Peg back fat cats says Ed Miliband

FAT cat bosses in the private sector should have their salaries pegged back to tackle inequalities in British society, Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband has argued.

A Government plan to ban public sector bosses from getting paid more than 20 times the salary of their lowest paid employee should be extended to the private sector, he said in an interview with the Yorkshire Post.

The attack on big earners – whom he said created a feeling of unfairness that will make it harder to get through public spending cuts – came ahead of a speech at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds last night in which the Shadow Secretary for Energy and Climate Change discussed his upbringing by parents who had been refugees and promised an optimistic approach that would build a movement built on values such as fairness and equality. He said he made no apology for having been involved in politics since an early age.

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Speaking to the Yorkshire Post as he travelled to the city, the MP for Doncaster North insisted he was getting on "absolutely fine" with older brother David, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, who is also competing for the leadership along with Morley and Outwood MP Ed Balls, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham and left-winger Diane Abbott, whose last minute entry into the race Mr Miliband said he was "extremely pleased" about.

With all the candidates showing a readiness to identify Labour's mistakes, he said "I take my share of responsibility" having been a key member of Gordon Brown's circle and a member of the Cabinet. And in his speech, he said there had been a culture in the party to "stifle dissent and debate" which created politics that was "too technocratic and managerial and stopped inspiring".

But he also insisted he was proud of what Labour had achieved and vowed to tackle the gap between rich and poor.

"I think we need a high pay commission to look at the effects of high pay not just in the public sector like the Conservatives say but in the private sector as well because I think chief executives and others have responsibilities beyond what the market will pay them. There are responsibilities to our wider society.

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"I believe in a society with responsibility but you're not going to preach responsibility to ordinary people if the people right at the top aren't showing responsibility. That's true of MPs, but it's also true of some people in the private sector and the banks."

He said the Tories were right to have tackled the issue in the public sector but should go further, since the differences in the private sector were "too high" and were "often not justified".

"All the evidence is the more unequal your society is the worse it is for everybody's health, everybody's well being and everybody's sense of being part of a community.

"We know there are tough times ahead on public spending and it's going to be much harder to get through those times if we don't have a sense of fairness in our society, and I don't think we have a sense of fairness at the moment."

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Saying Labour had been "too slow to act" on the issue, he declined to "pluck a figure out of air" on what difference between top and bottom earners in a company should be, but said there was a responsibility on bosses to stop thinking 'this is what I can get away with'.

He also challenged councils to lead the way in introducing a "living wage", which is slightly higher than the minimum wage.

Reflecting on his decision to challenge his brother for the leadership, Mr Miliband said: "I never thought I would be in this position. Even a year ago I didn't.

"I made the decision after the general election because I looked at the position the party was in and the fact we were probably going to be out of power for four or five years.

"I looked at the history of the Labour party in 1994 and 2007 where we didn't have a wider contest and should have done."