In light of the upcoming Local and European elections, Labour party leader Ed Miliband hosted a question and answer session on the University of Nottingham’s (UoN) Jubilee Campus on Tuesday 20th May.
Labour policies include: raising the minimum wage so that it is closer to the rate of average earnings; freezing energy bills until 2017; building more homes; fairer taxation including a 10p starting rate of tax; getting rid of zero hours contracts so that people who work regular hours have a proper working contract; tackling immigration so that businesses cannot undermine the minimum wage by employing cheaper labour; and tackling issues surrounding youth unemployment.
“Voting Labour is a way of showing people that change is possible.”
In his opening speech, Miliband was quick to acknowledge a growing cynicism from the British public regarding the perception that ‘all politicians are the same’. He stressed that “voting Labour is a way of showing people that change is possible”, stating “We can do this by showing that we have concrete, deliverable policies… we are not promising the Earth.”
The first question from the floor asked why a television debate has not yet occurred between the Labour and Conservative parties in light of Thursday’s election.
“He doesn’t want to have the television debates before the election because he didn’t do very well from them last time.”
Miliband responded: “I am very keen to debate with David Cameron. They don’t want to seem to begin negotiations on the television debate until after September because they said that they are too busy, I think that he is trying to avoid them as far as he possibly can. I think, generally, he doesn’t want to have the television debates before the election because he didn’t do very well from them last time.”
The second question concerned university tuition fees. Labour has recently pledged to reduce tuition fees to £6000 in their manifesto for the next general election, scrapping the £9000 fee introduced in September 2012.
“The most important thing to do in regards to tuition fees is to not be Nick Clegg, in other words making promises you cant keep.”
However, nothing has been said for students who have already been subjected to the higher fee, posing the question of what, if anything, Mr Miliband intends to do for those effected by the reforms of the current coalition.
Miliband highlighted that it would be very difficult to reverse what the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have done for students that have already entered the system. He commented: “the most important thing to do in regards to tuition fees is to not be Nick Clegg, in other words making promises you cant keep”.
He went on to state that the party would look very closely into what they could do concerning tuition fees, and remarked “it is not right that people should start their lives in tens of thousands of pounds in debt”.
“I have never met a man so hated by people in the profession.”
Other questions relating to education concerned the disparity between the opportunities for students in private and state secondary schools, as well as Miliband’s policies for schools that have an academy status. Miliband retorted: “Of all the Secretaries of State that I have ever heard about in any government I think Michael Gove is by far the most unpopular with any teacher. I have never met a man so hated by people in the profession.”
“We want proper local authority standards and a proper overview by a new Director of Schools Standards for all schools. I think Michael Gove has also proved that you can’t run every school from Whitehall.”
He went on to suggest that in order to target the aspirations of students, teachers need to provide pupils with the concept that alternative vocational qualifications other than going to university do exist, enabling them to discover the correct route for themselves.
The future of the country “lies in Europe”.
Further questions included enquires into Labour’s attitudes towards the European Union (EU) and on a related note, sentiments towards Nigel Farage – the leader of UKIP.
With reference to the EU, Miliband confirmed that he believes that the future of the country “lies in Europe” but suggested that the way in which the EU works needs to be changed. However, he failed to expand on how this is to be achieved.
On perceptions of Farage, Mr Miliband stated: “He offers a different and, in my view, completely wrong view about Britain and the way it succeeds. I don’t think extra doses of Thatcherism is what Britain needs and I don’t think that charging people to see your GP is what Britain needs.”
Miliband also mentioned his distain for the proposition made by Farage that leaving the EU would encourage better relations with other countries such as the United States and China, remaining adamant that Britain’s position within the EU is more likely to attract nations to trade rather than acting as a deterrent.
The final round of questioning saw a variety of issues bought to the floor, the most notable of which included how to engage more young people in politics and energy sustainability.
“You need to trust young people.”
In order to answer how to encourage more young people to become politically active, Miliband commented: “you need to show that you can make a difference on unemployment and tuition fees, you need to show that you have different way of running the country, and you need to trust young people.”
“We need all of these energy resources, we need nuclear, we need renewables.”
In response to questions on climate change and how to ensure an environmentally sustainable running of the economy Miliband answered: “I believe that we can meet the challenge that we face on this. We need all of these energy resources, we need nuclear, we need renewables.”
“It is about meeting the needs of climate change and it is about climate change being a part of the essential economic vision creating good jobs for the future.”
The final question saw an enquiry into whether Mr Miliband is ‘anti-business’ given his proposal to increase the minimum wage and its contention amongst top firms.
To this he remarked “Cameron and Osborne claim that everything is fixed but people know that they aren’t”.
He maintained that he was not ‘anti-business’ but that a solution needs to be reached to close the gap between inflation and the cost of living, and increasing the minimum wage is the correct way to do this.
Voting takes place for the European and local elections on Thursday 22nd May.
Read our exclusive interview with Ed Miliband here.