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Labour’s Ed Miliband answers young people’s questions

Labour leader Ed Miliband was questioned by an audience of young people on BBC3’s Free Speech programme on Thursday ahead of the General Election in May. Let’s have a look at what he said…

Labour’s working class roots

“I think this is a time when you need a government that is really going to be on the side of working people. And I think what’s different today maybe compared to the past is we’ve got a country where a few people at the top are doing well and there’s a lot of people who are finding life quite hard and are struggling. And when you look at our policies, whether it’s raising the minimum wage or dealing with the exploitation of zero hour contracts, which I know affects young people, or lowering tuition fees, I think those policies are actually appealing to a broad section of the population. But I think working people come in many different forms and I think many people are struggling and want to see change and that’s what we offer.”


“The first thing we’ve got to do is change the way Parliament is composed. A third of Labour MPs are women.; that’s good but not good enough in my view. About 40% of my shadow cabinet are women; that’s good but not good enough in my view. I want to get to 50% of women in a Labour cabinet because I think that representation and representation of women in politics really matters because it shapes the agenda that we are focusing on.”


“There is a big choice at this election. This Government says they want to go back to the 1930s in terms of public spending as a share of national income. That’s before there was a National Health Service. And I think that’s incredibly dangerous. It’s true; we said we would make spending reductions to get the deficit down because I think we need to do that. But we will accompany that with fair tax measures. So for example, reversing the tax cut for all of those earning £150,000 a year to get the deficit down. I think that’s the right thing to do. And crucially, why is it the Government promised to eliminate the deficit and has failed? It’s because they haven’t been getting the tax revenues in. Why has that happened? Because you’ve had people’s wages and living standards falling and therefore the tax revenues going down. So a crucial part of a deficit plan, as well as some spending reductions and fair taxes, is actually saying let’s run the economy so we have higher wages, higher skills and we get the tax revenues in. Now I think that’s a balanced plan as opposed to an unbalanced and extreme plan from this Government.”


Responding to an audience member who suggested Labour was abandoning its traditional working-class voters to pursue interests such as feminism, Mr Miliband said:

“I believe in equality, that’s why I came into the Labour Party. Now the battle against inequality comes in many different forms. But the oppression and injustice facing women and the oppression and injustice facing working people who are not women, both of those can be tackled. Raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour actually predominantly, because many low wage workers are women, will help women. Tackling zero hours contracts will do the same. So I don’t accept what you say that somehow there’s a contradiction between helping working people and helping women because we’re talking about the same people.”

Young people

“You judge the dignity of a country by how it treats the old but you judge the future of a country by how it treats its young. And I think the problem about Britain today is that lots of young people think ‘I’m going to have a worse life than my parents’. Now goodness me, what have we got to as a country that that is the case? And frankly my generation, and I include David Cameron and Nick Clegg in this, it was alright for us but how can we look our young people in the eye and say anything other than our mission is to make sure young people don’t pay the price of hard times and we build a better life for young people in jobs, education, in housing.”


“The tax system matters but there’s something that matters even more than that and that’s the nature of the economy before you even get to the tax system. Part of the problem in the country is the minimum wage is incredibly low. We’ve got so many low paid workers in our country. So let’s raise the minimum wage, let’s promote a living wage, let’s make sure that when it comes to executive pay, there’s fairness so we say, for example, on every remuneration committee of these big companies you should have an ordinary worker so top CEOs can’t just pay themselves whatever they like.”

LGBT representation

“We’ve got a candidate, Emily Brothers, who’s an incredibly brave woman, who’s come out, who’s had the most vile criticism made of her. I think there’s a big job to do if we’re talking about representation, to reach out to people in the LGBT community. We have a number of openly gay candidates standing in this election. We’ve got a brilliant trailblazer in Angela Eagle who’s been in Parliament for 21 years; the first MP to come out as a lesbian. But if we are thinking about the country and how we change the country and Parliament so it looks like the country it seeks to serve, I agree with you, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in relation to that.”

