March 26, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Miliband started with audience questions. This was a much snappier session than Cameron’s, for the simple reason that the Prime Minister naturally had to be more defensive whereas Miliband could go on the attack.
The first question was about why Miliband seems so gloomy, and whether things are really so bad. Miliband felt that we can do better than where we are. He wanted to give people a legal right to a paid contract for example instead of a zero hours contract. This received the only round of applause of the night so far. The next questioner asked why she feels demonised as a higher rate tax payer, even though she is working class. Miliband used tuition fees falling as an example of how he is helping Middle class families. Miliband said that as a democratic socialist he wants working people to be successful. The next question was about the budget deficit, what it would be in 2020 and how. Miliband said to clear the deficit he will reverse the tax cut for the highest earners, he will have to make some cutbacks, and most of all he wants to raise living standards so that tax revenue will rise.
Next question was about why Labour weren’t offering a referendum on the EU. Miliband admits it isn’t his priority because leaving the EU would be a disaster, because of the job losses it would cause in particular. He feels that leadership is about deciding on priorities, and his isn’t leaving the EU. Asked whether his brother, David, would have done a better job than him, he answer was obviously no. Ed stood because he wanted to move on from New Labour, and a David was very much part of New Labour so couldn’t have done that. He admitted that the relationship with his brother is strained, but he put his country in front of that.
Then we went onto socialism and its place as a Labour Party value. Miliband believes in a fairer more equal society. He thinks the choice is to be a country working for the richest and most powerful or for everyone to get a fair shot, particularly those going out to work and ‘doing the right thing’. He was then asked about broken promises. Miliband, unsurprisingly, said that he will follow through on his promises. He used the example of tuition fees to prove that. He said he wanted to be the first Prime Minister to under-promise and over-deliver.
Asked what he likes about Cameron, Miliband admired David Cameron’s commitments to equal marriage and also to overseas development, making sure the Conservatives kept to their promise to give 0.7% of GDP in aid. Miliband admitted to the next questioner that he will never win a contest on eating a bacon sandwich, but he will stick to his principles and act with decency and courage to stand up to energy companies and Rupert Murdoch. The next questioner asked Miliband about a promise to not put the country back into worse debt. Miliband admitted a Labour were wrong not to regulate the banks properly. He wants them to work better for businesses.
Finally, asked about the polls, and why Labour aren’t winning at the moment. Miliband said he isn’t worried about it, as the people will decide.
Paxman started with a question on immigration, asking whether Britain is full. Miliband wouldn’t make any false promises on it. But he admitted that Labour got it wrong on immigration when in government. But he feels that the country benefits from diversity. He will try to get low skill migration down by controlling benefits, and stopping exploitation of foreign workers. But he wouldn’t get drawn into any speculation on a limit to numbers in the country.
He was then asked what else the Labour government got wrong in power. They were too relaxed about inequality, and the gap getting bigger. He blamed the Global financial crisis for debts (even though we were in debt before the crisis), but said that no government gets it completely right and that the global financial crisis wasn’t caused by Labour. He then ended up pointing out the Millenium Dome as a mistake (even though it has ended up as a very successful entertainment venue).
Paxman mentioned that Miliband had predicted unemployment would rise, it didn’t. Miliband predicted inflation would rise, it didn’t. Miliband predicted wages would fall, and they have according to Miliband. Asked what he would cut, he mentioned child benefit amongst other things, which didn’t add up to much, but he thought what was key was having fair taxes and pointed out that he has promised that outside protected departments he will reduce spending, which Tony Blair never promised once.
On energy, Miliband once said raising energy bills would be better for the environment. As energy secretary he said there could be upward pressure on bills as we transition to a more environmentally efficient economy. But Miliband never said it would be OK for the energy market to be raising prices and exploiting consumers. So he wants to sort that out.
On the mansion tax, Paxman pointed out that much of it will be taken from the South East and given to Scotland. Miliband answered that part of being a United Kingdom is redistribution across the country. Helping poor people wherever if you are lucky enough to have a high value house.
We then moved onto Alex Salmond. Paxman mentioned Salmond’s threats this week of the policies he would insist on to support a Labour government. Miliband wouldn’t be drawn on it and said he was still aiming for a majority.
Paxman then mentioned a ‘bloke on the tube’ who was concerned that Miliband would go into a room with Vladimir Putin and be wiped the floor with. Miliband reminded us that he said no to President Obama when he wanted us to support Syria and supported Cameron on Libya. He then provided us with a fun soundbite: “Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I’m tough enough.”
Miliband was asked about his image. He said he doesn’t care what the newspapers write about him. He came into politics to stand up to unaccountable power and to help working people. Called a “North London Geek” by Paxman and reminded that some people said its a shame it isn’t his brother doing it, Miliband reminded us how many expectations he had exceeded. This includes getting the job in the first place.
It was a line of questioning from Paxman which wasn’t getting anywhere and gave Miliband the opportunity just to remind us that he’s just who he is, and what he believes in, and that’s that. We ended up with the microphones giving us an odd little exchange at the end. Paxman said “you Ok Ed?”. Miliband replied “Yeah, you?” Thus saith a man who is used to being underestimated.