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Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Sunday, 16 January 2011

Transcript of Ed Miliband interview

On Sunday 16th January Andrew Marr interviewed Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

ANDREW MARR:

And so to the man whose party won the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election and on whom the cartoonists are just beginning to get their eye in: the Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband. Welcome Mr Miliband.

ED MILIBAND:

Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR:

If Labour is going to capitalise on that by-election win and make it the start of something, not the end of the something, you have to do more to persuade people about Labour and the economy where the opinion polls still show, you know, a minority of people trust the party. In that context, can I ask you about Labour spending during the years in office. Do you accept that before the crisis happened, actually Labour was spending too much?

ED MILIBAND:

No, I don't. Let me tell you what I do think we have to answer for and where we should acknowledge the mistakes that we made though. I think we should take our responsibility for not having regulated the banks sufficiently, along with governments around the world. I think that the British economy was too exposed to the crash in financial services because we were so reliant on that as an industry to support us. And I think we also should have acknowledged earlier that our plans - our plan to halve the deficit over four years - would have involved cuts. And I think on those counts, we should take responsibility. But on this central question, Andrew, of why do we have or why did we end up with a deficit of more than 10% of our national income, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats I think are pedalling a very dangerous myth because they want to tell people that it was somehow all because of a decade of overspending under Labour. It wasn't. It was because of a financial crash - a financial crash that happened all round the world.

ANDREW MARR:

If that was a myth that it was all Labour's fault, is it not equally a myth that none of it was Labour's fault? Can I just keep to the spending thing …

ED MILIBAND:

Of course.

ANDREW MARR:

… because this is crucial because it's the deficit that the country's now trying to spend again.

ED MILIBAND:

Sure, sure.

ANDREW MARR:

In the years up to the crash, Labour spent an extra 8% or so of GDP - 4.5% average each year above inflation of extra spending. A heck of a lot of money and actually unsustainable.

ED MILIBAND:

Well, look, I think we're going to sort of blind people with science if we get into a to and fro on percentages. Let me say something very simple though, which is that before the financial crash happened the debt was lower than when we came to office, the deficit was lower than when we came to office. That tells you something about the way we ran the economy under Labour. Now, sure, we were borrowing about 2% of our national income, but why did it go to above 10%? It didn't go to above 10% because of the money that Labour was spending. It went because we lost a large part of our economy. Then we …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well there are two phases …

ED MILIBAND:

(over) Well let me make this extra point. Then we had a decision to make: should we cut, should we cut immediately? Now that would have been the worst thing to do because then we'd have ended up with a depression in Britain and a higher deficit as well. So, look, I acknowledge our responsibilities. I don't say we had nothing to do with the fact that we ended up in a global financial crisis because all governments that were in power should take their responsibility. So it's not about denying responsibility, but it is about telling the truth.

ANDREW MARR:

There are two phases. There's when the crisis hits and as it were everything goes off a cliff …

ED MILIBAND:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

… and there's the phase before that, which is what I'm really focusing on. You know public spending as a proportion went up from 40% to 48% - it's a big jump - over that period.

ED MILIBAND:

Well no, that was after the crash happened.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay. Well okay if we stay away from the figures …

ED MILIBAND:

Yuh.

ANDREW MARR:

… I mean Tony Blair said in his memoir that by 2005, he was worried that the party was spending too much. And Alistair Darling said actually it was about 2007, he was worried that the party had been spending too much - before the crash happened. And all I'm asking you is to acknowledge that actually, you know in Keynesian terms, in that period, during the upswing when you should have been paying money back, by the end you were spending too much.

ED MILIBAND:

Well if you look at actually what happened, we slowed the growth of public spending in about 2005 or 2006 precisely because the tax receipts weren't coming in sufficiently and we slowed the growth of spending in our economy. But I just come back to this central, I just come back to this central point, which is that did we end up with a large deficit because Labour was spending too much before the crash happened? That, in my view, is not the case. I believe the reason we ended up with a very large deficit … And, look, all round the world … President Obama is facing a large deficit. He didn't do that because Gordon Brown was spending too much. But I do come to this point as well. We should have acknowledged earlier - and I think this is the mistake we made - we should have acknowledged earlier, after the financial crisis happened, that eventually there would have to be cuts under Labour. Our plans, our plans involved cuts and we should have acknowledged that. And I think the problem we faced was if you like we sometimes looked like we were pretending there weren't going to be cuts under Labour when in fact there were. So that is a point that I acknowledge. You know …

ANDREW MARR:

So just … Sorry …

ED MILIBAND:

Yuh.

