It seems unfashionable to back Ed Miliband. True, he may not be the best in front of the camera, he does bear an uncanny resemblance to one of my favourite childhood characters (Wallace from Wallace and Gromit) and he doesn’t look great when eating a bacon sandwich (who does?). But with the General Election, and the choice over what kind of country we want to live in, arriving next May, it’s time to put the superficial stuff aside and get serious. It’s time to come clean about the real Ed Miliband: a visionary leader with the bold ideas to make the country work for the many.
The thing about Ed Miliband is that he understands the big problem facing our country: that while a few at the top of society have soared ahead in terms of income and wealth, the majority of people have seen their living standards squeezed. Wages have stagnated, while living costs (rent, energy bills, housing costs and food costs) have gone up. According to research carried out by the Centre for Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE), over 50% of Britons are considered financially insecure, struggling to make their monthly payments without going into debt. The number of people forced to rely on payday lenders (like Wonga) to pay bills and on food banks to eat has run into the millions. Miliband isn’t just the only leader who has continually pointed this out, but the only leader who has devoted time and energy on finding solutions.
A quick look at his speeches shows a clear plan of action. Firstly, to raise the value of the National Minimum Wage and award tax cuts to companies that start paying the Living Wage (about £7.50 outside of London). This is urgently needed as the minimum wage has fallen in real value since it was introduced in 1998 and 1 in 5 people working in the UK are in poverty. This isn’t just about fairness or reducing the benefits bill, but about smart economics. Just ask Nick Hanauer, self-proclaimed ‘zillionaire’ and founder of Amazon. He has called for a $15 minimum wage in the US, as he claims increasing the wages of the lowest paid will mean his customers have more money to spend on his products. Think he’s delusional? Just take the example of San Francisco and Seattle: two cities with the highest minimum wage in the US, which also happen to have the country’s strongest and most prosperous small business base.
It’s not just about the lowest paid. Many will be aware that executive pay of the big FTSE 500 companies has soared out of control in recent years. A conservative estimate puts chief executive pay at 350 times that of the average worker. Miliband knows that ensuring that there is a workers’ representative on the pay board of each company, like in Germany, is a good way to tackle this. So too is having employees own a stake in the companies they work for, like they do at John Lewis or The Cooperative, which allows them to share in the rewards when profits go up and get a big say in where savings are made when profits go down.
It’s also about housing. An acute housing shortage has meant that over 4 million people languish on social housing waiting lists, whilst rent bills and house prices spiral. Affording a home has become a distant dream for many. Miliband’s plan to build 200,000 homes a year by 2015 is the only way to address this shortage, while banning letting agents from charging extra fees and preventing landlords from introducing unexpected rent rises would protect the millions now renting privately.
Don’t be fooled by accusations that Miliband is anti-business. He may well denounce big monopolies – like the energy companies, rail companies and banks – when they are not serving the public interest. Yet tackling these goliaths actually helps small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) which struggle with high energy and transport bills. Further help is promised in the shape of tax cuts for SMEs paid for in part by a tax rise on the largest companies. But the best news for business is that Miliband will follow the German example and create a network of local banks that will provide long-term finance to entrepreneurs, businesses and infrastructure projects in all parts of the U.K.
Backing a politician doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say – far from it. But it is vital when a General Election is drawing near and important messages are being overlooked. Put simply, the more we talk about the trivial stuff (like who looks best eating a bacon sandwich) the more we let down the people struggling with debt payments, low and stagnant wages, rising energy, rent and food bills, the rising cost of buying a house, rising rail fares, and the bedroom tax.
Ed Miliband may not have the charisma of Barack Obama, but they share the same message: that prosperity comes from the middle-out and bottom-up, rather than the top-down. He is someone with the vision, bravery and bold ideas to tackle the big problems facing our country, to make it work for the majority of people. That’s why I’m backing him and why I think you should too.