'You've never had it so bad': Ed Miliband targets living standards

Ed's history lesson: forget Harold Macmillan and remember how Ronald Reagan beat Carter in 1980

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:36 ON Thu 14 Feb 2013

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband will go to Bedford today to revive the memory of Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who told an audience in the same town in 1957: "You've never had it so good."

Miliband's message to the squeezed middle will be that "You've never had it so bad" and that the Tories, like Supermac in the Fifties, are out-of-touch toffs who don't feel their pain. The BBC is reporting he will go further by giving some details about how he will raise taxes on the rich - including a mansion tax - to boost the living standards of the many.

In an interview with Patrick Wintour of The Guardian, Miliband says: "Today we will be opening up a new front. Cameron has a direct responsibility for what is happening to living standards. Because we have not got the growth, it is feeding through into wages that are falling way behind prices. It is a massive issue for people. It is the biggest issue that people talk about."

Miliband is hoping to catch what is described as the "gloom mood". Ipsos/Mori polling for the Resolution Foundation shows that more than a third of people do not think there will be growth by 2015, and 40 per cent think they will be worse off than today. Miliband is convinced a campaign based on living standards will be a game-changer for Labour.

Many, including Andrew Neil on yesterday's Daily Politics, are old enough to link Miliband's tactics with those of another long-dead politician - US President Ronald Reagan, who won the presidency against Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980 by posing the question (see video below): "Ask yourself - are you better off than you were four years ago?"

Miliband is convinced most voters will feel worse off in 2015 and his living standards campaign will help Labour restore its credibility on the economy.

However, Downing Street is already planning a spoiling operation by hinting that Chancellor George Osborne could bring back the 10p tax rate.

Gordon Brown, in his last significant act as Tony Blair's chancellor, stupidly abolished the 10p tax rate in 2007, leaving millions of low-paid worse off. He tried to compensate them by adjusting tax allowances but today they are still paying 20p in the £1, twice the old rate.

The Prime Minister fuelled speculation when he told Ed Miliband at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday: "We won't forget the abolition of the 10p tax rate.”

Downing Street has briefed the Daily Mail that it could be part of Osborne's Budget plans for the future. It would cost the Treasury billions - and require a tax increase somewhere else – but the Mail claims it would put another £250 in the average person's pocket and remind them that it was Labour who were responsible for increasing the tax on the low paid.

Miliband could call Cameron's bluff by admitting Brown got it wrong and pledging in Bedford to bring back the 10p tax rate. Then the voters in the squeezed middle might take notice. Vague promises are not enough - they need real beef, not more horse.

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I was there in Bedford in 1957. The unfortunate truth is that you cannot have 'growth' without an enormously damaging fire sale. Like in the previous recessions.