Politicians’ broken promises

“What I’ve tried to do is make sure everything I’ve promised is funded, credible, deliverable. And that’s the most important thing. Some people in my party say ‘why don’t you make bigger promises?’ and I often say I want to be the first politician to under promise and over deliver, not over promise and under deliver.”

The cost of renting

“We’re going to say people should have three-year rents, not one-year or six-month tenancies. So you have a fixed three-year term. Within that time the rents are controlled so they can’t just be jacked up by 10% without warning. And we’re going to say letting agents will no longer be allowed to charge fees to tenants. I’ll be candid with you, the last Labour government didn’t do enough on this issue on what’s happening in the private rented sector. It particularly affects young people but it affects young families as well and we’ve got to deal with it.”

Past Labour governments

“I think about what we did for the health service, what we did for education, we introduced the minimum wage, we introduced tax credits, we introduced Sure Start centres, we made a huge difference to families and people across this country.”

Bedroom tax

“I will abolish the bedroom tax. Of all the taxes that have been invented I think the bedroom tax is one of the worst. It hasn’t even fulfilled its original purpose. It’s mean, it’s unfair, two-thirds of the people hit are disabled. I watch David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions each week and when he tries to justify it he can’t justify it. I think even Nick Clegg now doesn’t support the bedroom tax. I think it’s got to be got rid of.”

On being ‘weird’

“If you want this to be a beauty contest or a photo opp contest then I’m not going to win it. I’m not trying to win a photo opp contest and if I was then I wouldn’t win it. I think there are other things that matter in a leader. I think ideas matter to change the country. I think decency matters and whether you hear the voices of people right across the country. And I think something else, above all, is standing up for your principles, even if you’ve got powerful opponents; Rupert Murdoch, the energy companies, the banks. I think you need someone in Downing Street who will stand up for what they believe in however powerful their opponents are.”

Experience outside of politics

“I’m not embarrassed by caring about politics and I’ve cared about politics most of my life. I was brought up by two parents who were refugees from the Nazis who taught me that if you saw an injustice in the world you should try and do something about it. I think the question that really matters in this is something that we don’t talk about enough in politics, which is the idea of empathy. Do you listen? Listening is not a quality most political leaders would talk about. But I think it’s right to talk about it. The question is ‘can you walk in other people’s shoes?’, can you understand where they’re coming from? So I think that it the key test.”


“Some businesses don’t like what I’m saying. So when I say that we’ve got to reform the energy market, some of the energy companies don’t like it, but it’s tough. Some of the banks don’t like what I’m saying but I’m actually serving the millions of businesses in this country who say to me ‘I don’t like the fact I’m being ripped off on energy prices, I don’t like the fact the banks don’t serve me’. So they’ll be some people who don’t like what I’m saying but that’s always what happens when you try and change things, and I’m determined to change things.”

PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions)

“PMQs is awful isn’t it? It’s an awful advert for politics. If I could think of a way of changing it, I would. I don’t think the tone is good. I’m quoting president Obama ‘you can disagree without being disagreeable’. And actually, he’s sort of right about that. Two blokes shouting at each other is not great. And I take my share of responsibility for PMQs…we’re going to have a people’s question time if I’m prime minister. And I think people will start to compare it to Prime Minister’s Questions and think ‘hang on a minute, why are people who aren’t MPs able to behave themselves but MPs aren’t able to behave themselves?’ So maybe that is one thing we can do to make things better.”

David Miliband

“I thought I was the best person for the job when I ran for leader and I think that now. I thought we needed to move on from New Labour because I thought that we’d been a good government but on issues like Iraq, inequality, we got it wrong. I thought I was the best person to move the party on. And sure it was bruising and sure it was difficult, but I thought that then and I think that now as well.

