New year message: Miliband expects year of reckoning

Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday described 2011 as the "year of consequences" as he warned in his new year message that the Government's cuts were "forbidding and unheeding".

The Doncaster North MP said the speed and scale of the coalition's deficit reduction plan was "irresponsible" and would be felt by hard-working families across the country.

He added the cuts were "born of political choice" and "not necessity".

He said Labour's job was now to persuade voters that the party offered "a better, more optimistic future for Britain".

Mr Miliband said: "Here at home, 2011 will be a year of consequences for Britain. Consequences that will be felt by hard-working families across the country. Consequences of the decision taken to reduce the deficit at what I believe to be an irresponsible pace and scale.

"Many people feel powerless in the face of these decisions that will affect their lives, families and communities. The political forces in Whitehall which have made these choices appear forbidding and unheeding."

Mr Miliband, who paid tribute to the country's military, also criticised the axing of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and the tuition fees rise, saying many people were worried where new jobs were going to come from in the wake of Government cuts.

He added: "In 2011, many people will wonder what they can do. Some will ask whether there really is an alternative to this scale of cuts. Still more will shrug their shoulders at casually broken promises and conclude politicians are indeed all the same.

"Labour's challenge and duty in 2011 is to be people's voice in tough times and show that these are changes born of political choice by those in power not necessity.

"And we will take the next steps on the journey to win people's trust that we offer a better, more optimistic future for Britain."

Mr Miliband said he was now looking to win back the electorate's trust but admitted it could not be "put right automatically".

He said Labour would be arguing for a "proper" economic strategy rather than a deficit reduction plan, adding it was possible to win concessions from the coalition following recent Government U-turns over school sport funding and Bookstart scheme to encourage children to read.

Liberal Democrat president-elect Tim Farron said: "If 2011 is the year of consequences, they are the consequences of Labour leaving us on the verge of bankruptcy.

"Ed Miliband has called for a 'proper economic strategy' – but the last one, cooked up with Gordon Brown while Ed was in the Treasury, didn't really work out so well.

"Labour's legacy is a broken economy and people are hurting. Hard-working families are suffering because Labour failed to protect them in boom and bust.

"Ed Miliband's current strategy appears to be to cross his fingers and hope for the worst."

Mr Miliband's concerns were backed up by a charity chief, who warned the scale of public spending cuts were set to destroy David Cameron's vision of the Big Society, by killing off voluntary organisations.

David Robinson, co-founder of Community Links, urged the Prime Minister to order an urgent impact assessment of the cuts and "allow us to draw breath".

Organisations like his own were "wobbling" and would have to reduce rather than expand services over the next year, he said in an open letter to Mr Cameron.

Mr Robinson suggested the issue could become the Prime Minister's Hurricane Katrina, referring to the huge political damage done to former US President George Bush when he failed to respond seriously enough to disaster-hit New Orleans.

"I admire your big hearted vision and I respect your clear sighted perseverance in pursuing it, but I am worried," Mr Robinson said.