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Miliband speech reveals policy vows
Gas and electricity prices will be frozen for homes and businesses for 20 months after the 2015 general election if Labour wins power, Ed Miliband has announced.
The dramatic announcement - which Labour said would save the typical household £120 and an average business £1,800 between May 2015 and January 2017 - was the highlight of a crucial conference speech in which Mr Miliband denounced the coalition Government for failing to stand up to vested interests and repeatedly declared: "Britain can do better than this."
After a summer in which he came under fire for a shortage of policies, Mr Miliband made a slew of commitments, offering an £800 million tax break to small businesses and promising to build 200,000 new homes a year, set a green decarbonisation target for 2030, strengthen the minimum wage, help create more than 100,000 new apprenticeships and repeal the so-called "bedroom tax".
He addressed head-on the doubts about his personality reflected in polls, insisting that he had shown "leadership" in taking on media mogul Rupert Murdoch and stopping British military action in Syria, and challenging David Cameron and the Conservatives: "If they want to have a test about leadership and character, be my guest."
Mr Miliband made no direct reference to the stories of New Labour infighting and smears contained in former spin doctor Damian McBride's memoirs, launched at the Brighton conference. But there was little doubt he was trying to distance himself from the McBride revelations when he told delegates: "Some people say you have got to leave decency behind when you go into politics. I say they are wrong."
Pitching the 2015 general election as a battle with Conservatives who had allowed the proceeds of recovery to go to the "privileged few" while ordinary families and small businesses struggle with a soaring cost of living, he said: "Britain's best days lie ahead. Britain can do better than this. We're Britain, we're better than this. I will lead a Government that fights for you."
He won a standing ovation at the end of his 63-minute speech, which was delivered without notes as he strode around the stage.
Consumer group Which? said the energy price freeze would "give hope to the millions worrying about how they can afford to heat their homes", just days after it reported that households have been paying £3.9 billion a year over the odds for their gas and electricity. But CBI director general John Cridland said that businesses would view it as "a setback for Labour's pro-enterprise credentials".
And Conservative chairman Grant Shapps said: "Nothing has changed. It's the same old Labour. They still want more spending, more borrowing and more debt - exactly what got us into a mess in the first place. And it's hard-working people who would pay the price through higher taxes and higher mortgage rates and higher bills."
Labour has already announced it will legislate to introduce more competition into the energy market, and will replace regulator Ofgem with a new watchdog with sharper teeth. But Mr Miliband said that these reforms will not kick in until the start of 2017 and he was not willing to wait that long to take action.