Miliband seeks to reposition Labour as workers’ party

Ed Miliband sought to move on from the damaging Rochester snobbery row today by highlighting his determination to help hard-pressed working people.

Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband

Mr Miliband also insisted the next general election would be a choice between his vision of an economy benefiting everyone, or David Cameron’s agenda for the “privileged few”.

Former health minister Diane Abbott yesterday openly criticised the leadership’s response to Mrs Thornberry’s controversial tweeted image of a house flying three St George flags and with a white van parked outside.

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Ms Abbott said the Islington South and Finsbury MP was “not a snob, she doesn’t look down on council tenants”.

“I think he made a mistake sacking her because apart from anything else it implied she had said something about the man’s house, which she hadn’t,” she told Sky News’ Murnaghan programme. “But more important I think it made it a bigger story than it otherwise would have been.”

Meanwhile, former universities minister and London mayoral hopeful David Lammy warned that Labour was “culturally adrift, not just from large parts of Britain, but from its own traditional working class base”.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Lammy said: “Large parts of the country feel that Labour not only disagrees with them, they think we disapprove of them too.

“A sense of mutual disdain between the mainstream parties and working class England is driving voters away from politics, or towards so-called ‘anti-politics’ parties such as Ukip.”

Mr Lammy - who grew up on a council estate close to Tottenham’s infamous Broadwater Farm - argued that Labour’s “discomfort hinges on immigration”.

“By and large, modern Labour politicians come from liberal, professional backgrounds,” he wrote. “They have benefited from globalisation - they mix in social circles with people who work in multinational firms, enjoy foreign travel and find diversity enriching. Much of Labour’s traditional electoral base does not feel this way.”

Mr Miliband was also mocked by Tory London mayor Boris Johnson over Mrs Thornberry’s sacking for taking “an everyday occurrence and turning it into something absolutely spectacular”.

“Some people denounced her, some defended her. And yet still Emily might have survived; she might today be luxuriating in her position as shadow attorney general,” Mr Johnson wrote in his Daily Telegraph column.

“But then Ed Miliband stepped in. He ingeniously doused himself with petrol; he lit the match - and Ka-boom: there he is, with staring panda eyes and frazzled hair, and the entire Labour Party looking on in amazement at the destruction.”

Mr Miliband said: “The next election is not just a choice between parties, it is a choice about whether we have a recovery which works for most people or a recovery that works just for a privileged few, it is a choice about what kind of country we want to be.

“The Government will tell you the economy is fixed, but the British people know it is not delivering for them. We will not tolerate a zero-zero economy where hundreds of thousands are kept on zero hour contracts while a tiny privileged minority pay zero tax.

“And nor will we tolerate a world of work that is becoming more brutal because of the way some cowboy employment agencies have been allowed to operate. They are undermining dignity at work, driving down standards and creating greater insecurity for families.

“There has been a huge increase in temporary agency work in recent years. Many employment agencies play their part in supporting businesses, as well as workers, who want flexibility.

“But there is now overwhelming evidence that some are operating in the shadows of our economy and on the margins of law, damaging the basic fabric of British life that hard work should be properly paid.”

Mr Miliband said there was evidence that rogue agencies were “breaking the law on the minimum wage, failing to pay their taxes, and exploiting workers to undercut the wages of permanent staff”.

“We will close the legal loophole which allows some to undercut the wages of permanent staff,” he said. “We will stop them from recruiting exclusively from abroad. And we will serve notice on the rogue agencies that they must clean up their act.

“We will begin consultations now, even before the next election, on the different ways this can happen such as through a licensing system so we can be sure that agencies are complying with basic standards.”