Ed Miliband interview: Part one – on immigration, tuition fees, housing, Lord Ahmed and much more

31st March, 2013 10:27 am

On Thursday I travelled with Ed Miliband and his community organising “guru” Arnie Graf to Carlisle and Preston to see some of the work the party has been doing in those areas. On the train between Carlisle and Preston – over fish and chips – I interviewed Miliband. Here’s the first half of that interview – on immigration, the NHS, tuition fees, the welfare sanction revolt, Lord AHmed, and much more:

On immigration:

“We’re definitely not going to enter an arms race.”

“We think a multi-ethnic diverse country is good for Britain, and it is. But you’ve got to make immigration work not just for some people but for all. “

On tuition fees/graduate tax:

“We’re definitely looking at [a graduate tax]. I think there’s been some work going on at IPPR looking at the options too. We’ve said £6000 [as a cap] before, and we’re looking at all of these issues for the manifesto, and what can be done.”

On the NHS, reorganisation, whole person care and repealing the NHS Bill:

“I think we’re doing the right thing on this Health and Social Care agenda, because we’re talking about integration.”

“I think there are good reforms that can take people with you, and changes that can take people with you. But what we’re not going to do is come along and say we’ve got this grand plan and we’re going to throw the health service upside down without talking to the health service about it, and without taking the health service with us.”

“In a few weeks time we’ll be talking more about these issues – about how we now take the next stage of the journey.”

On the railway ownership:

“I think East Coast is doing well, and I think it’s right that we look at all of the possibilities. And of course there are public spending constraints you’ve got to get right, but I think this government is just ideologically committed to just privatizing the railways and getting East Coast back into private hands. We should be looking at mutual and public options.”

On Housing:

“We’re going to have to build more homes. We’re definitely going to have to build a lot more homes. We’ve said if there was a budget now, we’d be advancing investment in infrastructure and housing would be top of our list. That’s why Ed Balls said at conference the 4G money should go to housing – that’s a sign of intent.”

On Lord Ahmed:

“I’ve got to have proper due process on this. I’ve got to leave it to the NEC to make their decisions. I think Lord Ahmed’s comments were disgraceful and I think they should have no place in the Labour Party. And the NEC will have to make a judgement about it. Personally I think they were very, very serious comments. For someone to believe they were the victim of a Jewish conspiracy – I mean that is the worst sort of anti-Semitism.”

On the welfare sanctions revolt:

“I think it’s useful to explain the decision we made. I’m concerned, Liam is concerned, about the people who are wrongly sanctioned. An example a colleague gave me – a person who was in a job interview, and was told they were “not available for work”. We’ve got to protect that – we did that by protecting people’s appeal rights. Secondly there’s an issue around the massive increase in sanctions. Iain Duncan Smith denies there’s targets – it turns out there are targets – we’ve got to have an independent review of that. But then you come to the question “Should we vote against all of the sanctions that have been applied under the work programme?”, almost all of them since 2011, and I didn’t think that was right. And I take full responsibility for the decisions we made. I think Liam [Byrne] is doing an excellent job. I think he is both emphasising responsibility – which does matter to us – but also showing the importance of compassion in the system. And that’s why he’s campaigning as he is on the bedroom tax. As for the colleagues who took a different view, I understand why they were angry about what the Tories had done, but I felt we took the right decision and I still feel we took the right decision.”

On Leveson and “blog regulation”:

“I think this is something where there does have to be dialogue. I think there were changes made in the House of Lords to exclude the really small-scale bloggers. I think the original Leveson idea was that there should be a sort of threshold for who it applies to and who it doesn’t. Remember – this is a voluntary self-regulation system, admittedly there’s an exemplary damages system if you wrong someone in a massive way, although it’s worth pointing out that there’s exemplary damages at the moment in the system. So what changes here, is that you’ve got a system where you can be inside complying with the rules to give you extra protection against exemplary damages and giving protection to the victims.  The most important place this needs to start is with the national newspapers – and that was always the intention.”

The second half of the interview – on selections, community organising and what the party will look like in 2020 – will be published here tomorrow

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