all the people in Britain, even though this estimate doesn't include corporate assets and the vast stashes of wealth hidden in secret bank accounts.

Three-quarters of this wealth is held in the form of property and private pension funds.

That's where Labour should look for future tax revenues, combined with sweeping powers to uncover and punish tax evasion and close all tax havens under British jurisdiction.

Miliband's commitment to raise statutory minimum wages is important, but fining rogue employers up to £50,000 rather than the current £5,000 is a case of being too soft on crime.

Benefit fraudsters can be jailed. Why not minimum wage thieves?

Shadow minister Yvette Cooper's proposal for a commissioner to lead the fight against rape and domestic violence is another welcome initiative.

But it needs to be underpinned by a programme of public investment in rape crisis, refuge and anti-trafficking services in partnership with voluntary agencies and the police.

And promised announcements at this week's Labour Party conference of a "crackdown" on profiteering train and energy companies will ring hollow without a commitment to taking these industries back into public ownership.

Many people are sick of big business, rip-off Britain. Will conference delegates and their leaders seize the moment to voice that public anger and set out the kind of bold alternative contained in the People's Charter?


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