Ed Miliband will use a major speech on Thursday to attempt to regain lost ground on the economy and set out his vision of how the nation's finances should be run.
Living standards will be at the centrepiece of his message and, in an interview in the Guardian ahead of his speech, the Labour leader says he is "offering a choice between an economic recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top, and a Conservative strategy that consists of trickle-down from the top, a squeeze on the middle and a race to the bottom."
Channeling Ronald Reagan, he adds: "I will be asking the question 'are you better off than you were four years ago?' and I don't think it is in dispute – people are worse off. The Office for Budget Responsibility figures are showing earnings behind inflation, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows the same. It would be a good start if David Cameron could just admit the facts."
In a deliberate dig at the Tories, Miliband will make his speech in Bedford, where 'One Nation' Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan famously declared, in 1957: "You've never had it so good."
However, the latest polls suggest the public is still more likely to trust the Tories to handle the economy and the leader of the opposition has been warned by his party's own policy chief, MP Jon Cruddas, that 'simply opposing the cuts without an alternative is no good.'
On Wednesday, at PMQs, Miliband was mocked by Prime Minister David Cameron, who claimed publicity for the speech said it would contain 'no new policies', after the Labour leader had attacked Cameron on the key issue of living standards, demanding to know whether people would be better off at the 2015 general election than they were in 2010.
In an exclusive article for The Huffington Post UK, to accompany the Labour leader's speech, one of the key figures in Miliband's inner circle sets out "the battle for the middle".
Writing for HuffPost UK, (Lord) Stewart Wood, a shadow cabinet minister and one of Miliband's most senior advisers, says the plight of people on middle incomes - previously labelled the 'squeezed middle' by Labour - is "the central economic challenge facing our country."
In an article that helps contextualise Miliband's approach to the economy, Wood says the UK is "too dependent on a low-skill, low-wage model of competitiveness," and castigates Cameron's 'global race' mantra. "The [Tory] idea that the key to our economic turnaround is further deregulation of one of the most deregulated economies in the advanced industrial world is somewhere between dubious and ridiculous."
For Wood, "strengthening the high-skill/high-wage parts of our economy, and thereby boosting productivity-per-worker of those in the Middle, is essential to altering the relative shares of national income that go to the top and the rest of Britain’s workforce."
The shadow cabinet minister insists that Labour has "begun to flesh out" its approach, pointing to pledges to tackle the power of banks, pension and utility companies. He hints at future support for the 'Living Wage' and "new methods of setting pay in the workplace".
Gideon Skinner, head of political research of the pollster Ipsos Mori, told The Huffington Post UK that living standards formed "an important part" of the debate on the economy. The overall economic outlook is overwhelmingly ranked at the top of voters' concerns, he said, underlining how important it is for both parties to get their tactics right.
Skinner said the Conservatives and Labour had exchanged the lead in recent polls, suggesting it is still up for grabs in 2015.
"No party is particularly owning the economy issue," he added.
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