Yesterday we took your questions to Ed Miliband. Speaking from his campaign office, incidentally run from the same building Brown used for his 2007 leadership campaign, Ed Miliband is gearing up for the remaining weeks of the campaign with a team of volunteers he is particularly proud of.
He was particularly pleased with his campaign’s appeal to younger party members. But who’s the Babe Ruth of the Labour Party? Covering that, his comments on marriage equality, the nuclear industry, Clem Attlee and more, Ed was next up for the Labour Uncut crowdsourcing hotseat.
Q. (from Jae): Following Ed Balls and Diane Abbott announcing their support for marriage equality, will he retract his comments about there not being enough people calling for it and come out in support of LGBT equality?
A. My position on this is pretty simple, which is that we did a consultation in the run up to the manifesto, and it wasn’t raised with me as an issue. But obviously if it’s something that is felt to be an important issue, I understand absolutely the reasons for that, then it’s something we should definitely look at. And I’m very happy to say that and I completely understand and sympathise with the wish for equality in this area.
Q. So does it matter how many people ask for it?
A. It’s not about how many people but I think if it’s felt to be an issue, as I say it hasn’t been raised with me, but I completely understand the reasons for it, it’s something that we should look at. I think if we were in government we should have a consultation on it, I believe the government is having a consultation on it. I’m very happy for that to happen.
Q. (from Jamie and James): The co-operative sector is a growing part of the UK economy. What would you do as leader to promote the creation of more co-owned firms in the private sector? Would you consider mutualising banks like Northern Rock?
A. I do think there’s a case for mutual ownership of Northern Rock, because I think we can’t just go back to business as usual when it comes to the banking system. If we think we’re just going to end up back in a situation of the private sector banks with just a bit more regulation, then I don’t think that that’s the right way forward. We’ve got to look at all of these options, not just mutual ownership by the way, public ownership, because that’s what they do in other countries like Germany where they’ve succeeded in building a bigger industrial base.
Q. (from Terry): You seem to have won over a lot of young Labour activists. Why do you think young Labour members are drawn to you and your campaign? and (from ianrobo): we need the grassroots to be involved to counteract the huge resources of the Tories. What are your plans for this?
A. I think I am winning young people over, and I think it’s basically because of a message of change and I hope inspiration about Labour. Change, we’ve got to recognise that we need to leave quite a lot of what the New Labour establishment did behind us, particularly in its methods but also in some of the policy which we got wrong; the balance between the state and civil liberties for example. I think that’s important. But also I hope that my record on climate change, that fact that I think that’s central to the future, the fact that I’m willing to say, you know, people are worried about all politicians being the same and we’ve got to be very open about our values and what we believe, that we want a fairer, more equal and more just society, and I hope that will win people to my cause.
Q. (from Dan Wright): How do you propose to rebalance the economy whilst meeting and improving upon commitments to carbon emission reductions and other green issues?
A. I think that the old view that there’s a contradiction between the economy and environment is wrong. Actually, the way we build the economy in the future is that climate change is central to it. I think we should be honest that government as a whole is not sufficiently shaped around green issues and this government is a classic example of that. They’ve made some terrible decisions on the environment already, on Sheffield Forgemasters, on taking the funding away from the Green Investment Bank. They promised to be the greenest government ever and they’re already completely betraying that.
Q. You were talking about Sheffield Forgemasters today..
A. Yes, and there’s a real issue here about what David Cameron and Nick Clegg have said in the House of Commons. As I understand it, I think David Cameron said that the owners of Sheffield Forgemasters weren’t willing to dilute their share, actually Nick Clegg has now had to admit that that was wrong. So there’s no excuse left for the government not funding them and I am urging them to think again.
Q. (from David_)How can you square your green issues with your support for the nuclear industry?
A. I understand the feelings that lots of people have about nuclear power, when they don’t think it’s the right way forward. I disagree with them. The reason I disagree with them is because I think climate change is too big an issue to say we’re going to reject one safe, secure source of power. Now, I’m passionate about renewables, and we’re growing renewables. We set a target when we were in government to increase six-fold the amount of renewables we have. But with the best will in the world, renewables won’t fill the whole gap and I think anyone who’s rationally looked at this would agree with that. I understand the concerns about deep geological storage of nuclear, I think those concerns are outweighed by the urgency of the issue of climate change.
Q. (from Michael): Ed, you put the Boston Red Sox website on your desert island discs. Where does your interest in baseball come from?
A. I lived in Boston when I was seven for a year, then more when I was twelve, I went there for a term of junior high school when my dad was teaching there. And that made me a fanatic. And the Boston Red Sox have this amazing story because in some ways they bear some resemblance to the Labour Party because they won the world series in I think 1918, and they sold their most famous player Babe Ruth, and they didn’t win it again until 2004, they sold him to their arch-rivals the New York Yankees, who won something like nineteen world championships in between. It was known as the curse of the Babe because they’d sold their most famous player. And what’s even more extraordinary about them is that they came very close to winning on a whole number of occasions in that 86 year period. So it’s an amazing story of disaster and then redemption. In a way it’s slightly less exciting being a Boston Red Sox fan since 2004, since they won, because the curse has been lifted. But nevertheless, I’m still a fanatic.
