29 June 2010
Ask Ed Miliband – online Q&A
Tuesday 3:30pm 29 June
In the first of Open Left’s online Q&As with the Labour Leadership candidates Ed Miliband, the shadow Climate Change Secretary and MP for Doncaster North, will discussed his ideas for the future of the left and answered your questions on how social democrats should respond to the challenges of the 21st century, creating a dynamic economy and rewarding work, the impact of globalisation and the creation of a just society.
Before the Q&A session, Ed also gave a speech at Broadway House. The full text of his speech is available
Thanks everyone for coming along and asking questions today. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. I am off to catch a train to the Oxford hustings now so might see some of you later.
Katie asks (4.38pm): It’s a sad fact that, with regards to gender, our political system is deeply unequal. Given the arguments for and against all women shortlists, what is your approach to how we change the culture to embrace great gender diversity and a parliament which speaks better for us all?
Ed answers (4.43pm): All women shortlists have helped to change politics in this country by getting more women into parliament. Without them I doubt we would have had the changes to family policy and flexible working that are some of the best things we did in government. We will need to continue to have all-women shortlists in order to increase the representation of women. But politics is still a pretty macho business and the more we can do to change the political culture the better. So not just for policy but also for an improvement in the conduct of politics I am arguing the shadow cabinet should be made up of 50% women.
Max asks (4.32pm): Ed, you said in Saturday’s Guardian that you would look at abolishing tuition fees in favour of a graduate tax. Do you think it is fair that someone who lives frugally at University in order to keep within their means should have to pay as much towards their education through tax as someone who does not save in order to provide for themselves? Also, how would the graduate tax work for people who drop out of University in years one or two? Would they still have to pay the tax despite not receiving their degree or would they not have to pay, despite having used publicly funded resources?
Ed answers (4.37pm): A graduate tax would replace upfront tuition fees and be a sustainable source of funding for a world-class university sector. Students would still need to make provision for their living costs as under the current system so there is no question of penalizing those who are careful with their costs.
Instead of upfront fees, graduates would be asked to contribute a small percentage of their salaries to a fund over a fixed time period. The percentage would vary according to income, so independent studies have suggested the very highest earners might pay up to 2%, while those on lower earnings would pay less. This would link university funding to a graduate’s ability to pay in the future, rather than to their parents’ ability to pay upfront.
You’re right to point out the practical issues this raises, and that is why I want to consult widely before publishing detailed plans later this year. The NUS, for example, have argued that the tax should be discounted for those who only complete a proportion
Jason asks (4.22pm): What will you do to reform the banks so that they invest for the development of the UK economy?
Ed answers (4.28pm): Thanks Jason, its a really important question and I hope you get the opportunity to look at the speech I gave earlier today where I talked about these issues in more depth.
Business as usual says let’s sell our stake in the banks back to the private sector as quickly as possible. But I would take the opportunity of the rationalisation of these stakes to create a new banking system which works to invest in the industries of the future and the small businesses that can be the centre of our communities. This means creating a stronger regional dimension to our banking system and potentially keeping a public stake or remutualising part of the sector.
Ralph asks (4.18pm): The recent budget plans to reduce the deficit chiefly by cutting spending, with the ratio of 77:23 with tax rises. Are you happy with this ratio? If not, where would you make cuts and raise taxes? Be specific.
Ed answers (4.21pm): No –I think the Budget was the most unfair I have ever seen in my political lifetime. The Coalition have gone far beyond Labour’s planned spending cuts, and I’m dismayed that the Liberal Democrats are backing changes which go against their election promises. I would not raise VAT – it is the most unfair tax, and disproportionately impacts on the poorest. I would keep the 50% top-rate of tax indefinitely. I would also keep the Bankers Bonus tax in place. In terms of spending cuts, we outlined what we thought the pace of reduction should be. We know there are hard decisions to be made but the motivation behind this Budget is to cut the size of the state because the Tory-LibDem coalition thinks government should get out of the way. That is why they are cutting further and faster. I would not cut further until our recovery is secured. Cutting the Future Jobs Fund and support for growth industries of the future is incredibly short-sighted.
Alexandra asks (4.14pm): Ed, What steps would you take to ensure that rural areas of the UK share fairly in economic growth and the development of new industries particularly where there are challenges of low private investment, high levels of poverty like in the urban wards of King’s Lynn and of financial and digital technology exclusion like many parts of North-West Norfolk ?
Ed answers (4.17pm): It will require us thinking differently about our economy and also what we value for our rural communities to thrive in the way we would all like to see. New technologies and better infrastructure offer opportunities for growth but the fair sharing of the future growth will require us to do more than simply hope the market will deliver or that subsidies should offset the inequities of that market. Rural communities need active government as much as people living in cities.