ANDREW MARR:

… one last go on this. To be absolutely clear - looking back, in the period before the crisis, before the crash happened - you would do it all again? In the same circumstances, you would be spending that sort of proportion of public money?

ED MILIBAND:

I wouldn't do it all again. What I would do is take every action you could to avoid a financial crisis because that is the thing that drove the deficit up and that is the lesson we …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Sorry, but you would spend as much, you would spend as much?

ED MILIBAND:

… and that is the lesson we've got to learn. And, look, as to the point about spending, it's about spending and tax and whether the two things don't balance because we said we would borrow to invest in our economy, but you keep borrowing at manageable levels.

ANDREW MARR:

But they weren't manageable levels, and they weren't manageable levels because Labour had said there was going to be no boom and bust again. The business cycle had disappeared, it had vanished away, and therefore even as things were growing fast and the economy was booming, rather than paying money back, you kept borrowing and you kept spending.

ED MILIBAND:

Well we did pay the debt down, but clearly we shouldn't have said there would be no boom and bust. That was clearly a mistake. Why is this such an important argument though? It's not about defending the past. What it's about is a guide to the future. Because the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats want to tell you that the only thing that matters for our economy in the future is to cut spending as far and as fast as possible, and what that means is it threatens the kind of growth we need in our economy - the kind of growth we need to raise people's living standards. And it also, because of the depth of the cuts that they're undertaking, it also threatens frankly services that people rely on. Now there would have been cuts under us, but the scale of the cuts they're doing - that's what's producing the trebling of tuition fees, the end of educational maintenance allowances and some of the other things that we're seeing.

ANDREW MARR:

You've given a long list of - a short list, to be fair - of some of the big cuts that the government has announced. When it comes to those big ticket items on welfare and all the rest of it, you're against all of them pretty much.

ED MILIBAND:

That's not true, that's not true.

ANDREW MARR:

Well give me a big ticket item that you're not against cutting.

ED MILIBAND:

Well I'll give you a number of big ticket items. Ed Balls has said in relation to the policing that there could have been 12% cuts in the budget there. It could have saved a billion pounds. The government has gone further. That's why frontline policing is being cut - because we could have saved money. I'll give you an exa…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So you're against their policing cuts because they're too big?

ED MILIBAND:

No, but we said that we would have made cuts, but the scale of cuts they're doing, that's the problem.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

ED MILIBAND:

In relation to welfare, let me give you a specific example on the reforms to the disability living allowance, the gateway for that; on the reforms to employment support allowance. Douglas Alexander has said very clearly that we'll work with the government on the changes. And he's even said in relation to benefit uprating that while we don't accept a permanent lowering of that, we would be willing to look at a change for three years in order to save in fact rather large sums of money. So I don't accept this mythology that's being put around, Andrew. I said very clearly when I became leader, we're not going to oppose every cut. And I can go through it, it will get a big boring …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Okay. No, let's …

ED MILIBAND:

… I can go through every programme where our spokespeople are being very responsible. In the roads programme, our spokesperson there has said that they wouldn't oppose the cuts being made to the roads programme. So we've been a responsible opposition, but it's right that we stand up on these issues like tuition fees that define the future for example of our young people in this country.

ANDREW MARR:

You've mentioned tuition fees a couple of times. Your proposal for a graduate tax, which would hit people earning more money - they'd have to pay it back at a higher rate and so on - actually in practical terms is very, very like the tuition fee. It's money which doesn't have to be paid upfront, but has to be paid back later. And I just wonder. You know the Labour Party have been slightly grandstanding on the tuition fees; you've got a lot of support from students. In fact your proposal would have a very similar practical effect.

ED MILIBAND:

No, I don't accept that. There's two big differences, I think, about what the government's done that I disagree with. The first thing that they've done is to come along and say that while they're cutting public spending by about 12% across the board, they're going to have an 80% cut in the higher education budget. That means they've targeted higher education. They're not getting … They're not trebling fees to get more money into higher education. They're actually doing it to fill a hole that they …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Trying to get the deficit down.

ED MILIBAND:

Well to fill a hole that they've created by targeting higher education. And the second change is about how you pay the money back. In their scheme, the richest earners, the highest earners, because actually they pay the money back more quickly, will end up doing better than middle earners. That's not fair.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) They'll have a high interest rate as well though, won't they?

ED MILIBAND:

Well it's the interest rate that means that they do better.