“We both stood in this contest and we both offered different things to the Labour Party. It was a narrow victory for me but I won the contest. It was tough at the time and it’s obviously healed since then. But I think the thing people are focused on now is a choice between me and David Cameron, not me and David Miliband.”

Rotherham child sex abuse scandal (Rotherham Council was Labour-controlled)

“People in Rotherham are right to feel let down by the Labour Party, because we did let them down. And I deeply regret what happened. That’s why we suspended councillors, that’s why when the recent report came out the Labour cabinet resigned. Now we’ve got other people running the council; commissioners running the council. The most important thing I can do as the party leader, what the MPs in Rotherham are doing is say ‘let’s learn the lessons, Rotherham needs to learn the lessons and we need to learn wider lessons on child sexual exploitation because it’s terrible what happened but I don’t believe Ukip are the answer. They want to try to exploit this problem and I don’t think we should try to exploit what happened, I think we should learn the lessons from it.”

Votes at 16 and political education

“I think we need much better citizenship education at schools. Lots of young people say to me ‘I wasn’t properly educated at school about democracy’. Education is not just about passing exams. I think it’s about a lot more than that. It’s about preparing people to be citizens of the country. Alongside votes for people at 16 and 17, you’ve got to have proper citizenship education so people can learn about the issues.”

Fears about being Prime Minister

“It’s probably my family and whether I’ll be able to see them enough. I’ve got two young boys and I already find it tough as Leader of the Opposition. One of the things myself and Justine spend our time focusing on is carving out enough time for them. They’re four and five, they’re at the age where they notice if I’m not around.”

On cutting tuition fees to £6,000

“I don’t agree that only the rich are going to benefit. It’s people on low incomes, middle incomes, high incomes who are burdened down by debt. All of whom are beginning their life with £40,000 of debt on average. It so happens that the Government’s designed a system where 75% of people aren’t even going to be able to pay off the debt; that’s their only explanation for why they’re saying low income people won’t benefit. But it’s plain wrong. Because I don’t want people from any background starting their life with that kind of debt. Wouldn’t it have been better to reduce them to £3,000? Yes, absolutely. But I’ve got to make sure the sums add up and I don’t want to be a Nick Clegg. I don’t want to start off by saying I’ll reduce them to £3,000, then get into government and hope you don’t catch up with me because I haven’t managed to reduce it. We’re also doing something important, which is raising the grant by £400 a year. Would I like to do more? Yes I would. But it’s a sign that I understand the point that it is also people’s living costs that is a massive issue facing students.”


“We’re going to expand nursery education from 15 free hours to 25 free hours. I think that’s important for three and four-year-olds. We’ve got to deal with class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds because they’re ballooning upwards.”

“We’ve promised to protect the whole of the education budget; so the early years budget, the schools budget and the 16 to 19 budget. I think 16 to 19 education is absolutely key, we’ve not talked about apprenticeships tonight, we’ve not talked about vocational education. Both of them are absolutely key for me for the education system. We have an education system that focuses simply on the academic. I think it’s narrow, I thin it’s uncreative, I don’t think it’s sufficiently vocational. So absolutely you have my promise that we’ll be protecting the whole of the education budget.”


“The banks were the primary cause of the financial crisis and I think it is right that they help us to make a fairer society. So we’re saying we’re going to tax the bankers’ bonuses so we can guarantee a job for every young person who’s been unemployed for more than a year and raise the bank levy to deal with some of the issues we’re facing in terms of childcare and nursery education. So I think we can use some of the profits from the banks for good social purposes.”

Young people not registered to vote

“The Government has introduced this ridiculous system of individual voter registration without proper safeguards. They were warned it would cause a problem. The best I can do between now and the election is urge young people to register to vote (deadline is April 20). We’ve actually hired people to register young people in some of the places where young people are not registered. So I think it’s a massive problem. Programmes like Free Speech are important in getting the message out to young people. It’s almost like we’re becoming like the United States where lots of young people aren’t on the register and, if we get into government, we will change it.”

