Ed Miliband sets out a vision that he believes will win Labour the next election, saying the party had “failed to understand” that life was becoming “more and more difficult” for middle earners.
Speaking to the leftwing think tank Progress, the Labour leader urged the party to learn from its “terrible” showing in the recent Scottish elections and own up to its past mistakes – including being “too relaxed” about the impact of immigration in pushing down wages.
In a pitch to middle-class voters in the south, Mr Miliband pledged to tackle the “new inequality” that has grown up between the very wealthy and the rest.
He said Labour needed to emulate the party’s election victories in 1945, 1964 and 1997 to win the next General Election, offering an alternative to the “narrow pessimism” of the Conservatives.
Mr Miliband said: “I hear it quite a lot – let’s be a louder, prouder opposition. But to think that is enough is to fail to understand the depth of the loss of trust in us and the scale of change required to win it back.”
In order to regain voters’ trust, he added, the party needed to be honest about where it had gone wrong on issues like migrant workers, saying: “Eastern European immigration did place downward pressure on wages. People can argue about the extent. We were too relaxed about that.”
He insisted he was committed to tackling Britain’s record budget deficit, but said: “The truth is that we cannot create a society that is equal to the aspirations of the British people in a world of wide and growing inequalities – a world in which there are bailouts for bankers and austerity for the rest.
“Asking more of our economy, good jobs and wages, means asking less of the state. At times, we hung on to a picture of Britain in which people were either poor, and desperately in need of our help, or affluent, aspirational, and doing okay.
“We failed to understand that for millions of people in the middle, life was becoming more and more difficult. In the future, the Labour offer to aspirational voters must be that we will address the new inequality by hard wiring fairness into the economy.”
We failed to understand that for millions of people in the middle, life was becoming more and more difficult. Ed Miliband
He said that the recent council election showed that while the party was winning back Liberal Democrat voters who felt “betrayed” by their leadership, they had yet to make inroads into the Conservative vote.
The party, he said, also needed the “humility” to acknowledge that the inequality between “those at the top and everyone else” had grown under the last Labour government, although the present Government was exacerbating the situation.
“Inequality is no longer an issue just between rich and poor. But between those at the top and those both in the middle and on lower incomes,” he said.
“Since 2003, those at the top have seen their living standards continue to rise at extraordinary rates, while those of the rest have stagnated. This is about the middle income people in the south of England and elsewhere who don’t consider themselves rich even though they may be higher rate taxpayers.”