Was it a deliberate choice to write for The Times today as Ed Balls is making his speech?
I was asked for a piece for the Monday, finished it yesterday.
I thought your statement that the City would not vote for Ed Miliband was quite interesting. What makes you say that?
Well, I think during the years of New Labour – both through Gordon’s period as chancellor and Alistair’s – that on far too many occasions the City seemed to hold sway. There seemed to be this blind faith that the whole future of our country was in the financial markets and the financial sector. That’s why people were deaf to the resurrection of manufacturing.
In fact I remember one of the Treasury team, who is now in the Lords, saying: “The future of our country is in the financial services.” I mean, that looks about as sick as you can get now, doesn’t it? I think they were just courted too much. They got carried away. The licence that they gave people like private equity speculators was just beyond belief. They even went further than the Tories did. The Tories had tax breaks for them, but they actually went below that. They deregulated Ofgem. There was a time when the Tories left government that Ofgem had some powers to cap, or at least bring to account, energy companies. They scrapped that. Peter Mandelson scrapped that.
So what I am saying is that there were times when we felt we had very legitimate issues about creating manufacturing jobs, decline in public services, about privatisation issues, social housing. Conference after conference, it was clear that everybody on the floor agreed we had major problems – exploitation of migrant labour – all that was sacrificed.
What came first was the interests of the City. And they didn’t vote for him [Ed Miliband]. And they won’t vote for him. They go with power. New Labour began to think people had voted for it. What they didn’t realise was that people had voted against the previous Conservative government. Then New Labour started to look like them. So it’s a busted flush as far as I’m concerned.
You say that Ed needs to care more about ordinary people and less about how the media reports him. How do you suggest he does that?
I think he should just be himself. Look, I can’t foresee a day when the Daily Mail or The Telegraph – or even The Sun at this stage anyway - are going to put across their front page, ‘Ed: what a stunner.’ It just ain’t going to happen. We’ve got to accept that.
But it’s interesting that if he is himself, if he comes across as himself, and stands up for people, people will reconnect. Five million people left, didn’t vote Labour between 1997 and now. You’ve got to get three million of those back. And you will not do that by making little soundbites. That’ll just get you into trouble. Be yourself, say what you are and people will begin to see that you don’t deviate on a spin. That means occasionally you are going to say the unpopular thing.
But I actually think that’s what we want from politicians. Straight. I am sick to death, quite frankly, of living through a generation where image has been everything and substance has been something you put up with now and again.