Living standards: Politics’ new frontline heats up

Labour's living standards offensive faces a concerted counter-attack from the Conservatives, with Chris Grayling accusing Ed Miliband of a "shamefaced attempt to rewrite history".

The justice secretary's attack on Labour's "appalling" record on living standards is the Tories' direct response to Labour strategists' decision to focus on the issue now economic growth is showing firmer signs of a permanent return.

He used an article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper to claim Labour "did nothing to stand up for hardworking people" during their 13 years in government.

"Even in the boom years of 2003 to 2008, hourly pay rose only at a quarter of the rate of economic growth," Grayling argued.

"Labour's debt crisis then made a bad situation even worse. The struggle with the cost of living that people face today began when Ed Miliband was a senior minister in the last government."

The justice secretary used Labour's support for a 2030 decarbonisation target to suggest energy bills would be £125 worse off if Miliband is in Downing Street after the next general election.

The move appears to firm up Conservative opposition to such a policy, which places the Tories firmly against environmentalist campaigners calling for the target and undermines David Cameron's claim of presiding over "the greenest government ever".

"That senior Tories such as Chris Grayling have to resort to bare-faced misrepresentations of Labour policy just shows how desperate and rattled they have become about the cost of living crisis," shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said.

"False claims designed to scare the public won't distract from three years of wages failing to keep up with prices."

He pointed out energy bills have already risen by £300 since the last general election and said they fell while Miliband was the energy and climate change secretary.

Grayling also suggested voters would be better off under the Tories because they would not borrow as much, meaning mortgage payments would remain lower.

"Make no mistake – Labour’s prescription of more borrowing and more debt would see hardworking families worse off," he insisted.

"There is no quick fix to secure a recovery which benefits everyone – just hard graft and determination. And that's exactly what this government is doing – it is more important than ever to stick to our plan."

Labour said it had made no tax and spending commitments for the next parliament and that Grayling's article was an attempt to distract attention from the coalition's "abysmal record on living standards".

"It's about time the government explained why they continue to claim things are getting better and yet it is getting harder for people to make ends meet," Leslie added.