Hague lays down the gauntlet to Miliband

By Ian Dunt

Ed Miliband must decide if he will adopt a responsible view of the deficit or slip into an alliance with the unions, William Hague warned today.

Giving a speech on the first day of the Tory party conference in Birmingham, the foreign secretary alluded to Mr Miliband’s association with Ed Balls and Gordon Brown to suggest the new Labour leader was incapable of standing up to the trade unions.

“The choice now is Ed Miliband’s,” he said.

“Will he join us and the Liberal Democrats, who have come together to clean up the mess Labour left behind? Will he set out a credible plan to deal with the deficit?

“Or will he follow the unions who fixed the election for him, and Ed Balls and Gordon Brown who tutored him, in running away from the biggest problem facing the country and abandoning the centre ground of British politics?”

The use of the phrase ‘fixed the election’ suggests the Tories plan to consistently highlight the method by which Mr Miliband beat his brother to first place in the Labour leadership contest.

But the new Labour leader is intent on sidestepping attacks on him as a far leftist. His conference speech saw him challenge the nickname ‘Red Ed’ and call on unions to not engage in irresponsible strikes. This weekend, media reports indicated he was contemplating backing the coalition’s reforms to welfare.

In his speech, Mr Hague took a moment to celebrate the Tories’ first meeting as a government since 1996, but his comments remained resolutely focused on the scale of the task the coalition faced.

“Today in Birmingham we, the Conservative party, meet for the first time since 1996 as a party of government. Once again we have the greatest honour a party or any of us individually can have: the chance to serve our country, to deliver the change this country has needed for so long,” he said.

“And once again a new government has to clear up the miserable mess we always inherit: the concoction of economic incompetence, disjointed ministries, over-mighty officialdom and national demoralisation that Labour governments unerringly and without exception leave behind.

“Our predecessors who came to office in 1951 had to make a bonfire of regulation; in 1979 they had to curb inflation and trade unions beyond the law, and now in 2010 we have to confront debts and deficits on a scale never known in the lifetimes of anyone here today.”

The Conservative conference is being held in Birmingham and will last until Wednesday.