ANDREW MARR:

Well no, but they pay back more. But let me return just one final time to the spending question. And this is why it seems to me to be particularly important …

ED MILIBAND:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

… because the whole debate at the moment is about the scale of the deficit.

ED MILIBAND:

Of course.

ANDREW MARR:

And there's no doubt that Labour spent an awful lot of money before the crash happened and perhaps the reason that people are not yet ready to trust the Labour Party on the economy is that they think if you came into power in the future, you would do the same again. And it seems to me from what you've been saying that actually you would, when it comes to spending, do just the same again.

ED MILIBAND:

Well we wouldn't do just the same again because it was precisely to if you like tackle the situation we inherited in 1997 that we put the money into the schools, the hospitals, the transport system. And obviously we don't need to do that again because we've already done it once, and actually all around this country there are people who are benefiting as a result of that. I am absolutely clear that we've got a job to do to win back economic credibility, absolutely right, and I'm going to do it by acknowledging the mistakes we made - as I've done it. What I'm not going to do …

ANDREW MARR:

No, no.

ED MILIBAND:

… is buy into an argument about the future of this country, which I think takes it in the wrong direction.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay. You gave me a list of cuts that the Labour Party supports - all under a billion pounds or thereabouts so far. What about the really big ones? What about the public sector pay freeze, for instance?

ED MILIBAND:

Well we had our own plans on the public sector. By the way, they're not under a billion. I don't want to keep throwing figures around, but they're not under a billion pounds the cuts that we are supporting. That's not the case.

ANDREW MARR:

Individually.

ED MILIBAND:

Look, on the public sector we had our own plans to save money. But I do want to make this point because I think people can sometimes forget this in the argument about the detail. George Osborne came along in the June budget and said there's Labour's plan to halve the deficit in four years. Now I've slightly adapted that plan because I think the bankers, for example, could be paying more. That's a change from what we said at the election. But he said on top of that, we need to cut an extra £30 billion over the same period and raise taxes by an extra £10 billion. So there's a big space between us in the scale and pace of deficit reduction. And, therefore, it's right we point out that there are places where because they've decided to go further and faster - I think a risk to the economy - it's also doing damage to people as well. That's why I've talked about tuition fees and other things.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure. You've mentioned tax as well. You're absolutely against the rise in VAT, which raises an enormous amount of money for the government's plans, and you've suggested that national insurance would take the hit under you. Not employees' national insurance because that's an individual tax rise, but employers' national insurance. Now that would imply going up from 13.8% to about 17% to fill that gap. That's what the numbers suggest.

ED MILIBAND:

No, no. Sorry that comes back to the original … the point I've just made, which is that you're assuming that we would cut at the same pace as the government. But George O…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You've got to find some extra taxes.

ED MILIBAND:

… but George Osborne himself has said there's a big difference you see between our plan, which was to halve the deficit in four years, and their plan. And you know …

ANDREW MARR:

But I'm sorry, I'm assuming that you're not going to make all their cuts; and you've said you're not going to make all their cuts on the spending side and, therefore, you have to raise more money on the tax side.

ED MILIBAND:

No, no.

ANDREW MARR:

Not to make it the same plan, but just to get some more money back.

ED MILIBAND:

No, that's not the case. We've said very clearly that we would have gone ahead with the national insurance rise for employees. A 1% rise. We've also … For employers, I beg your pardon. We've also said that we would have a higher bank levy. But the rest of it would come from public spending, and if we'd been in government that's what we'd have been doing. But then you've got this gap that opens up between the Conservatives who say we need an extra £10 billion of tax rises, broadly speaking VAT, and an extra £30 billion of spending cuts. And that is the difference between us. And you know I make this point …

ANDREW MARR:

And this is not just taking … making soft options here?

ED MILIBAND:

Absolutely not and I make this point. You see their view … there's three ways you can cut the deficit - tax revenues, spending cuts and economic growth - and that's the thing they're leaving out of the account here. They don't seem to think that actually their responsibility is to make the economy grow at the pace we need it to grow at.

ANDREW MARR:

You say they're going to drive this country into a double dip recession.

ED MILIBAND:

No, I don't say that. I've never said that.

ANDREW MARR:

So what's the problem? What's the problem with making … you know paying back the money faster then?

ED MILIBAND:

Well here's the problem, which is that on their own forecasts we are set for the slowest growth out of recession in forty years. Now why is that a bad thing? It's a bad thing for people's living standards and it's a bad thing also because if we don't make the economy grow now - now at a time when we should be coming out of recession very strongly and growing very strongly - it does long-term damage to our economy. See just take …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well the figures on the private sector are not bad actually in terms of growth.