Q. So who’s your Babe Ruth then, in the Labour Party?
A. What, the star player that I think we sold? There’s been quite a lot of best Prime Ministers we never had, John Smith, Neil Kinnock, lots of people who spent a lot of time out of power. That’d be the sort of parallel.
Q. (from Michael): A bit closer to home, which football team do you follow and who is your favourite player?
A. If I’m completely honest I’m a lapsed Leeds United fan. I partly lapsed because I live in Doncaster as an MP, so I have some loyalty to them, and also because we’ve had a pretty dreadful 20 years. I’m getting back into it but I’m moving from being lapsed.
Q. It’s another cursed sports team..
A. I was going to say, I’m slightly starting to set a trend! The Red Sox overcame the curse, and Leeds are starting to.
Q. (from Jack1983): Which Labour leader do you most associate yourself with and why?
A. Well I’ve said that I think Clement Attlee is the Prime Minister I most admire, because he’s an underestimated figure. He oversaw an incredibly radical government in 1945 and if you compare today to those times, they were despite the seriousness of today’s times much more dire. Despite a huge deficit we built a national health service. So I think that’s a good instruction for us if we think about the debate around the deficit here, that it’s not the only thing that matters in our society. Of course we need to reduce the deficit, but we’ve got to think about what kind of society we’re going to end up with after we’ve done that.
Q. (from AnneOxford): Who was more successful with girls at school, you or David?
A. I think you’d have to ask him, probably him! But I don’t know, I don’t think either of us were very successful. I’ve annoyed him in the past by saying that we were both weedy and square, but obviously I’m just speaking for myself.
Q. Maybe some girls like that?
A. I didn’t find them if they do.
Q. (from Gerry): What was the first gig you ever went to?
A. Oh God…that is a very, very good question. I’m quite stumped by that…I must have gone to see Billy Bragg at some point in the 1980s, that might have been the first gig I went to. I think he’s really good, Billy Bragg.
Q. (from Andrew Robinson): Will you fight to get benefit cuts reversed if you are elected as leader of the Labour Party at the party conference?
A. We shouldn’t talk about getting things reversed, it assumes that we’ve lost the argument. I think some of the things we’ve got to do about benefit changes, I’m particularly worried about what’s happening on Housing Benefit, is to stop those changes happening, because there’s some really devastating things going to happen to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance for example. So that’s a really important thing to do.
Q. (from Ian Bissell): We’ve had a very centralised and top-down driven party. All of the contenders talk about democratising the Labour party but few are specific about how they would go about this. What would Ed do? What would he change in order to make the Labour party more democratic?
A. I think there are a couple of things. First of all I think we should make annual conference more accountable and a place where there are votes, because that does need to be the ultimate place at which a debate happens. I think we should have an elected party chair and I also think we’ve got to think about how we make the National Policy Forum more a place where members feel they have a voice, because it became a place where people felt things had been decided and it was a rubber stamping exercise. So there’s a whole range of areas we need to look at.
Q. (from Ronald MacDonald): When are you going to put some flesh on the bones of what the “high pay commission” is supposed to actually do? This policy could be a humiliation for us if we don’t have some credible answers and I haven’t heard any yet.
A. That’s obviously a supportive question! Three things I would say, firstly the way decisions are made, so corporate governance questions. Secondly we’ve got to look at transparency; what companies are obliged to publish, so they’ve got to front up and say the decisions that they’re making. And thirdly we’ve got to look at the issues around tax and the incentives that there are to pay bonuses just to one group of people in the company or more widely, so they’re the issues to look at but given that there is a debate here about the extent to which these rewards are deserved, I think it’s right to have a look at it rather than making up policy on the hoof. But they’re definitely the areas I think need to be looked at.
Q. (from Edward): Would Ed Miliband lend support to an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Long Term Conditions?
A. I’m obviously happy to know more about this. I’d be interested to know if it’s from a disability point of view or a benefits point of view, I’m happy to look at the issues.
Q. (from epictrader): Labour Party supporters in Northern Ireland can now join the party as full members. The next step is to allow those members to choose and put forward candidates to run in local and Parliamentary elections. As leader, will you support this simple democratic right and, if so, when shall it be so approved?
A. I think that we need to talk to our party members in Northern Ireland about this and think hard about it. I’ve talked about this at our hustings. I think the only thing I’d say on this is that anything we do in terms of Northern Ireland politics should be done in such a way that it supports rather than is seen to get in the way of the successful nature of the peace process so I’m happy to take views and to listen; I’m not going to make a commitment on that, but I think you’ve got to handle these kind of things really with care. I think how the Conservatives went about it with their interventions in Northern Ireland politics before the election was a classic example of what not to do. So I’m not going to give a commitment on that but I’m happy to talk to people about the issues involved.