Online voting

“I’m open to it if it can be done with security. I think people will vote if they think it makes a difference. It’s not that difficult to vote but I’m open to looking at it.”

Relations with Saudi Arabia / fighting Isis

“I think we’ve got to speak out against injustice and abuse of human rights wherever it happens in the world, including in Saudi Arabia. We’ve got to be willing to do that. But if you want to solve the problems of the region, if you’re going to deal with Isis, you need Saudi Arabia and Iran to be giving them no quarter. We should speak out against abuses of human rights but we also need allies in the region and against Isis given the threat they pose.”

Going into coalition

“I want a majority Labour government. I’m going to leave the post-election speculation to other people. I’m focused on one thing and one thing only because I think what the country needs is a majority Labour government. Some people are saying the election’s a foregone conclusion. It’s like the commentators want to declare the result of the match before the final whistle’s been blown.”

Forming a coalition with the SNP

“This is a piece of nonsense from the Tories. I don’t want a coalition with them, I don’t need a coalition with them, I’m not planning for a coalition with them. I couldn’t be clearer. They’ve even ruled out a coalition with us. Honestly it’s nonsense I promise you.”

Tax avoidance

“The problem at the moment is there’s one rule for the rich and powerful and another rule for everyone else. First of all, we’ve got to deal with the abuses where they exist; for example, there’s a massive loophole in relation to hedge funds. Secondly, we’ve got to deal with the tax havens because there’s an issue in relation to tax havens linked to Britain where they don’t have to be open about what they do. Thirdly, we’ve got to deal with this issue of profit shifting, which is where companies shift their profits from one jurisdiction to another.”

The current coalition government

“The truth about this coalition is it has looked like an excuse for breaking promises. It’s looked like the Tories say ‘the Lib Dems stopped us doing that’ and the Lib Dems say ‘the Tories stopped us doing that’. So where I am is focused on one thing and one thing only; a majority Labour government. Put our manifesto before people, get a majority.”


Responding to an audience member’s call for reforming laws on cannabis.

“I think the signal the government sends is important. And if government sends a signal that cannabis use is okay, and we know there’s harder forms of cannabis and softer forms of cannabis, I think it’s sending the wrong signal. You say it only brings out (psychosis) in people who are predisposed to it, but that doesn’t make it okay, that makes it very worrying.”

European Union and an in/out EU referendum

“My priority is not to have a debate in this country about whether we should exit the European Union. That’s not what I want to happen. I think for jobs, for business, for families, it’s the wrong thing to do. It does go to who we are as a country; whether we’re an outward looking country or an inward looking country. My priority, if I’m prime minister, is to build a future for our young people, sort out the NHS, deal with the economy, not to get out of the European Union. “Some of the polls might say it would be more popular to offer a referendum but I don’t think politicians should simply do what looks short-term popular, you’ve got to do what’s in the interest of the country as I see it; that’s part of what leadership is about. “We’ve got to reform Europe. I think you’re less likely to reform it if you’ve got one hand on the exit door. I think if you’re just like ‘we really want to leave’ and ‘we’re going to put a gun to your head about whether you reform it or not’ I don’t think that’s going to work. So let’s reform the European Union but let’s stay in it.”


“I’m the song of immigrants and I think immigration has benefited the country. There is something else though, which is the exploitation of migrant labour. It’s a big issue. There have been a handful of prosecutions for failing to pay the minimum wage in the last five years and there weren’t that many more prosecutions under us (Labour). And when you’ve got a nasty labour market and people are being brought in and paid less than the minimum wage, 50 migrants put in a room or a house, all kinds of things happening that are bad for the people coming here and undercuts wages so we’ve got to deal with those abuses. So let’s have a vision of a diverse country and I think we should be proud to be a diverse country.”

So that’s what Ed had to say. But what did you think? Here’s some of your tweets:

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