ED MILIBAND:

Well sure, let's see what the figures are, but their own forecasts say we're going to have a slow recovery. But take this point. Young people - I really worry about the future of young people in this country under this government. We had something called the Future Jobs Fund. It was putting young people back to work. The government's just got rid of it at a stroke. Now that isn't just bad for those young people now. That's bad for the long-term prospects of our country. And we know from the 80s and 90s, the way we ended up with a lost generation of young people. So the decisions they make now which inhibit economic growth and make our economy grow more slowly aren't just bad for today. They're bad for the long-term prospects of our country.

ANDREW MARR:

Again and again, and indeed in your Fabian speech yesterday, you've made the point that one of the areas that perhaps Labour failed in the past and you feel has been failing now are people on lower and middle incomes, and that's where - the so-called squeezed middle - that's where you have to focus your emphasis …

ED MILIBAND:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

… and that, therefore, people at the top should be paying a bit more. Now you want to keep the 50p top rate for the rest of this parliament and possibly beyond that.

ED MILIBAND:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

Can I put it to you that the entire logic of everything you're saying is that 50p is not enough actually for people paying 150 … getting £150,000 a year, people at the top, and actually the missing bit of the Labour jigsaw is that income tax for those who can afford it should go up?

ED MILIBAND:

Nice try. I've said before that I think the 50p rate is broadly the limit that we should go up to on the top rate of tax. But we'll set our tax plans at the next election. We're not in government at the moment. I do think though the issue of people who are struggling to get by and are seeing a government that is basing its plans on squeezing their living standards … Let's be very clear about this - that that is the basis of the government's whole economic strategy: raising VAT, cutting tax credits, inflation going up as a result of the VAT rise. That is their whole economic strategy and I think it's the wrong strategy for our country.

ANDREW MARR:

Before we leave the economy, one of the things that's going up obviously are fuel prices - rocketing up at the moment. Now you were a notably green environment secretary.

ED MILIBAND:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

I mean I just wonder what your attitude is about petrol. Do you think it's fair enough that people are paying more for petrol - you know perhaps they'll drive less and that'll be good? Or do you think the government should be putting in some kind of fair fuel scheme to cut the price?

ED MILIBAND:

I've never believed that the way to make our economy green is to put fuel prices up and up and up and up without limit. I don't think that is actually the answer.

ANDREW MARR:

So they are too much at the moment, do you think?

ED MILIBAND:

Well they are definitely going up too much internationally and the government should be doing more internationally to try and get prices down. And they shouldn't have raised VAT, which is driving up the fuel price. But on the question of a fuel stabiliser, look one of the things that my job is to do is to help to restore trust in politics. I'm not going to make you an empty promise on the fuel stabiliser, as this government did. They made a promise before the election. The Conservatives put it in their manifesto and they've now broken the promise. Oil prices and fuel prices are at record highs and they're actually putting up the duty. So let's see if they come forward with a proposal for a fuel duty stabiliser. We found it hard to do that in government. I think the thing they should have done to help the motorists …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But do you think …

ED MILIBAND:

… is not to put VAT up, which is putting money on people's bills.

ANDREW MARR:

And you wouldn't have done that and, therefore, you would have … you think that petrol should be cheaper at the pump?

ED MILIBAND:

Well I don't think that they should have put the duty rise on at a time when petrol prices are at a record high.

ANDREW MARR:

You've appealed for the support of Liberal Democrat voters. Well perhaps no great surprise there. What about Liberal Democrat MPs and councillors and so on. Are you hoping that quite a few start to come over to you?

ED MILIBAND:

I am hoping that people will come over to us. But I also said something else important in my speech yesterday. I want as many people as possible to vote Labour and be part of the Labour Party, but there will also be people - MPs and others - who choose to stay and fight in the Liberal Democrats, to fight the direction that Nick Clegg is taking the Liberal Democrats in. And I respect that choice too and I say to them let's work together, while they continue to remain Liberal Democrats, on the issues that really matter to our country. And there's one coming up this week. Educational maintenance allowances are being abolished. We've put down a motion in the House of Commons to try and stop that, try and reverse that. We're working with Simon Hughes and others. And my appeal is to all Liberal Democrat MPs. They know that this was a crucial way in which we created educational opportunity in this country. I hope they'll join us and I hope that councillors and others will put pressure on them to join us.

