Disbelief as Miliband wriggles out of calling Farage racist
Labour leader walking on egg-shells as evidence mounts that Ukip IS attracting Labour voters
ED MILIBAND refused to call Nigel Farage a racist on Radio 4's Today programme this morning to avoid alienating Labour voters who are thinking of switching to Ukip in Thursday’s local and European elections.
Miliband went on the programme to push a new Labour policy - given to The Guardian - to link the minimum wage to about 60 per cent of median hourly earnings – slightly higher than Chancellor George Osborne’s proposed rise from £6.31 to £7 an hour (57 per cent of median earnings).
The new policy is intended to appeal to disgruntled Labour core voters who are considering switching to Ukip. He also signalled that Labour will promise to make sure all public sector contracts include a “living wage” of over £8.80 an hour in London and £7.45 outside the capital.
Miliband said: "This gets at a terrible scandal in this country of five million in low-paid work unable to make ends meet."
But he was ambushed by Sarah Montague, one of the Today presenters, over a double-page spread in The Sun, showing Farage on one side as a working class hero and on the other as a racist. “Which is it?” asked Montague.
"Neither of them,” said Miliband. Jaws dropped at Miliband’s reluctance to put the boot in over Farage’s remarks in an interview last Friday saying he would not be happy to live next door to Romanian men because of their likely involvement in crime.
Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges immediately tweeted: "Did Ed Miliband seriously just say it is 'disagreeable' to accuse Farage of being racist?"
Well, yes, he did, sort of. He actually said: "I believe what Nigel Farage said a couple of days ago was deeply offensive. I said it was a 'racial slur'. I think, though, our politics is disagreeable enough without political leaders saying about other political leaders 'They’re a racist'."
Montague said accusing someone of a racist slur was the same as accusing them of being racist. But Miliband again refused the invitation to call the Ukip leader a racist. He also tiptoed around a question about whether he could understand why someone would vote Ukip on Thursday.
“I can understand while people feel deep discontent with the political system and why people look at alternatives, of course I can," said Miliband, treading on egg-shells. "My view is Ukip may be siding with the people who feel discontent with the system but they don’t have the solutions."
The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson said Miliband’s replies to Montague will have been “hugely frustrating” to some Labour supporters.
“They want him to stand up to Farage," said Robinson. "They want him to call Farage a racist. " But Miliband "believes the answer to Ukip is not to confront them directly. Labour’s conclusion is they need to deal with the drivers of support for Ukip rather than Ukip itself. That is why they say, 'We can get your wages up, we can deal with your higher rents, we can deal with your zero hours'."
Miliband doesn’t mind being seen as anti-business, Robinson added. Opinion polling has shown that Ukip voters want to be tough on big business. But he is very wary of being anti-Farage."
There is mounting anecdotal evidence from election workers that Ukip is attracting Labour supporters on the doorsteps – just as Farage said his party would.
And in a little-noticed comment during the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: "One of the things that the sort of Westminster-based media haven’t picked up on at all, which will come out next week, is the huge blow to traditional Labour support in their big Labour heartlands - for instance in the Northern cities - at the hands of Ukip."
Miliband knows he has to pull his punches because accusing Farage of being racist is tantamount to calling some of Labour's own supporters racists.
Meanwhile Farage has taken out a full page advert in the Daily Telegraph as an open letter to "Dear UK Citizen", in which he defends his comments against "a predictable storm of protest and accusations of racism". He says: "It is not racist to want to stop organised criminal gangs undermining our way of life - it is common sense."