Ed Miliband picketed at campaign rally by former leading members of his own party

Labour leader Ed Miliband denied accusations he supported “bullies” or was a “coward” after an attack by disgruntled party members on a visit to the North-East.

Mr Miliband gave a speech and took questions from the public on a visit to Redcar, a town which the party hopes to take from the Liberal Democrats in May’s General Election.

He offered a vision of better jobs, fairer employment rights and more power and money for the region – but the event was overshadowed by a protest from former party loyalists.

The demonstration outside Redcar and Cleveland College, where the Labour leader was speaking, was led by former long-standing Labour leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, George Dunning, who brandished a banner saying ‘Does Miliband Support Bullies?’.

Cllr Dunning, a trade-unionist and former steelworker, and ten other councillors were deselected by the party earlier this year.

The councillors went on to resign from the Labour Party saying they had been “bullied.”

Cllr Dunning’s former deputy leader, Sheelagh Clarke, went further,  branding Mr Miliband “a coward.”

She said:

“He called Cameron a coward because the Prime Minister won’t take part in the TV debates. But he can’t find a quick minute to talk to eight, nine or ten of us ordinary people. How can he be leader of our country if he can’t talk to a few ordinary people? It is cowardly.”

 In an interview with The Northern Echo, Mr Miliband dismissed the protest, saying: “I understand why people are upset, but our focus has to be on the public.”

Mr Miliband said he was offering “a big plan” for the region which included increasing the minimum wage, more apprenticeships for youngsters, an end to ‘zero hours’ contracts and more high quality jobs. A key area where the economy could be boosted and high paid jobs created was green energy, he said, which with some Government investment and encouragement could be a major asset to the North-East.

Earlier, Mr Miliband welcomed the improved employment figures, with 45,000 new jobs created in the region since Labour lost power in 2010, but said many were “low paid, insecure and not good enough.”

 The Labour leader also confirmed a Labour Government would guarantee free TV licences, bus passes and the value of the state pension for old age pensioners

But in much of his question and answer session with about 200 members of the public he focused on what he would do for young people, including guaranteeing apprenticeships for 18-year-olds and lowering university tuition fees.

Asked about the decline in Durham Tees Valley Airport he promised a future Labour Government would “look at the whole issue of regional airports.”

One Teesside woman spoke movingly of having to leave work for eight months to look after her severely ill, 11-year-old daughter with various authorities declining to offer support, while another talked of having to look after four grandchildren and having to give up her home.

Mr Miliband received his biggest round of applause after publicly thanking the women for their “incredibly important work” and said it was an issue the party was already looking at.

Source – Northern Echo, 07 Mar 2015

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