ANDREW MARR:

You talk about Nick Clegg there, but presumably this is not a personal thing. I mean if the cards fell in a slightly different way, you could work with Nick Clegg in the future?

ED MILIBAND:

I mean it's not personalised and I think he's a perfectly nice guy, but nice guy isn't enough. The problem with Nick Clegg is that he has made a choice which I don't think is a progressive choice. He's made a choice to go along with a government that puts up VAT, that trebles tuition fees and does these other …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So if the cards fell differently, you couldn't work with him?

ED MILIBAND:

Well if you're … You're asking me to get into a sort of …

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

ED MILIBAND:

… post-election poker game some years off a general election. I'm not going to do that. I want a majority Labour government. It won't surprise you to hear me say that. I've said before it would be very difficult to work with Nick Clegg, but let's see what he does. I mean let's see … You know if he were to be a sort of sinner repenteth, as you might say, then you know maybe things would change. But at the moment, I feel he's kind of made his bed, if you like …

ANDREW MARR:

And he has to lie in it.

ED MILIBAND:

… and he's lying in it.

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh. What about the wave of strikes that we're told is going to happen this spring? What's your attitude to that? Are you for instance going to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the trade union leaders in March when they have their big rally?

ED MILIBAND:

Well on the question of the strikes, I'm appalled at the idea there are going to be strikes to disrupt people going to the Royal wedding, for example, and enjoying the Royal wedding. That's absolutely the wrong thing for the trade unions to do. I hope that's not the case, I hope it's not true, but I would totally condemn that. Similarly in relation to the Olympics. Let me say this very clearly about industrial action. Strikes are a last resort. They're a sign of failure on both sides. Now they are a legitimate last resort means of workers making an industrial point, but they're not the way you change governments. The way you change governments is through the ballot box. And, frankly, you know …

ANDREW MARR:

So you don't like this idea of all the unions getting together for sort of coordinated national strikes?

ED MILIBAND:

No. No, I don't.

ANDREW MARR:

You don't like that?

ED MILIBAND:

No, I don't.

ANDREW MARR:

And you'd say to the transport workers in London and elsewhere when it comes to something like the Royal wedding, don't strike?

ED MILIBAND:

Of course they shouldn't strike to disrupt the Royal wedding. Look, it alienates the public, it's wrong, and also it's not the way to make the political argument that we need to make. The political argument that we need to make is done through peaceful campaigning, through voting - including at the by-election and in the local elections and Scottish and Welsh elections that we have. And what we're not going to do, Andrew, under my leadership is go back to the heroic failures of the 1980s because those failures of the union movement set back our party. And so if you're asking me about them, that's not what I want to see.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me ask you about one of the other big stories in the papers today and the last week, which is this extraordinary tale of the undercover policeman who was infiltrating environmentalists and anti-capitalist groups and was then exposed. Do you think the police have questions to answer about this kind of operation?

ED MILIBAND:

It's certainly a very, very odd story. You know I think in the end politicians shouldn't second guess the operational actions of the police, but there is a police complaints sort of mechanism for people who are unhappy about what has happened. So I think it's wrong for me to sort of, without knowing the full details of this, to get into it, but I think there are these mechanisms available.

ANDREW MARR:

A lot of people are still saying whatever they think about you - that you've done well or not so well or whatever it might be - still aren't absolutely sure where the central direction, the thrust of the Labour Party is going to be. If you only have a few sort of sentences or minutes to explain to them, what would you say?

ED MILIBAND:

What I'm about, what I've always been about throughout my life is the idea that people should have equal chances to get on, and I do think our society is still too unequal. That's why I place such importance on an economy that creates well paying jobs, on the future for our young people in this country. But I'm also about - and you were referring to it in your paper review - strong communities. You see I think one of the mistakes the last Labour …

ANDREW MARR:

Big society? Big society?

ED MILIBAND:

Well I'd call it a good society, and a good society is about strong communities. Now what are strong communities about? They're often about the local institutions which we didn't value enough during our time in government. The local post office …

ANDREW MARR:

You were too market fundamentalist as it were?

ED MILIBAND:

I think we were … I mean we had a combination. We did great things as a government and I defend our record, but we were both too if you like open to the market dictating things in a local area - the local high street which ends up being a betting shop and a nightclub and so on - and we were also sometimes a bit too remote in the way we used state power. And that's what I want to change about the Labour Party.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright. For now - Ed Miliband, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

ED MILIBAND:

Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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