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Economy a high priority - Miliband

Ed Miliband has insisted the economy is "incredibly high" on his list of priorities despite forgetting to deliver crucial passages on tackling the deficit in his keynote party conference speech.

The Labour leader said failing to remember sections of the text was "one of the perils" of talking for more than an hour without notes but claimed the whole address was focused on Britain's economic plight.

Political opponents were quick to attack Mr Miliband for the blunder but criticism also came from within the left.

Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey said missing out the deficit had been a "glaring omission" while Chancellor George Osborne insisted it was "extraordinary".

In previous years, Mr Miliband's gamble of giving a speech to conference without notes has paid off but a s he toured the television and radio studios this morning to talk about the vision he had set out, the Labour leader faced an onslaught of questions about what he had failed to say.

Asked if he had forgotten parts of his speech, he told ITV1's Good Morning Britain (GMB): "Absolutely, yes.

"It's not really about memorising the speech. What I try and do is I try and write a speech and then I use it as the basis for what I want to say to the country.

"In a way, I could just stand there and read out a speech that's been prepared earlier. I like it as a way of engaging with people. And, of course, it's one of the perils of it that there are bits that get left out, bits that get added in. It sort of comes with the territory."

He added: "The speech was all about the economy. The speech was all about how we change our economy so it works for working people again."

A version of the speech emerged that showed Mr Miliband had planned to talk about the deficit and tell activists at Manchester Central that " there won't be money to spend after the next election".

He also intended to discuss immigration, setting out how people who come to Britain "have a responsibility to learn English and earn their way".

Mr Miliband insisted today that he had talked "very clearly" about Labour's immigration plans.

"I didn't pluck a number out of the air for what should happen to immigration, but, you know, the Prime Minister has done that," he said. "He made a promise, he made a false promise to get immigration into the tens of thousands and it didn't happen."

Asked if he had forgotten the section relating to the economy, he told BBC Breakfast: "Yes, I didn't do one part of the speech and I added in other bits."

Pressed on whether he would expect a future prime minister to remember the deficit, he replied: "Yes, and I did and I talked about how we wouldn't borrow more for the NHS."

Although Mr Miliband's failure to address the economy during the 65-minute speech has generated negative headlines, the Labour leader insisted he would "absolutely" continue to go note-free when he takes to the stage in future.

He insisted that the economy was "incredibly high" on his list of priorities and said shadow chancellor Ed Balls had set out a "clear plan" for getting the deficit down earlier in the week.

Asked if he would mention the deficit if he gave the speech again, he replied: "I'm sure that I would do it differently. If I did the speech again today, I would do it differently. I added bits in that weren't actually in the original text. In a way, that's the way I tend to do these speeches."

One of the main pitches in the speech was using the proceeds of the charge on £2 million-plus properties - along with a levy on tobacco firms and a crackdown on tax dodgers - to fund £2.5 billion extra NHS funding.

But the party is yet to publish full details of how the charge would operate, sparking fears it could leave many more people facing higher council tax bills.

Mr Miliband said a system was already in place that allowed the Government to impose a similar levy on expensive properties bought through companies.

"You get assessors to do it. I can absolutely assure you it's not about a general revaluation," he told GMB.

Public reaction to key announcements made in the speech was broadly positive, according to polling carried out in the hours afterwards.

The Labour leader's main pledge to bolster the NHS through new taxation policies was overwhelmingly backed, with 71% of voters supporting the plans.

Half of voters also agreed with Mr Miliband's plans to build as many houses as are needed by 2025, according to the Survation poll for Labour List.

:: Survation interviewed 1,037 members of the public online between 4pm and 8pm yesterday.

Mr Miliband denied misleading voters by not using his speech to explain the full range of austerity measures Labour would have to bring in to meet its target of running a budget surplus by the end of the next parliament.

"The right time to set out tax and spending proposals fully is at the time of the manifesto," he told ITV News during a round of media interviews following a visit to Salford Royal hospital, conceding that there were further tough decisions to come.

"What yesterday was about was giving people a sense of how we can change this country, what is our plan for the country.

"Yes it is important to reduce the deficit, yes it matters. But we need a plan that goes beyond that.

"I do not buy the argument that we can't change our country because we're not spending lots more."

He insisted the £2.5 billion NHS boost would "make a significant difference".

It was unfair to compare it with £2.6 billion extra put in by the Government last year as the Labour pledge was "over and above any inflation increase - additional resources funded by taxation", he told the BBC.

"It is not going to make all the problems go away. I am not saying life is going to be easy in the health service, but it will make a difference and it will start to turn things around."

Mr Miliband would not be drawn on Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis suggesting Labour's proposed fiscal rules would allow it to borrow £28 billion more per year than under Tory plans.

Pressed on whether he intended to use that flexibilty, he said: "I am going to speak for my own rules because they are the best for the country.

"The Government has given no indication about how they are going to get to their fiscal rules. We are laying out realistic, credible fiscal rules, a changed Labour Party, no proposals for additional borrowing."

Asked if it was fair that someone owning a number of £1 million properties would not pay the mansion tax when another with just one £2 million home would, he told Sky News: "No property tax is perfect but I think it is fair to say to the wealthiest people in our country that they should make a contribution to help fund our NHS."

A ComRes poll suggested immigration and the deficit are the two issues voters trust Labour the least with.

When asked which party was trusted the most on immigration control, the Opposition polled its lowest score - 12% - compared with Ukip's 43%.

On reducing the Government's budget deficit, Labour picked up 14% while the Tories received 39%.

Mr Miliband's party also struggled to pick up support on issues including changing Britain's relationship with the European Union and reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.

But the survey offered better news for Labour as it indicated more people trust Labour to run the NHS. The Opposition polled 29% of the vote on the issue compared with 20% for the Tories.

Labour also performed better when people were asked who they trust to keep the cost of living down, make the welfare system fairer and make it easier for people to afford buying a house.

The poll for ITV News was conducted between September 19 and 21 before Mr Miliband's speech to the Labour Party conference.

The research was carried out online and involved 2,048 adults.


From Belfast Telegraph