Sam asks (4.10pm): What, in your view, is ‘Britishness’? Do you feel that patriotism is either necessary or desirable?
Ed answers (4.13pm): Being British is about fair play, respect for differences, and fighting on even if the odds are against you. This country gave my parents a home when they fled the Nazis. The British determination not to give in to that horror is something I hold very dear. I think there is a difference between being patriotic and being nationalistic. To me, being patriotic is about believing in the potential of your community and giving something back.
Graham asks (4.07pm): What is your position on a written constitution?
Ed answers (4.09pm): I’m sympathetic because a written constitution could make formal the checks and balances on government and enable people to be clear about their rights as citizens. I think at times Labour has risked being too cavalier about the extension of the power of the state and too casual about individual’s liberty and a written constitution could play a role in ensuring that a state which can still make a difference to people’s lives is not overbearing.
Jim asks (3.59pm): Why make a big deal about the living wage if it is voluntary? Aren’t you giving workers false hope?
Ed answers (4.03pm): This goes to a very important issue. We need the right laws to create a fairer society, but laws aren’t the only way that political change happens. First, we need action from government as employer to influence the way the labour market works, which is why we committed in our manifesto pay a living wage in whitehall as some local councils are already doing. Secondly, from people putting pressure on private businesses to become living wage employers, particularly larger multinationals that have been persuaded to do so in london. That’s what I want the Labour party to be campaigning for. It’s not false hope, it’s about an understanding of the way long-term change happens.
Bill asks (3.54pm): As an unsuccessful candidate at the last election, the issue that came up most often on the doorstep was immigration. What is your policy on this and how would you act to prevent us losing contact with our natural supporters on this or other issues in the future?
Ed answers (3.59pm): we need to be willing to talk about the issue of immigration, but the question is what should be done to addresss the underlying causes of people’s concerns about immigration. The most important thing is to address issues of living standards, housing etc, which have driven that concern. And to have a convincing story about how we can make people’s lives better.
Emily asks (3.50pm): How would you promote UK growth? As part of the economic solution? Or would you just rely on public service cuts and tax rises to rebalance the budget?
Ed answers (3.52pm): UK growth is the best way of reducing the deficit which is why what the coalition is doing —in cutting some key investments—makes no sense. We would have had a different balance of tax rises and spending cuts, and the coalition have gone far beyond labour in the scale of cuts they are demanding.
Richard asks (3.46pm): You said that ‘Labour went wrong when it spoke the language of technocrats’ and needs to give people a clearer sense of what it stands for. Do you mean that Labour needs to better communicate its values or that the party has become disconnected from those values?
Ed answers (3.49pm): A combination of both. We need to stand up for a clear sense of values, like equality, fairness at work, strong communities, with clear policy to back it up. We also need to talk about these values more than we have in the past.
Charlotte asks (3.39pm): you have placed a commitment to social democracy at theheart of your campaign. What steps would you take to assert an active state, while balancing the need for public sector cuts?
Ed answers (3.42pm): I think the short sightedness of the coalition is that it is cutting back on crucial investments, for example in Sheffield forgemasters, which are about an active state which encourages economic growth, and will reduce the deficit. Of course there would have to b to have been cuts under us, but the coalition has decided to go far faurther and far faster.
Katherine asks (3.35pm): 1. what would you do about the gender pay gap? Transparency is key. There’s no justification for paying people differently according to gender, and firms need to be open in exactly how they determine payscales. I support pay audits, and 2. would there have been a financial crisis if the women ran the banks?
Ed answers (3.37pm):
The financial crisis was caused by irresponsible lending, and a culture which was more concerned with short term gains and not the systemic effects. But the reason I want more women in politics is because they help to change the conversation and shift priorities. That may well have happened in banking too – though I don’t think men have a monopoly on short-termism.
Roger asks (3.31pm): Do you believe that it should be the role of government to narrow inequalities in income and wealth and, if so, what instruments would you advocate to achieve this?
Ed answers (3.33pm):
Yes I do, and its partly the reason I entered politics. I think as progressives we need to develop a new economic model which doesn’t just try to correct the failures of the market through taxes and transfer payments but aims to shape the market so that high skill, high pay jobs support a more equal society in which there is greater opportunity.
As part of this I would establish a High Pay Commission to look at pay gap in both the public and private sectors. It cannot be right that people at the top of an organisation are earning more than a hundred times those at the bottom, and we should not be afraid to say so. The 50% tax rate is also a good way to make sure those with great wealth pay their fair share, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be permanent.