Ed Miliband: Hard labour ahead as Miliband sets out on a journey to rebuild public trust

He only got the job last month, but for Ed Miliband three weeks has been a very long time in politics. Labour's new leader talks to Political Editor Jonathan Reed.

THERE'S a palpable feeling of relief from Ed Miliband at successfully passing his first test at Prime Minister's Questions.

Even most critics accept he gave a decent showing and made David Cameron squirm a little as he probed – in a calm, measured manner – the Government's discomfort over proposed cuts to child benefit.

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His new home is the Leader of the Opposition's suite of offices a couple of minutes' dash from the House of Commons and he's still settling in. There were no presents waiting for him from predecessors, and the expansive room is not yet as homely as during Mr Cameron's four years when a photograph of the Tory leader with Margaret Thatcher adorned the desk.

Reflecting on his performance in the Commons, Mr Miliband is pleased. He wants to set a new tone, although he stops short of falling into the same trap as the Prime Minister who pledged to end "Punch and Judy" politics when he became Leader of the Opposition, only to fail miserably.

"I want to use PMQs to ask serious questions the country wants to know the answer to, because I don't think people particularly want a lot of political point scoring," he says. "I think it's unrealistic to say you're never going to have that – and I didn't say that – but I think you need it to be a place where serious issues get debated. It went well this week, it's a long game and we'll see what happens in future weeks."

In preparation for the big event, Mr Miliband's team considered the topics they could raise and plumped for child benefit, a raid on the incomes of higher-rate taxpayers in middle England – voters whose support he will need to win power. But his manner at the Despatch Box owes a lot to the input of partner Justine Thornton, who is expecting their second child in less than a month.

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"The House of Commons does respect argument and discussion of serious issues and I think this child benefit thing is really important because it's going to affect some people who really can't afford to lose a couple of thousand quid and I think it's that that's most important," says Mr Miliband, who will take paternity leave after his partner gives birth.

"I'm the Leader of the Opposition, but I'm also speaking for the country that wants the Government held to account. It's something Justine, my partner, said to me which is completely right – you've got to ask questions that people want to know the answers to."

Only a few weeks into the job, the 40-year-old – the first MP from a Yorkshire seat to lead Labour since Hugh Gaitskell in the 1950s and '60s – has already faced many challenges, not least winning over MPs and party members of whom the majority wanted his brother David to be leader. But many of his big decisions have won plaudits – asserting his authority by installing Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor rather than Ed Balls, a man keen to abandon the election pledge to halve the deficit in four years.

Today he also warns Mr Johnson "I am the leader" as he stands by his belief in Graduate Tax, something the new Shadow Chancellor fiercely opposes.

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Mr Miliband says he chose Mr Johnson, the Hull West and Hessle MP, because he was "our best communicator".

"I wanted someone who's had the experience he's had, I wanted someone who could, if you like, explain the best our position to the public," he says.

However, he admits that restoring Labour's reputation

for economic competence,

after the party was deserted by most business leaders last election, will not happen overnight.

"You've got to get the deficit down but you've also got to paint a better picture of what our economy's going to look like

in the future," he says.

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"I think it's a long journey, but I'm determined to make it a journey for us that ends at the next election in the sense that we get back into power, but I know we've got a hard journey ahead of us to win back people's trust across the board. That's what we're starting out on now."

More details of the party's economic approach are set

to be unveiled next week in response to the comprehensive spending review, where the coalition will set out cuts of

25 per cent in Whitehall spending over four years. Mr Miliband wants the party to accept some of those cuts

so they are not seen as deficit deniers, and he stresses

"some of the cuts would have had to be made if we were in government", but he also warns that the coalition is cutting

"far deeper" into services and benefits than he would.

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Over the coming weeks, Mr Miliband will launch an extensive policy review, but he is also aware of the scale of the task facing politicians in general to regain the trust of voters.

"I think trust is really important," he says. "I don't think the Government can just brush off the fact that whether it's on tuition fees with the Lib Dems or child benefit and David Cameron they've made pretty clear promises. Politics has been at a low ebb as a result of what happened with the expenses issue in the House of Commons and one of the ways to restore trust is people keeping their promises."

I point out that Labour breached manifesto promises not to introduce tuition fees or increase the higher rate of income tax, but Mr Miliband says: "I want to establish with the public a reputation, and I will do this as much as I possibly can, as someone who is frank about the challenges we face, the issues we are dealing with as an opposition, and I think it's an important lesson not to over-promise."

The new 'Yorkshire Mafia' at the top

The Labour leader says he is "proud" of the "Yorkshire Mafia" at the top of the party as he returns to the region today.

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Commentators have raised eyebrows about the 10-strong Yorkshire contingent in Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet – with a string of shadow ministers from the region as well.

Mr Miliband, himself a Doncaster MP, singles out chief whip Rosie Winterton, whose constituency neighbours his own, for praise as having already done a "fantastic" job.

Ms Winterton emerged as the only contender for the job after Mr Miliband asked previous chief whip Nick Brown to stand aside to give him a fresh start and help to unite the party.

"I looked at who was the best person to be chief whip," he said. "Rosie is someone who is respected across all sides of the House of Commons, is someone who can, if you like, create a culture on the Labour side of friendliness but also discipline. I also think she's got very acute and good political judgment."

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He also praised Don Valley MP Caroline Flint, his new Shadow Local Government Secretary. "Whenever Caroline is on the radio or television for Labour, I think there is someone who is speaking people's language and speaking to people about the issues they care about in a reasonable way," he said.

And he hailed Ed Balls, the Morley and Outwood MP and Shadow Home Secretary who was overlooked for the shadow chancellorship, as an "incredibly important member of my team".

Mr Miliband, who returns to his constituency today for

the first time since becoming leader, said having a big representation from Yorkshire was a boost for the region, but insisted: "I'm leader for the whole country."

Questions over union rally pledge

Ed Miliband has stepped back from his pledge during the leadership campaign that he would attend a TUC rally on the eve of the comprehensive spending review next week.

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During the contest the Labour leader said he would "attend the rally definitely", but has been under pressure to distance himself from radical union leaders calling for mass strikes like RMT boss Bob Crow.

But asked now whether he would attend, he said he would "be part of" a lobby of parliament by union members later in the day, but issued a fresh warning to unions – whose support propelled him to victory over his brother David – about the need to keep the public onside rather than alienating them by acts of civil disobedience and strikes.

"It's a lobby of parliament and I'm sure I'll be part of that, among other things I'm doing on Tuesday as well," said Mr Miliband. "But I think it is important we win public support. The most important thing is whoever has concerns about these cuts wins public support, and I know that's what the unions understand, too."

The TUC lobby will take place after the rally in Central Hall, Westminster, where activists will hear speeches from union leaders on the dangers of coalition cuts.