POLITICS
21/09/2013 11:53 BST | Updated 21/09/2013 12:32 BST

Labour Party Conference: Ed Miliband Promises To Strengthen Minimum Wage (PICTURES)

The cost of living looks likely to be the theme of the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week, with Ed Miliband vowing to strengthen the national minimum wage, having already promised to abolish the much-maligned Tory “bedroom tax”.

Taking to the stump on Saturday morning, the Labour leader condemned the Tory economy accusing David Cameron of standing up only for the “privileged few” while reiterating his promise to reverse Osborne's "spare room subsidy" and vowing to extend childcare should the electorate grant him the sole keys to Number 10 in 2015.

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Miliband on the stump in Brighton on Saturday

The announcement came as Miliband looked to brush aside Guardian revelations about the embittered in-fighting that scarred the final days of the Blair Premiership, in which aides for the PM tried to sabotage Gordon brown’s coronation to the top job.

"This next election is going to come down to the oldest questions in politics: whose side are you on and who will you fight for?" Miliband said on the Brighton seafront. We are going to scrap the bedroom tax, that's what I mean by a government that fights for you.

"And we are fighting for all of the low-paid people around our country. One of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government was the national minimum wage, making work pay for people. But under David Cameron's Government people are falling behind, the national minimum wage now paying people £20 less after inflation than it did when David Cameron came to office. That's just wrong.

"When we see that happening and when we think about one of the big banks, do we really think they can't afford to pay their cleaners a bit more?"

He added: "The Labour government will put it right, we will strengthen the national minimum wage, we will make work pay for the workers of Britain. That's what I mean by a government that fights for you: abolishing the bedroom tax, strengthening the national minimum wage, childcare there for parents who need it.

"That's what I mean by tackling the cost of living crisis at this conference, that's what I mean by a government that fights for you."

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Miliband and his wife stroll through the streets ahead of the conference

More from the Press Association:

Miliband has appointed Alan Buckle, deputy chairman at accountants KPMG, to investigate how the role and powers of the Low Pay Commission could be extended to strengthen the minimum wage. Buckle will consult widely with employers and employee groups on ways to restore the value of the minimum wage so that it catches up with where it was in 2010. He will also look at which particular sectors can afford to pay more.

Addressing the street rally from a small stage, Miliband attacked the Government for failing to take steps to help people struggling to cope with rising prices. Miliband said: "Right across the country, from all walks of life, people are facing this cost of living crisis. There will be some people who say the interests of the low paid and the squeezed middle are just different.

"Well they are wrong. Under David Cameron's Government, he has been Prime Minister for 39 months and in 38 of those months prices have risen faster than wages. That is a record, by the way. Living standards falling month after month after month. Gas and electric bills, train fares, petrol prices, the weekly food shop and a Prime Minister who refuses to act.

"Why does he refuse to act? He refuses to act because of who he stands for, he stands for just a privileged few at the top."

He dismissed the argument that nothing could be done, saying "that's the powerful saying to the powerless 'you're going to have to suffer'". Miliband said there was always something that could be done "if you have the political will" but "you won't get it from this Government".

He said Cameron's record was one of "tax cuts for millionaires, tax cuts for hedge funds, tobacco lobbyists in Downing Street".

The Labour leader said: "The way a country succeeds is not just with a few at the top it's with what I call the forgotten wealth creators. The people who put in the hours, who do the work, who do two jobs, who do the shifts.

"They are the people we should be supporting in this country. That's how we tackle the cost of living crisis, that's how we have an economy that works for working people again in our country. That's how we change Britain, that's what a Labour government is going to do, that's how we build One Nation."

Labour said that if the national minimum wage (NMW) had risen in line with the cost of living it would be 45p an hour higher than the current level, which is due to rise next month from £6.19 to £6.31. Labour sources indicated that Mr Buckle would investigate how to restore the NMW's value, although that would not necessarily involve a 45p rise.

Buckle will also investigate whether different sectors, such as finance, IT or construction, could afford to pay a higher rate to their staff. The party believes around one million workers would get a pay rise under their plans.

Miliband has been under sustained pressure from senior party figures to set out clear policies which the party will champion in the 2015 election campaign. To highlight his pitch to hard-pressed voters, he took the unusual step of appearing on a street platform on the eve of the conference to speak to shoppers.

He found a mostly receptive audience - and avoided his fate at a recent event at a London market where he was pelted with eggs. To one man who asked when he would "bring back socialism", he replied: "That's what we are doing, sir.

"It is about fighting the battle for economic equality, for social equality and for gender equality too. That is a battle that is not yet won in our country."

Another though asked him to comment on Margaret Thatcher's belief that the trouble with socialism was that it "runs out of other people's money to spend. It is not going to be an easy life under the Labour government," Miliband told him.

"We've said that in 2015/16 we'll have to inherit the day-to-day spending plans of this Government. I am not making easy promises. But what does the difference come down to: it is what kind of choices you make."

The so-called "bedroom tax" was "symbolic of who you stand for in this country", he added. He said he recognised that many people were "disillusioned with politics" as he answered someone who said he did not vote in 2010 and wanted to know why he should bother next time.

"Yes people are disillusioned about politics and I understand some of the reasons for that," he said. "I say to you though: imagine if you don't vote in the next election and imagine if you ended up with another five years of this lot. I dread to think what the country would look like. We can change Britain but I am going to do it not by overpromising and underdelivering but by underpromising and overdelivering."

He promised action to end the abuse of the "epidemic" of zero-hours contracts and gave a "cast iron guarantee" that Labour would repeal the Government's recent health reforms which "put the wrong values at the heart of our NHS". He was confronted over his plans to reform the party's link with the unions by a woman who urged him to "fight Tories ferociously and not the unions".

Defending his move to make union members opt in to party membership - set to be the subject of a fresh clash with unions tomorrow - he said: "If we can be a party of not 200,000 but 500,000, 600,000, many more, then we can truly transform Britain. That's what we are going to do and that's how we'll fight the Tories."

And he told a man who demanded to know if Tony Blair was a "war criminal" over Iraq that his decision to oppose military action in Syria was proof the lessons of the 2003 invasion had been learned. "I thought Syria would be a rush to war. I thought that was what David Cameron was proposing. That's why I said no. That is a Labour Party that has changed, that is a Labour Party that has learned the lessons of Iraq. I don't agree with you about Tony Blair because I think he made the judgment he made for the right reasons but I think he was wrong."

Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: "Conservatives back the minimum wage. But if Ed Miliband was really on the side of hardworking people then he would have supported our welfare changes to ensure work always pays and should have voted in favour of halving the amount of income tax someone working full-time on the minimum wage pays.

"Ed Miliband's policy is for more borrowing and more debt - the same old Labour policy that got us into a mess in the first place - and would mean higher taxes and higher bills for hardworking people."